February 4, 2016
You might remember that I often quote one of my favorite “French fashion” advice books: Ma To-Do List: Dressing, by Jeanne-Aurure Colleuille and Laure Gontier. (available here) One thing from there that I’ve never told you about is a list of books that they consider useful for refining one’s sense of fashion culture. Let me quote them:
“In order to understand the mechanics of the fashion industry, or to be ravished by inspired images… A choice of books both perfectly subjective and totally timeless, to play a bit on the more intellectual side of fashion.”
1. The Ladies’ Paradise by Emile Zola – all things department store. It reminds you of how very LONG we’ve been allowing ourselves to be tempted to buy things we don’t need (and possibly can’t use) with money we don’t have, in order to impress people we don’t even like!
2. Allure by Diana Vreeland – Beautiful photographs, a forward by Marc Jacobs, and Diana Vreeland’s wit and insight, edited by Jackie Onassis… What else could we want?
3.Audrey Style by Pamela Clarke Keogh – Wonderful photographs, lots of anecdotes. If you love her, you’ll want this.
4. Jackie Style by Pamela Clarke Keogh – It’s easy to forget how beautiful she was, and how much influence she had on many of us. This book helps us remember…
5. Ultimate Style by Bettina Zilkha and Eleanor Lambert – An illustrated history of the Best Dressed List. Eleanor Lambert was the the founder of the Best Dressed List, and even though they never include me (what ARE they thinking?), you will see some amazing, lovely, and utterly unrealistic fashions. But so beautiful…
6. Beautiful People by Alicia Drake – if you can read French, or are willing to try to decipher it, this dual portrait of Saint Laurent and Lagerfeld gives some fascinating insights into what really goes on behind the scenes. So she says….
7. Fashion Game Book by Florence Muller – it feels a little bit like a textbook, but when you want to look up some really famous fashion figure about whom you’ve never been quite sure, this is the reference book for you. After this, when someone refers to Jacques Fath, you’ll KNOW what they’re talking about!
8. Histoire ideale de la mode contemporaine by Olivier Saillard – Only available used; but this is the go-to guy for a LOT of books about fashion, including a really recent release that he co-authors with Tilda Swinton, called Impossible Wardrobes.
9. I Love Your Style by Amanda Brooks – I was sort of surprised that this book made the list, but heck, it’s not MY list… Lots of famous people pictured, along with observations about what makes their style THEIRS. Amanda gives you lots of ideas for finding your personal style; you might find some invaluable advice here.
10. Fashion Box by Antonio Mancinelli – 16 essential (ahem…) wardrobe items, and photographs showing them being worn by some beautiful women. It’s sort of jarring for me to see Audrey Hepburn next to Sarah Jessica Parker on the cover, but if anything proves that there are timeless styles, that does it! While I don’t for a New York minute believe that there are ANY essential items – really, NONE – this is an interest look at how to wear timeless pieces; the photographs are wonderful…
Yes, if you buy a book, I will get a few pennies in commission. It will keep the lights turned on chez Vivienne Files, and I’m always very grateful!
p.s. 12 outfits, based on a GLORIOUS scarf, tomorrow….
Thanks for sharing the list, it's interesting to see how much thought has gone into the topic. Here's a question- To what extent do items become timeless classics because they are figure flattering? I see some of the latest lists online include trench coat, nude shoes, leather jacket, classic blue jeans, ankle boots, black blazer and think maybe not so much………. ??
Janice Riggs says
I think things become "classics" because the people who make these kinds of lists (tall, thin, fashiony) like them, and look good in them. I don't know that the rest of us are at all considered when these things are compiled…
So what would you put on your top 10 list , if you were compliling one?
Susan Bybee says
What a great list! I read the Zola book a couple of years ago and loved it.
Thanks for the list Janice I've not read a one. I'll need to check it out.
I'm currently in a minor fashion crisis maybe you can help. I've had my coloring analysed. After living 35 years with soft cool summer colors I am told I am an Autumn. I am in minor chaos. My neutrals are grey and navy now. I am switching to warm colors. I like rust, olive,chocolate, and blue/turquoise. Without a large amount to spend on clothing, how would you suggest I make this transition?
Ardyth Eisenberg says
Janice — your mention of the Zola book (which I haven't read) reminded me of the exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago about Impressionists and fashion (about the time Zola was writing). The key point was that fashion wasn't mass-marketed until the late 1800s, when sewing machines became available. Some of the Impressionists got their start by painting women in their new department-store clothes. Zola's friend Cezanne certainly didn't, but I wonder if Zola was inspired by the rise of the fashion industry?
Janice Riggs says
I think so, absolutely. Zola was trying to write super-realist books that reflected the changes in culture and society that he saw around him, and one of the things that I understand he found troubling was the combination of income disparities and hyper-consumption. One wonders what he would make of the United States, right now…
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