‘The Right Word; Roget and His Thesaurus’ by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans Publishing) This brand new book is really gorgeous; a fascinating topic beautifully illustrated. It’s about the concept and history of the Thesaurus (meaning ‘treasure house’ in Greek); just how did the Thesaurus come about? We learn about the intriguing Peter Roget (apparently pronounced ‘Roh-zhay’), his childhood in Switzerland, how he started writing lists at the age of 8, his appreciation of Linnaeus’ science books, his various documentation of lists and how the book was finally published when Roget was 73. Sweet illustrates each page with collages of water colours, vintage papers, book covers, type drawers, old botanicals, mixed media and a copy of an original page from Roget’s book which all combine to bring the story alive. Throughout the books are fun reminders of the Thesaurus with descriptions of the stages in Roget’s life such as ‘married with children; amour, woo, smitten, love, bachelor, groom, maiden, bride, marriage, husband, wife, honour, respect, revere’ then when he had children; ‘daughter, son, child, seed, shoot, sprout, the apple of one’s eye’. This book is a joyful reminder of why we are enchanted by this fascinating idea of writing groups of words, synonyms and related concepts that can be used by everyone. Read More
‘All the Buildings* in New York; * That I’ve Drawn So Far’ by James Gulliver Hancock (Universe Publishing; Rizzoli) Life drawing is a true skill; it’s one that should be nurtured and encouraged. To be able to draw anything at any time is a great communication skill and must be very satisfying. My husband and my brother both have this impressive skill where they can draw anything to scale and proportion at will and I admire this honed talent. Sydney illustrator, Hancock, moved to New York and, as part of his way of getting to know the city, set out on a project to draw the buildings and details around him. ‘Drawing is my way of understanding the things around me; it’s how I get comfortable and intimate with them’, he explains. These drawings have been collected to create a fascinating guidebook of New York. Hancock’s observant and detailed artworks of each building and street scape are interspersed with interesting notes such as The Woolworth Building where Frank Woolworth paid $13.5 Million in cash for the construction and that it was the tallest building in the word from 1913 – 1930. We see the Hook & Ladder building where ‘Ghostbusters’ was filmed, the Puck Building where Puck from Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ adorns the building, the Washington Square Arch which commemorates the centenary of George Washington becoming president, the Flatiron building named because it is shaped like an old flatiron, the Chelsea Hotel which was home to Andy Warhol, Madonna, Frida Kahlo and Bob Dylan, Renzo Piano’s energy efficient New York Times Building, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Marcel Breuer’s Whitney Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art which is the largest museum in USA containing over two million works of art. This really is a beautifully designed reference book celebrating the details and streetscapes of New York.
Read my interview with James Gulliver Hancock here.
‘Fictitious Dishes; An Album of Literature’s Most Memorable Meals’ by Dinah Fried (HarperCollins Publishers) What a great idea for a book; meals that have been mentioned in classic books such as ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, ‘Emma’, ‘The Great Gatsby’ ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, Middlesex, ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’! Fried explains that her book grew out of a design school project; she had to cook, style and photograph meals described in various books. From my background in styling, I have set up many place settings for meals for photography, so it was fascinating to see her work. The book includes some snapshots of the locations as she was setting the shots up such as some images that were shot on very small patches of grass on an inner-city nature strip. I loved how Fried included information at the bottom of each page about the classic books the meal was from, little gems like that ‘Little Women’ was semi-autobiographical or how J.D.Salinger included many references to Swiss cheese sandwiches and how Salinger’s father was a cheese importer, what exactly are corn dodgers in ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, a moustache tea cup that Mr Bloom drinks from in ‘Ulysses’ and just remembering fabulous parts of books where food is integral such as Mammy bringing up the tray of food to Scarlett in ‘Gone With the Wind’, Tom Robinson’s father sending a chicken to Atticus in ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’, Oliver asking for some more gruel in ‘Oliver Twist’ and Turkish delight in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. At the end of the book Fried lists each of the books and their summaries just to keep you wanting to read more! Read More
‘Jane Eyre’ directed by Cary Fukunaga (BBC Films; Universal Pictures International, 2011) This is a beautiful adaption of Charlotte Bronte’s book, ‘Jane Eyre’. Bronte’s romantic novel is based on a young governess in the 1800s and her struggle for equality and independence. From the beginning, the mystery and misery of the story entrances us as the film opens with Jane Eyre running across the bleak moors where even nature conspires against her. In flashbacks, we are reminded of her bleak childhood as an orphan, her cruel aunt and cousin, her sadistic boarding school then and as a governess for a child who is under the custody of a brooding wealthy employer in a dark hall. The gothic aspects of the story and cinematography capture the building and surrounding Derbyshire area’s desolate nature. The film stars Mia Wasikowska as the wonderful elfin Jane, Michael Fassbender as the brooding employer Mr Rochester and Judi Dench as Mrs Fairfax the housekeeper. Combining rich imagery through locations, beautiful costumes and gorgeous acting, this wonderful classic with all its light, happy and dark, brooding contrasts is brought to life. Thank you to one of my nieces, Phoebe, for suggesting I watch this movie. Read More
‘Charles Dickens; A Life’ by Claire Tomalin (Penguin) What a fascinating man Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870) was! From very humble beginnings he became a popular and prolific writer with such a clever way with words, plots and characters who ‘celebrated the small people living on the margins of society’. As Tomalin says ‘Through his own energy and exceptional gifts he had raised himself out of poverty. But he neither forgot it, nor turned aside from the poverty about him. He drew his attention to it in his books’. Dickens considered going into law or politics, but ‘thought he could do more good as a writer who drew attention to abuses than in any other way’. He also raised lots of money for good causes. Tomalin has a great writing style that is very readable and fascinating, imparting lots of facts along the way with notes and sources listed at the back of the book. Dickens serials ‘established a new style in publishing and reached a new public, because the paper numbers were cheap to buy and could be passed around’. As Tomalin says, Dickens ‘was a star, the great man who was also the people’s friend; they came to worship and adore, queuing up to hear him, applauding him with shouts and cheers’. I loved reading about how Dickens planned out his novels which were often in serial form, how he sometimes worked on more than 1 book at a time, was hounded by his extended family for money, went walking for hours and hours each day and travelled to various countries including America, France, Italy and England to do his readings. I was fascinated to read that Dickens ‘kept his characters alive in his imagination for the rest of his life’. A complex man, as Tomalin says, ‘the spectacle of a man famous for his goodness and his attachment to domestic virtues suddenly losing his moral compass is dismaying’. Read More
‘On the Noodle Road; from Beijing to Rome with Love and Pasta … a True Story’ by Jen Lin-Liu (Allen & Unwin) Chinese-American food writer and founder of a cooking school, Lin-Liu visited Italy for the first time on her honeymoon. There, attending a pasta-making class, she became fascinated with how similar the Italian pasta dishes were with traditional Chinese cooking. Returning home she resolved to follow The Silk Route to trace the origins and record the variations of pasta. In the book we follow Lin-Liu’s travels through barren desserts, mountains, green pastures, bazaars, mosques and kitchens starting in China and travelling through Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece and finishing in Italy in search of noodles. Interwoven with stories, anecdotes and history in each country, we enjoy reading about Lin-Liu cooking in private kitchens and each chapter concludes with a handful of recipes from the region from hand-rolled noodles, to Persian rice to cheese tortellini with sage-butter sauce. This book was a fascinating insight into a variety of cultures including their ingredients, landscape, cuisine, dress, attitudes and history. Lin-Liu writes with a real passion for food and interest in the cooks and their craft in a style which is both contagious and delightful. Read More
10 Great Books about Design and Architecture
‘The Design Book’ commissioning editor Emilia Terragni (Phaidon) This gem of a book is in compact format and runs through 500 important pieces of design in chronological order from Chinese household scissors (around 1643) to the Dyson Air Multiplyer (2009). Each page is dedicated to an item with a photo, name, designer (if possible to name), date, manufacturers and an often intriguing history and description of why it was so important. Who knew that clothes pegs were designed by Shakers, that Norwegians wore paperclips in WWII, that the white star on the top of Mont Blanc pens represents the snow cap and six glacial valleys of Mont Blanc, that the Rolodex is now available in a computer format, that a sleek spoon that was given away to purchasers to get the last remaining scoops of Kraft mayonnaise out of jars became a classic, that the Post-It note was originally thought of as a hymn bookmark, that OXO Good Grips were designed to help the designer’s wife who had arthritis or that the owner of the company Stelton was Arne Jacobsen’s foster son? We learn of the US Tunnel Mailbox which has become such an icon that it is used as the symbol for email and all the designs that were created by co-incidence, the influences of world economics and technology that affected the design processes and the results. Many of these items were familiar from my days studying design and my love of design and many were completely new and equally as fascinating. Read More
‘The Butler; A Witness to History’ by Wil Haygood (Atria; Simon & Schuster) This is the true story of Eugene Allen who, fascinatingly, was the butler to 8 American presidents over 34 years; Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. What interesting and memorable conversations, meetings, guests, situations and issues he was exposed to! As an African American man he experienced firsthand the civil rights movement from both within and outside the White House. Emphasising the times he was born in to, Allen was a house boy in Virginia then worked at hotel and a country club before becoming a butler at The White House. Allen worked at The White House during the Little Rock School desegregation when Eisenhower sent in federal troops to protect black school children, when Kennedy had to protect James Meredith at the University of Mississippi as he was the first black student enrolled there, when Kennedy was contemplating the Cuban missile crisis and when Kennedy was shot. Later, Allen’s son was fighting in the Vietnam War when Allen was working for President Johnson and also during apartheid in South Africa when Reagan was in power. Throughout these difficult and testing situations working with people who were making decisions about race and war which had direct impact on Allen’s own family, he worked with honour and respect. I loved reading about Allen and his wife hosting dinners in their home basement with their friends and the wonderful personal photos of Allen and his times in The White House. The second part of the book is devoted to the making of the movie of the same name which I am keen to see. Read More
‘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.
Visit Meg Lukens Noonan’s wesbite here.
Read my interview with Meg Lukens Noonan 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’ forward by Anna Wintour (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 Clare 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.
Today is the 50th Anniversary of the death of Edith Piaf. I was invited by Bloomsbury Publishing to participate in an online video forum with author Carolyn Burke in New York who wrote ‘No Regrets; The Life of Edith Piaf’ (Bloomsbury). I hope you enjoy it: http://www.youtube.com/user/BloomsburyPublishing?feature=share&v=m1ilqzrwKBg