‘The Coat Route; Craft, Luxury and Obsession on the Trail of a $50,000 Coat’ by Meg Lukens Noonan (Scribe) This book celebrates the history, intricacies and skills of trades in the clothing business. It is a timely reminder of the importance of personal skills that have been learnt and developed over centuries and respecting items made to last in a disposable world. The true story of a journalist who sets out to trace the story of the making of the world’s most expensive coat using the best of each element as a way of keeping these skills and trades alive, this book is written in the style of a fascinating travel journal. The chapters are divided in to the fleece, lining, cloth, buttons, calligrapher and tailor and in each we delve into the history and intricacies of each specific element. We visit the Andes in Peru to find vicunas who produce the fleece which is finer than cashmere for the coat, Florence for the silk lining, Paris for the cloth merchant, West Yorkshire for the mill, Halesowen in England for buttons, Sydney for the engraver of the label. (I remember interviewing this engraver, John Thompson, for a story for a magazine a few years ago. Thompson was given the last hand-engraving apprenticeship ever offered in England. A very talented man; he created the invitations for Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding) and Sydney for the 4th generation tailor, John Cutler. Throughout the book we learn about the fascinating history of Savile Row in London, silk worms, the history of fastenings and buttons, the industrial revolution and the fashion retail trade. Lukens Noonan talks about the culture of handmade clothes and the importance of keeping centuries-old trades alive. Many of the skilled tradespeople we are introduced to in this book have no-one to teach their trades to. It’s so important to celebrate and nurture, whenever we can, those who work with their hands creating beautiful and lasting items. On this note, I applaud my dear friend Kylie who is relaunching her dress-making business. This book, designed by Allyson Colpoys, was shortlisted in the Best Designed Non-Fiction Book section for the Australian Book Design Awards 2014.
Visit Meg Lukens Noonan’s wesbite here.
‘Style’ by Kate Spade (Simon & Schuster) This is a great book written by the fabulous Kate Spade of New York fame. Spade made hers a household name with her accessories company – wonderful shoes, bags, wallets, sunglasses, stationery and home wares. In this book Spade’s easy writing style is teamed with 230 gorgeous watercolour illustrations by Virginia Johnson. Spade talks about her style inspirations with a fascinating list of books, movies art, design and architecture. There are sections on clothes for different occasions, organising your wardrobe, caring for your clothes and travel tips. I love her sections on colour and combining colour – did you know that Dr. Seuss wrote ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ after his editor dared him to write a book using fewer than 50 different words? or that Kipling painted his golf balls red so that he could spot them in the snow? or that the girl scout group called Brownies got their name from a book called ‘Brownies and Other Tales’? Anyone who describes colours as turquoise, tangerine, aqua, coral, watermelon, taupe, canary yellow, navy, cornflower and mocha is speaking my language. The inclusion of Spade’s Diana Vreeland inspired ‘Why Don’t You……?’ creates a fun, spirited and inspirational read.
‘Lessons From Madame Chic; 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris’ by Jennifer L. Scott (Harper Collins) This was a fun, rollicking read as I followed American author Scott on exchange when she finds herself living with a very sophisticated, elegant yet grounded Parisian family which she playfully and lovingly refers to as Family Chic. Scott reveals the beautiful sense of style, restraint and joie de vivre that the family encapsulate. We read of Madame Chic’s pared-down wardrobe, the no snacking concept, their tiny kitchen facility which produces delicious food, the idea of dining well and food presentation, minimal make-up, the delights of perfume, the expected dress code (and the ensuing embarrassing clash of cultures) and what makes Scott’s experience in Paris really so much fun. Scott talks of the horror of discovering that she is to house her clothes for her 6 month stay in a very tiny, freestanding wardrobe with a handful of coathangers and the revelation of the 10 item wardrobe (+ accessories) for each season. Scott looks at choosing the right clothes and colours for the individual, personal presentation and being forced (and therefore, forces us) to reconsider quantity over quality, taking the time and care to look after yourself and ‘bien dans sa peau’ (being comfortable in your skin). This is a fun, easy read which certainly made me think and celebrate fashion and life.
Visit Jennifer L.Scott’s website here.
Read my interview with Jennifer L. Scott here.
‘The Dress Doctor; Prescriptions for Style, From A to Z’ an adaption of the book by Edith Head and illustrated by Bil Donovan (Harper Collins) This book is an adaption of the bestselling book by Hollywood costume designer, Edith Head. Head won 8 Academy Awards for her designs and was nicknamed the ‘dress doctor’ because of her skills to clothe and fix costuming issues. Apparently the fabulous Edna Mode in ‘The Incredibles’ movie was based on Head. The Dress Doctor, Head, was called on daily to design costumes and became the go-to girl for stars to ask fashion questions, whether it was Deborah Kerr wanting to know what she should wear to a benefit or Sophia Lauren wondering if she should wear fur. Head shares tips on style and dozens of entertaining anecdotes from her time in Hollywood. We read about Katherine Hepburn’s innate sense of style, Marlene Dietrich’s attention to detail and Head’s fun neighbour, Ginger Rogers, all interspersed with Head’s wit. Illustrated throughout with phenomenally beautiful images by Bil Donovan we are reminded of Head’s most famous designs such as those in ‘Roman Holiday’, ‘Rear Window’ and ‘Vertigo’. Head’s message of the importance of creating and building a good quality wardrobe based on each individual’s personality resonates today as it did in her lifetime.
Visit Bil Donovan’s website here.
Read my interview with Bil Donovan here.
‘Dior; A New Look, A New Enterprise (1947 – 1957)’ by Alexandra Palmer (V&A Publishing: Bloomsbury) This was a beautiful read about Christian Dior’s life, style and influence on fashion. We learn of his childhood at a seaside town and later Paris, his rise to fame, why hound’s-tooth pattern became a good-luck charm and signature for him, the effect of his ‘New Look’ which was based on historical references of femininity and why this style was so new and appealing. In his lifetime Dior faced the effect of world economies and wars, the issues of copying and created ground-breaking control of global licensing agreements for Dior products branching out to accessories such as shoes, handbags, stockings and perfume. One of my first jobs when I finished school, waiting for my results, was working at the Christian Dior counter at the Georges store. Scents create powerful memories and the fragrances of ‘Miss Dior’, ‘Diorella’, ‘Diorissimo’ and ‘Dioressence’ still bring back wonderful recollections of that time. I wore with delight a Dior perfume at my wedding and still continue to wear it with joy.
‘Fashion House; Illustrated Interiors from the Icons of Style’ by Megan Hess (Hardie Grant Books) What a fun book! With her wonderfully free and colourful style, illustrator Hess designs 31 whimsical rooms to swoon over to suit various fashion clients including the imagined von Trapp Sisters, Donatella Versace, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor. Hess’ use of colour and line to depict fabrics and style is really stunning. l love that Hess includes quotes from Anna Wintour, Diana Vreeland, Picasso, Albert Einstein, Kelly Wearstler, Mahatma Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt and incorporates clothes from some of my personal favourites – Collette Dinnigan, Diane von Furstenberg and Pucci. This coffee–table book is beautifully designed and brings a playful, light-hearted, soul-warming view of fashion. I smiled reading that Hess illustrates all of her work with a bespoke Montblanc pen that she calls Monty. Pure indulgent fun! Thank you, Megan Hess!
Visit Megan Hess’ website here.
Read my interview with Megan Hess here.
‘Vera; The Art and Life of an Icon’ by Susan Seid (Abrams; Thames & Hudson) Thank you to my husband who gave me this book for Christmas. Vera Neumann was a designer and artist who made fine art available to a wide range of people through her graphic silk scarves. This book documents Vera’s inspiration, sketches and designs. Named after the author of the book her mum was reading when she was pregnant with her, Vera was encouraged by her school teacher who asked Vera to draw pictures on the blackboard for her class. This reminded me of my Year 2 teacher who used to draw the most amazing and intricate chalk drawings on our board. She must have spent hours on them. Each Monday we would rush into her classroom to see what our theme for the week was. I especially remember her chalk designs on our blackboard of fish and also the alphabet week. Vera designed for books and then fabric before moving to scarves. One of her closest friends was the sculptor Alexander Calder and the Bauhaus architect, Marcel Breuer, design Vera and her husband’s house. I love Vera’s colour and use of line, her designs of birdcages, parasol, watermelons, her interpretations of cultures and especially her trademark, the ladybird.
‘Manolo Blahnik Drawings’ (Thames & Hudson) Maybe because I have ridiculously small feet; 21cm long – yes, I really am a size 3 or 34 (offensively this is listed on the international shoe size chart as the size of a small 8 – 10 year old child – yes, you get the picture; no heels!) that I look longingly at shoes, knowing that they won’t have them in my size! Blahnik is somewhat of a creative genius. Born in the Canary Islands, he lists movies as a major visual reference and he is renown for his hawk-eye attention to detail. His shoe designs are beautiful, startling and fascinating. This book includes a collection of his beautiful drawings (yes, he can illustrate with aplomb as well!) My favourites are the bamboo leaf inspired designs, the cherry ties, suede pumps with pompoms, gold mules with pearls, beads and semi-precious stones, the silk and satin red pumps from the dancing collection and the brocade designs. Grace Coddington aptly describes Manolo as ‘The Picasso of shoes’, Cynthia Marcus laughs, ‘If he (Manolo) wanted me to change the name of the store to Neiman Blahnik, I’d do it in a heartbeat’ and I love Paloma Picasso’s comment, ‘I am never without my Manolo shoes in my dreams’. A seriously talented man.
‘The One Hundred; A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own’ by Nina Garcia and illustrated by Ruben Toledo (Harper Collins) Whilst renovating her apartment, fashion director Garcia and her husband left their wardrobes under tarpaulins whilst they lived in an apartment around the corner. Garcia started to make a list of which items in her wardrobe she needed to always run back for and began the search for; what are the essentials? What can’t she live without? and why? Fabulously illustrated by Ruben Toledo, we go through the list of Garcia’s 100 top fashion items. It’s an extensive and fascinating list ranging from ballet flats, Converses, Havaianas, luggage, pyjamas and yoga gear and includes great fun facts about the history of Ray-Ban sunglasses (in 1936 the US government commissioned sunglasses which would provide pilots with the protection of their aviation goggles without the bulk), in 1854 the Earl of Cardigan needed an extra layer of warmth under his uniform during the Crimean War – thus we have the cardigan, the joy of charm bracelets, how Yves Saint Laurent’s inclusion of espadrilles in his 1960s collections saved the espadrille company from going into liquidation, former Olympic athlete Ottavio Missoni designed the tracksuits for the 1948 Italian national Olympics team and how the trench coat was created for British soldiers to wear during World War I. This was a really interesting and informative read.
‘V&A Gallery of Fashion’ edited by Claire Wilcox & Jenny Lister (Bloomsbury) When I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum in London I was entranced; I had no idea how vast their collection was. The Victoria & Albert Museum developed from the initial museum which was set up after The Great Exhibition of 1851 which Prince Albert was so passionate and involved in. This initial museum was set up to ‘make works of art available to all; a school room to educate working people and to inspire British designers and manufacturers’. From there the museum grew to incorporate a fantastic and wide range of design, architecture and decorative arts references including fashion. Spanning four centuries, the V&A’s fashion collection is the most comprehensive in the world. This book chronologically covers pieces in the collection including an embroidered velvet dress coat, silk satin and linen shoes, a crinoline, bustle to show how they created the fashion silhouettes, a 1900s parasol with a gold and diamond handle by Russian jeweller Faberge, Japanese silk brocade evening coat, gas mask bag, Balenciaga hand embroidered dress, Christian Dior dresses and Calvin Klein clothes. A great reference, history and insight into fashion.