To understand fashion, you don’t have to wear it. Sometimes you just need to see it: the shape, the flow, the telling details. All of that contributes to making a fashion statement.
Sure, in an ideal world, you would get to touch it, zip it, wear it. But that is not always possible: access to some of the greatest fashion designs, particularly vintage items, is limited. And then, so are our wallets.
So the next best thing is a book, dedicated to conveying the fashion experience through photos and text. There are many beauties out there currently and they would make great holiday presents. Or treat yourself. Curl up some snowy evening with some classic clothes. These books are guaranteed to fit all.
Chloe: Attitudes, by Sarah Mower and Gaby Aghion [Rizzoli, $54].
It was Gaby Aghion’s attitude in the Paris of the late 1950’s that seemed so fresh and new. In a rebellion against Dior’s New Look, Aghion borrowed the name of a friend and started her own line. She embraced clean lines and a youthful approach in her designs; the women she was designing for were Left Bank beauties with long, tousled hair and smoky eye makeup. Perhaps that is why Chloe designs, even those of five decades ago, still seem so embraceably now. Karl Lagerfeld started there; so did Stella McCarthy. On a recent Bravo TV episode, one of the Million Dollar Shoppers exclaimed in a vintage clothing store, “You can never turn away from a great Chloe dress.” This book shows you why.
Lee Miller in Fashion, by Becky E. Conekin [Monacelli Press, $29].
An amazing woman of the 20th century world, Lee Miller is shockingly little known today. She started as a behind-the-scenes stylist at fashion magazines. In 1927, Conde Nast declared her the epitome of the modern woman and her modeling career was born. Miller then moved behind the camera, becoming a fashion photographer; in Europe, she became a Surrealist and Man Ray’s lover. She is best known for her journalistic photographs of the effects of World War II.
But her stylist eye was incredible and this book, which concentrates on her fashion work, reveals many of her heretofore-unseen images. She helped shape decades of style and these hidden treasures are well worth viewing.
The Killer Detail: Defining Moments in Fashion, by Francois Armanet & Elizabeth Quin [Flammarion, $30]
It’s that one little thing—it may be quirky or almost invisible, totally of the times or presciently ahead. But it makes a statement. Think Michelle Obama’s brooches or Cary Grant’s impeccable tailoring, Jimi Hendrix’s military jackets or Bardot’s love of Capri pants and ballet flats. With an introduction by designer Azzedine Alaia, this book serves up over 120 images of perfect details that slay the viewer.
Vintage Fashion & Couture from Poiret to McQueen, by Kerry Taylor [Firefly Books, $40].
A vintage fashion expert at Sotheby’s in London, Taylor has depth of field to match her impeccable eye. This is a sweeping book that covers Mainbocher and Vionnet to Mary Quant and Comme des Garcons. It gives the reader something that fashion alone doesn’t: perspective.
Jean Patou: A Fashionable Life, by Emmanuelle Polle [Flammarion, $60]
Today his name may be most recognizable as the one on the bottle of Joy perfum, but Patou was a masterful designer in the 1920’s and 1930’s, one of the main dispensers of glamour in a very glamorous era. His chief rival was Coco Chanel. This monograph includes previously unpublished hand-tinted sketches, photographs, and family history. Patou’s life was short, but his influence lives on with breathtaking freshness.
Christian Louboutin, by Christian Louboutin [Rizzoli, $150].
A fantastically fun coffee table that is a work of art itself, with five-piece foldout binding and a pop-up. Louboutin showcases his divine red-soled shoes, over 300 pairs of them, in what amounts to the ultimate wish book.
Elie Saab, by Janie Samet [Assouline $250].
Another dreamy coffee table book that showcases Saab’s fairy tale lush design. His dresses are impeccably detailed and layered, as these photographs show. No one does complex romanticism with more sophistication.