Fashion isn’t just about shopping or looking at pretty pictures. Whether you’re an aspiring designer, a fashion blogger, or just a fan, these seven books are well worth the read.
For inspiration:Empress of Fashion is a refreshingly honest biography of iconic American fashion editor Diana Vreeland. Even if you don’t recognize the name you will have come across something her work inspired—she helmed Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue before she was the creative consultant of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She may not have always been well liked, but her influence and reach cannot be argued. Stuart’s writing paints a wonderfully human picture of Vreeland, exploring her early life as well as her rise to success. Descriptions of her flaws as well as her innovations paint a well-rounded picture of this legendary editor. Filled with beautiful colour photographs of her work, “Empress of Fashion” is an excellent portrait of an inspiring successful woman.
For gossip and scandal:The Beautiful Fall is a riveting expose of the Paris fashion scene in the 1970s. The focus is on two rival camps—that headed by Karl Lagerfeld, and that headed by Yves Saint Laurent. The two former friends had a rivalry made all the more dramatic and salacious by the culture of glamour and excess in the fashion world during this era. The book is extensively researched but never dull, weaving a mesmerizing narrative through interviews and scandalous detail. While obviously the focus is on fashion and the rival camps, the book provides a glimpse into the importance of the era and socio-cultural events of the time.
For the academics:
While this is a more serious and educational read, if you’re interested in Renaissance history, this book is for you. Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory discusses fashion innovations and how the making and transmission of fabrics and clothing was central to European culture in the sixteenth century. Many topics are discussed in depth in this book, including the function and value of clothing, the division of classes, the meaning of materials, clothing’s relation to gender and gendered activities, and clothing in the theatre. The book is richly illustrated, providing a look at an era not everyone may be familiar with. Fair warning—this book isn’t an easy breezy read. But if you’re an academic or a history lover and you’re up for the challenge, it’s deeply engrossing.
For the Met Gala Fan:
For those of you who eagerly await pictures from the Met Gala every year, this is a fascinating companion piece to the 2016 exhibition and event. Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology is written by Andrew Bolton and features photography by Nicholas Alan Cope. It explores the theme of the 2016 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute more in depth than you would get from photographs of celebrities arriving on the gala red carpet. The book discusses the complicated relationship between the artisanal and the technological in fashion, discussing how technology has been used over time in both commercial and high fashion circles. Included are interviews with renowned designers such as Karl Lagerfeld as well as designers on the cutting edge of new innovations in fashion technology. The book also includes exclusive pictures of amazing pieces from the exhibition.
For a casual beach read:
From the author of the very popular (and relatable) Confessions of a Shopaholic series, this standalone fiction is something a little different. The protagonist, Lara, finds herself haunted by the ghost of her great aunt Sadie—as she was as a young woman in the flapper era. Sadie cannot rest in peace without her beloved dragonfly necklace, and Lara finds herself dragged into a series of wacky hijinks and unexpected romance on her quest to find it. While not focused on the fashion industry, Sadie’s love of 1920s fashion and accessories inspires Lara and becomes part of an ode to finding yourself, having fun, and taking risks—including in fashion. This cute, funny, light read is perfect for poolside rest and relaxation.
For those looking for something different:
This satirical fiction novel takes a very different approach to the fashion industry in order to make socio-political commentary. Alex Gilvarry tells the story of Boy Hernandez; a Filipino born fashion designer who finds himself detained at Guantanamo Bay as a “fashion terrorist.” During his time there, he modifies his prison jumpsuit and invokes the names and inspiration of several famous fashion designers. Despite the premise, this novel is not a light and fluffy read, and not for the faint of heart. Gilvarry uses the threat and shock of unlawful detention along with Boy’s career as a vehicle for satire and humour. While not for everyone, this is the perfect book if you are looking for something different from the typical fashion read.
For those who want to work in the industry:
The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever is an amazing and informative business read, often listed as a “must read” for those who want to get into the contemporary fashion industry. Teri Agins, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, uses this book to describe and discuss how fashion changed when designers shifted into mass marketing clothes and designing and marketing to mainstream consumers. This novel explores aspects of the industry such as manufacturing, licensing, and image making. While thorough and informative, this book is never dull, and even includes behind the scenes stories about big names like Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Isaac Mizrahi.