Fashion, The Reading List

The Reading List: Diana Vreeland, Empress of Style

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Diana Vreeland: Empress of Fashion is the first full-length biography of the legendary Vogue editor and self-mythologiser where words and facts take precedence over pictures and unverified if exciting anecdotes.  How did Diana Vreeland go from a well to-do housewife to one of the most powerful people in fashion?  And how did her remarkable mind and creative disregard for beauty over truth develop?  This book, by biographer Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, attempts to answer those questions.

Vreeland, ‘the High Druidess of fashion, the Supreme Pontiff, Perpetual Curate and Archpresbyter of elegance, the Vicaress of style’ did not start out in life commanding the religious reverence that the previous quote implies, but instead had a difficult childhood, forever in the shadow of a beautiful younger sister and treated badly by a capricious, adventurous mother who (as these things often go no matter how much pink hair dye we put on) Diana resembled more in personality and outlook the older she became.

This book counters the obvious beautiful lies that Diana told as she invented herself.  Diana was born in Paris, but did not grow up there as she had claimed.  However, a more outlandish tale, that of Buffalo Bill teaching Diana and her sister to ride horses, may actually be true.  Mackenzie Stuart assesses Diana’s claims on its individual merits, not treating each one with scepticism but with a calm researcher’s eye.

This book is heavy on the fascinating details of Diana’s career, especially on how she came to win her jobs as editor of American Vogue and at the Costume Institute.  Grace Mirabella, Diana’s successor at Vogue, appears as a conflicted figure in the text but there is still a little meat missing from the controversial and quite sad story of how Diana came to fall from Grace at Vogue.

Diana’s personal life, especially that with her two sons, is not examined in great depth, though her relationship with husband Reed (who appears in the book as a bit of a well-dressed enigma) is given more space on paper.  The two sons do not appear as voices in the book – it’s a shame because, as the documentary The Eye Has to Travel shows, both have a great deal of interesting and often painful things to say about their mother.

The book is well-written, accessible, entertaining and nicely-paced.  With a life as unsure and clouded with half-truths as Diana Vreeland’s, the temptation to insert your own take on her life must be immense.  However, this biography does justice to the great lady’s legacy.

Diana Vreeland: Empress of Fashion is published by Thames and Hudson and is out in hardback now.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Photography, Subculture, The Reading List

The Reading List: Where Were You?

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Oh, gosh.

Where to start?

‘Where Were You?’ is a book that charts the evolution of Irish street style from the Fifties until the turn of the century. Meticulously compiled over the past four years by the ever-diligent Garry O’Neill, this heavy book is a true rendering of what street style used to be, before Photoshop and shopping online made everyone look so bloody homogenous.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the book was funded by crowd sourcing website Fundit, it’s incredibly well-put together. The layout is good. It’s almost all pictures with very little text. The sprinkling of words that you do read add some historical contact, but that’s pretty much it. It doesn’t really matter though – the real meat is in the photographs of the (mostly) stylish Hibernians. Who knew that we Irish were stylish? It’s a little-known fact that we should probably shout about a bit more.

This review, like the book itself, is less about the blather and more about the pictures. As a chronicle of style and subculture, it has yet to be topped – although I would love to see someone try.

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NOTE – The vast majority of books on this website are review books sent to me by publishers. Not the case here – I bought this copy of ‘Where Were You?’ myself. I’m just so blatantly gushy because I love it and I think that all streetstyle/subculture gawkers should buy a copy. And, if you don’t have the money to buy a copy, you should definitely check out the Facebook page. It is published by Hi Tone Books in a limited run and is out now.

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Fashion, Inspiration, The Reading List

Diet Coke Fashion Friday: Fashion Books Aren’t Just For Christmas (Part II)

Remember this?

“If you can’t think of the best gift that has yet to be given, let me suggest a book.  Books are great.  Unlike electronics, they don’t crash or freeze, they are incredibly tactile and the feeling of looking at a picture on a page is far superior to looking at one on a screen (it’s the glossiness, I think).

I’ve got some fashion book choices for the various people in your life.  Well, the people in your life who like fashion.  For everyone else, I’d suggest a book token.”

No? That’s grand – that was part one of my Christmas gift guide – now on with part two…

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1.  For the Voguette, the woman who wants to be Nuclear Wintour, or Alexandra Schulman, or Franca Sozzani, and has the Mt. Everest of Vogues to prove it, I’d suggest you get a copy of Vogue: The Editor’s Eye – a full review of which will be coming on Monday.  Focusing on the role of the fashion editor through the latter half of the twentieth century to the present day, there are some really nice spreads that throw light (rightfully) on women like Babs Simpson, Polly Mellen and Tonne Goodman.  You might not know who they are, but the Voguette definitely will.

Honourable mention - In Vogue: An Illustrated History of the World’s Most Famous Fashion Magazine

via Getting Beat Like You Stole Something

2.  For the (platonic) man friend who’s looking to up his game sartorially, there are two things.  First, give him a round of applause/packet of crisps for getting into personal style in a country where, except for a few inclusive pockets, it’s not incredibly popular to do so. Second, give him a copy of Style and The Man by Alan Flusser.  It’s all about suits and tailoring, so there’s nothing too avant-garde and there’s absolutely zilch that Flusser doesn’t know about knots, cuffs and how to get a good three piece made without compromise.

Honourable mention – Icons of Mens Style

3. For the street-style savvy friend who can’t get enough of The Sart (I was going to title this one the ‘street style slut’ before I realised how insulting that was), the newest book by the aforementioned Sartorialist is a great bet.  I wasn’t a big fan of the first book, but The Sartorialist: Closer really showcases just how damn GOOD Scott Schuman has got at capturing the personality quirks as well as the outfits of his subjects.

Honourable mention - The Sartorialist (eh, if it’s not broke don’t fix it).

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Fashion, Inspiration, The Reading List

Diet Coke Fashion Friday: Fashion Books Aren’t Just For Christmas (Part I)

I KNOW, I KNOW.  It’s far too early to be thinking about Christmas lists.

Actually no, it’s not really.  August is early. November is OK (but maybe a little bit questionable).  Now is the time where the start of gift lists and wish lists are starting to form in your mind, where an idea or a spark hopes to develop itself into THE BEST GIFT EVER GIVEN.

If you can’t think of the best gift that has yet to be given, let me suggest a book.  Books are great.  Unlike electronics, they don’t crash or freeze, they are incredibly tactile and the feeling of looking at a picture on a page is far superior to looking at one on a screen (it’s the glossiness, I think).

I’ve got some fashion book choices for the various people in your life.  Well, the people in your life who like fashion.  For everyone else, I’d suggest a book token.

1.  For the fashion connoisseur, the friend who knows everything there is to know, who can out-Lagerfeld Lagerfeld and scare Colin McDowell with their knowledge of industry trivia, it’s perfectly acceptable to pull out the big guns.  The out of print, highly covetable (and quite expensive) Antonio’s Girls by Antonio Lopez will mean you get free styling advice for years to come.  A compendium of sketches and photographs of muses including Jerry Hall and Tina Chow, this beautiful book by the late Lopez is something of a collectors item.

Honourable mention - Karl Lagerfeld’s Illustrated Fashion Journal of Anna Piaggi

Photo via Captain Magnets

2.  For the down-in-the-dumps friends, there’s nothing better than a flick through The Cheap Date Guide to Style for to restore you to your normal fashion equilibrium.  2012 has not been a great year for a lot of people (myself included) – the economy, the weather and the ever-looming tiny chance of apocalypse have a tendency to make a person feel less sure of themselves.  Cheap Date is a great book to make a person feel good and refine their style in a totally non-judgemental, self-celebratory way.  It’s amazing what a tiny change can make in a person’s outlook and this book reflects that.

Honourable mention – Style Statement: Live by Your Own Design by Carrie McCarthy and Danielle LaPorte

3. For the non-fiction friend who just can’t stop reading biographies, the life of September Issue breakout star and creative director of American Vogue Grace Coddington is a prudent gift choice.  I haven’t read Grace: A Memoir yet (it’s not out until November 22nd) but Vogue have already published an excerpt with suitably scandalous tidbits online – if a woman can mistake a condom for a chocolate mint then you know her outlook on life is going to be interesting.  The book will be accompanied with sketches from Coddington’s own hand.  They are all incredibly cute.

Honourable mention - D.V by Diana Vreeland

4. For the modeliser friend – the friend who has a slightly unhealthy obsession with models, I present to you Kate: The Kate Moss Book.  Published by powerhouse Rizzoli Books, it has eight, count ‘em, eight different covers.  It is the definitive collection of images of the ever-chameleonic Moss. I don’t get the model-worship thing – even after just researching an article on Moss and her career I still don’t gt it – but I do get that model-worshippers will love this ridiculously heavy slab of a book.

Honourable Mention – Vogue Model: The Faces of Fashion (which, surprise surprise, also has Kate Moss on the over)

6. For the friend who wants to break into fashion media, this is the book to buy.  Granted, it might be a little bit dry to give a friend an academic textbook for Christmas, but they’ll thank you later.  This book goes through all aspects of fashion writing, from journalism to PR and everything in between.  No stone unturned – no angle unexamined, Writing For The Fashion Business will teach the reader exactly what it promises on the cover. It’s pricey, but well worth it.

Honourable mention - Mastering Fashion Styling

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Fashion, Inspiration, Photography, The Reading List

The Seeberger Brothers and Real Street Style

Elegance: The Seeberger Brothers and the Birth of Fashion Photography is one of those books that I’ve wanted forever but couldn’t really afford.  It is out of print and second hand copies cost fifty euros and upwards.  The steep sort of upwards.

With photographs as good as these, the prohibitive price tag may be justified.  Caution – this is a very image-heavy post.  To find out more about the Seeberger brothers, click here.

Images via here, here, here and here

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Fashion, Photography, The Reading List

The Reading List; The ‘Vogue On…’ Designer Series

The Vogue On… Designer series has been debuted this month by the good folks at Quadrille Publishing with a bumper crop of revered designers. Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel (of course) have been given the Vogue treatment in four not-quite-pocket-sized, accessibly slim volumes.

It’s hard not to notice the proliferation of Vogue-themed books that are starting to dominate this winter’s output of fashion books. We have this series to contend with, the release of Vogue: The Editor’s Eye with Abrams, Grace: A Life by Vogue’s popular creatice director Grace Coddington with Harper Collins and the updated version of In Vogue: A History with Rizzoli. Vogue literally has a book in every good publishing house.

Quadrille are a publishing house better known for their beautifully presented cookery books – all of which are rich, aspirational snapshots of a distinctly culinary lifestyle. They are also the publishers of one of my favourite fashion books, Celia Birtwell, which is a very sweet, visually appealing travel through a life not totally untouched by scandal – a scandal that is almost totally ignored (and with good reason – the book isn’t a biography). It’s with that in mind that I read the Vogue On… series. I have no expectations of hearing about Coco Chanel’s anti-Semitism, McQueen’s demons or the cultural implications of Dior forcing corsets on a generation of women who were finally beginning to liberate themselves. It’s all about the clothes – the designer’s lives are told through their body of work.

The books are beautifully presented, with half slipcovers revealing full-scale covers of fashion plates and portraits of the designers previously seen in Vogue. Almost every illustration and photograph came originally from the magazine. The writers of each book are also Vogue alumni, with varying results.

Coco Chanel

It’s incredibly hard to say something new about Coco Chanel that hasn’t already been said before – unless it’s to praise or denounce her. This book chooses to do the former. While Chanel’s activities as an Axis spy are up for debate and might have no place in this book, the omission of her attempt to wrest power from her Jewish partners, the Wertheiemers, through exploitation of anti-semitic laws is far too wrapped up in her legacy and her work not to be dealt with. Chanel was an incredibly complicated person, as women put under intense scrutiny usually reveal themselves to be. There is an imbalance between dark and light here, so the Chanel we read about is a little lopsided; a frivolous aesthete instead of a ruthless businesswoman. Illustration-wise, there is much that we haven’t seen from Vogue’s archives and this book is worth buying on pictures alone – sketches by Beaton and Berard, dresses from the Twenties, reams of colourful costume jewellery and some salient but not overused snippets of wisdom from the woman herself.

Alexander McQueen

I gave this book to my mother (who is, admittedly, not a huge McQueen fan) to flick through and she had the bulk of the book finished in twenty minutes. “It’s very accessible, isn’t it?’ she said to me on handing it back. And it is accessible; an accessibility that (joyfully) directly contravenes the drama and violence of McQueen’s work. Written by Chloe Fox, Vogue on Alexander McQueen is a easy, pleasant, well paced read. The photographs are a great mix of the social, catwalk and editorial and build up a great picture of one man’s singular working life. McQueen fans aren’t going to encounter anything that they haven’t seen before, but this is a great place to start – a lovely addition to any bookshelf.

Elsa Schiaparelli

My incredibly biased favourite in terms of photographs and illustrations, Vogue on Schiaparelli is chock-a-block full of beautiful, masterly fashion plates from the golden age of art at Vogue. Schiaparelli’s Surrealist leanings were tailor-made for full-colour, semi-abstract drawings and the book is full of them. Schiaparelli herself was a bit of an elusive figure, often left in the shadow of her couture nemesis Chanel. While we follow her life and work the enigmatic Schiaparelli who emerges from the pages of this book is strangely bloodless and monotone in contrast with the vibrancy of her work.  What does emerge from the work, though, is a picture of a woman only now starting to get her due.  Again, well worth buying for the photos and illustrations alone.

Christian Dior

We all know about the label, but delve into your fashion knowledge and you may find that you know close to nothing about the man – not surprising considering that Dior’s career at his eponymous house would last only a decade.  I there’s one word that sums up this volume, it’s ‘elegant’ – all clean lines, arched brows, long swan-like necks, the quizzical expressions of Lisa Fonssagrieves and the perfectly composed black and white photographs of Avedon.  The story of Dior’s career is dealt with in a breezy, pacy style in an easy read.  Accessibility, again, is the watchword.

The Vogue On… Designers series is published by Quadrille and is out now.

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Fashion, The Reading List

The Reading List: DIY Couture

I love sewing, I really do. I have a sewing machine. Using it for an hour or so is the equivalent of a day of yogic breathing, it is just that calming (providing a needle doesn’t snap and jab me in the face). My trouble is that, when it comes to making clothes, my measuring tapes will go the way of my kirby grips and one sock in every pair and disappear into some kind of limbo, never to be seen again.

This is the first thing that I noticed about ‘DIY Couture’ by Rosie Martin. No need for a tape measure, no patterns to cut out, no dreaded toiles. And yet, these are no sad sack dress DIYs; you can make real, wearable clothes with simple variations in almost no time at all. It’s the wave of the future.

After an initial introduction showing you the (very) basic skills you’ll have to master, Martin shows you how to make ten different items, from a simple a-line skirt to more complicated garments.  We can also see eight different variations of each item, which have been helpfully split into collections.  Above is the delightfully whimsical tea picnic collection, but there’s also a clean monochromatic collection, a disco colour-clash collection that wouldn’t look out of place in American Apparel and a classic neutral collection, amongst others.

The layout and design is simple and faultless.  Instructions are clear, concise and amply illustrated – none of this ‘attach section c to subsection a and did we mention you need an serger?  No? Well, tough’ stuff that can so often pop up in so-called step-by-step sewing books.

What’s also great about this book is the room for manoeuvre.  If you’re a creative person who has little to no training and wants to make her own clothes while putting her own creative stamp on things, this is a great place to start.  If you’re an experienced seamstress (and the vast majority of us are not), this book may not be for you.

DIY Couture: Create Your Own Fashion Collection‘ is by Rosie Martin and published by Laurence King.  It is out now.

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