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Posts Tagged ‘books for the holidays’

Be safe, be respectful, wear your mask, lead with love.

Dolly Parton, American singer/songwriter, pop icon.

Sound advice for these challenging times.

Who doesn’t love Dolly Parton? I admire Ms. Parton’s upbeat attitude and confidence and I thought she was hilarious in her first movie, Nine to Five. I had no idea that she has written over 3000 songs and she was the fourth child of twelve. Twenty-five years ago she started a non-profit called Imagination Library, which provides books to disadvantaged kids.

Although her style isn’t my cup of tea, she pulls off whatever she sports – be it jeans and a western style shirt or a white beaded jumpsuit.

Do you have a Dolly fan on your holiday gift list? She’s just come out with a memoir – Songteller: My Life in Lyrics (Chronicle Books). Check out your local independent bookshop.

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Photo: Charles Tracy

I’d learned to tailor from my mom, and that coat, with its forest-green satin lining, was our masterpiece. We defied any fashion-conscious person not to fall in love with it. Mom had taught me that when it comes to clothes, there’s no such think as timidity. The point is to show yourself off. My mom and my aunt had always done that; now it was my turn. If I could get people to love the clothes I made, then maybe my mom and aunt could have the fashion house they’d always fantasized about, like the ones my aunt saw when she was in Paris.

Pat Cleveland, American model.

This quote is from Ms. Cleveland’s memoir, Walking with the Muses (Atria Books), written by Ms. Cleveland with Lorraine Glennon.

These past few months I’ve been reading a lot of fiction, but my first love is biographies/memoirs, particularly of people in the fashion business. I had heard about Ms. Cleveland’s memoir on the fashion podcast Dressed. (If you don’t know about Dressed, you want to.)

Check back on Wednesday for my review of Walking with the Muses.

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When I was taking a fashion history course earlier this year, I was determined to avoid the Internet for any research I had to do. Why? Because I prefer books and thanks to the many fashion history books I’ve collected over the years, it was easy to keep the promise I made to myself.

One book I didn’t own (and it would have been quite handy) is 100 Years of Fashion by Cally Blackman (Laurence King Publishing, 2020).

Blackman, a fashion historian, university lecturer, and author, digs into fashion history from 1900 to circa 2000. She discusses high society, the everyday lady, designers, and all the trends from the S-Bend silhouette to Grunge.

The book is divided into two sections: 1901-1959 and 1960 onward, making the subject accessible for the serious student and the casual fashion admirer. Both sections include an overview of the fashion trends of each decade and the historical context for those trends. A complete index makes for quick and easy research.

Another reason I prefer fashion books to a search on the Internet is I can more easily study the provided photos. Similar to an exhibition catalogue the bulk of 100 Years of Fashion is photos and illustrations with captions. The over 400 images provide a visual documentation of twentieth century fashion history. Such examples are essential for fashion study, not to mention the eye candy factor.

The compact size of the book makes it a great choice to take on the road if attending a fashion conference or traveling to take a course (yes, one day the pandemic will be over).

I noticed while researching various fashion history topics that each book I went to offered a little different angle, giving me a more complete understanding. In other words, you cannot own too many books on fashion!

Books are on everyone’s gift list this year and 100 Years of Fashion is an excellent choice for anyone interested in fashion. Support your local independent book store! Most will special order whatever title you’re looking for.

Let the holiday shopping begin.

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The bodice was from a red satin gown I found at the thrift store where I work – halter neck, structured, water-stained in a couple of spots. I hacked the top part off the dress, altered it, and water-stained it all over so it looked like a pattern. The skirt was one of the first things I made out of completely new material … At first I made it in a pretty basic shape – fitted at the waist and flaring outward to glorious fullness. A good twirling skirt. But it wasn’t quite speaking to my soul. So, I started adding on to it. I sewed on some ribbons, flowing along the hemline. I added sequins to match. And then I saved up and got myself some fancy fabric paints and painted this wild, multicolored … things all over it. The whole thing came together when I found that red satin gown and realized it was the last piece I needed to turn this initially simple skirt into the beautiful dress it was meant to be.

Kimi Nakamura – protagonist in I Love You So Mochi, by Sarah Kuhn (Scholastic Press).

I can’t resist a novel whose protagonist has a thing for fashion. I Love You So Mochi is a charming young adult novel that tells the story of high school senior Kimi Nakamura and her struggle to figure out what she really wants to do with her life. Her mother wants Kimi to become an artist (what? not a doctor?) but Kimi isn’t feeling it, and is drawn more toward fashion.

Kimi is Japanese American and when her grandparents, whom she has never met, invite her to visit them in Japan, she goes and makes discoveries about her family, herself, and falling in love.

I really enjoyed Kimi’s journey, which speaks to everyone – those of us who already went through this stage and those young ones who are facing their wide open futures right now. The Kyoto travel guide is fun as are the Japanese food references, particularly the mochi. And of course, Kimi’s inspired fashion designs are the most fun.

I Love You So Mochi is an excellent holiday gift choice for any young fashionista.

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When I was a kid growing up in San Francisco on the occasional Sunday afternoon my father and I would drive to Chinatown, park (because you still could), and walk around looking in all the shops. The stuff in the stores was fun to peruse but I was more captivated by the older Chinese people I saw strolling along Grant Street and the unique way they dressed. Their style was was bold and bright – mixing patterns with checks, layering unexpected color combinations such as red with yellow, and sporting something like my Mary Janes but made from black fabric (they looked so cute and comfortable).

Fast-forward quite a few years and not only is Chinatown style still thriving (with a new generation of older people), but we have a recently published book on the subject by photographer Andria Lo and journalist Valerie Luu, Chinatown Pretty: Chinatown’s Most Stylish Seniors (Chronicle Books, 2020).

As second generation Asian Americans, Lo and Luu have a shared fascination with the clothing of poh pohs (grandmas) and gung gungs (grandfathers) in San Francisco Chinatown. Curious about the people behind the clothes, they began to approach individuals on the street and ask how they put their outfits together. “The Chinatown seniors’ dress and demeanor,” the authors explain, “also reminded us of our own grandparents – their permed hair, their sock-and-sandal combinations, and the way their expressions could switch between extremely tough (and intimidating) and overwhelmingly affectionate.”

Their interest turned into a book, which covers six city Chinatowns – SF, Oakland, LA, Chicago, Manhattan, Vancouver, BC. – and dozens of stylin’ seniors. The people are as varied as the clothing with ages ranging from 60 to one woman over 100. Most immigrated decades ago from China or Vietnam, and they have worked as seamstresses, gardeners, store clerks, vendors, accounts, and social workers. Each person featured shares a lot or very little of their story and the authors say that 90 percent of the people they approached declined to be photographed or interviewed.

A theme among those featured was that their style is unintentional. They just wear what they have, some of it vintage, some hand-me-downs or purchased on sale. “At my age we don’t care about fashion,” says Show Chun Change from Vancouver Chinatown. “We just wear what’s comfortable.” How it’s all put together is more of a practical consideration, such as layering to keep out the cold. One gentleman had hand stitched several hats together for warmth and another used safety pins to close a buttonless vest, which made for a very cool look. I love that their style came from their ingenuity. (See slideshow.)

Several among the group do dress with intention. Anna Lee is in her 90s and immigrated from Hong Kong to Canada in 1989. She worked as an accountant and a social worker and although now retired she still enjoys dressing well in her custom-made dresses, high-waisted pants, and silk blouses, all accessorized with beaded necklaces she makes herself. (See first picture in slideshow.)

Another woman’s more artistic flair reminded me of the Advanced Style set, a group of older women in NYC who have become style superstars thanks to photographer Ari Seth Cohen. Dorothy G.C. Quock (called Polka Dot), 75, was born and still lives in SF Chinatown and works as a tour guide there. (See picture nine in the slideshow.) Growing up, Polka Dot spent a lot of time where her mother worked as a seamstress at the sweatshop that manufactured Levi’s:

As a preschooler, she got her first experience trimming thread ends. In second grade, she learned how to use an embosser to stamp the Levi’s logo onto the leather tag. At age ten, she mastered the buttonhole, which appeared on Levi’s before zippers became the norm.

I enjoyed the glimpses into these people’s lives and I also appreciated that the authors included a brief history of each of the six Chinatowns.

Chinatown Pretty is a fun read, a visual treat, and important documentation of an overlooked segment of fashion history.

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IMG_20191203_130459My favorite part of the holiday season is that quiet time between Christmas and New Year’s when most of the rush is OVER. When we finally have a chance to stop, stay home, and relax. This is the best time to curl up with a pile of books.

And what’s a better gift for Christmas (Dec. 25), Hanukkah (Dec. 22- Dec. 30), Kwanzaa (Dec. 26-Jan. 1) than a book?

On my fashion book recommendation list is IM: A Memoir (Flatiron Books) by fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. I devour fashion stories and Mizrahi’s is a good one. He was part of the generation that landed in NYC in the early 80s when the city was edgy but real and making it there without buckets of money was still possible.

I read IM while visiting Manhattan and it was a kick to be walking past some of Mizrahi’s references –  like Macy’s on W. 34th Street across from which was his father’s office (he manufactured children’s clothing) or M&J Trimming on W. 38th Ave.,  (touted to be the best trim shop in Manhattan).

IM is a complete memoir starting with Mizrahi’s childhood in Brooklyn. His family was part of the Syrian Jewish community. With two older sisters and a fashionista mother, our hero was all about style from a young age. But he struggled as an overweight kid who liked Broadway tunes and spent his time making puppets and perfecting his impersonation of Barbra Streisand. He was an outsider at school, in his community, and at home. But he had a close relationship with his mother and even though he was unhappy, on some level it seemed that he accepted and even embraced his quirkiness.

I found the early part of this memoir fascinating, especially the section when Mizrahi attends School of Performing Arts in Manhattan. The same school featured in the 1980 film, Fame.  In fact Mizrahi auditioned for the gay character, Montgomery, which went to Paul McCrane. But he was in the film as part of a montage. It’s little tidbits like this that make IM a fun read.

Although Mizrahi initially wanted to become a performer, he was also drawn to fashion and he began to sell his designs at age 15 while still in high school. That pretty much set his fate, at least for a while.

In IM we get a peek at the fashion industry, how it worked back then and some behind-the scene descriptions. There’s a lot of name dropping and talk about Mizrahi’s friendships with the likes of Liza Minneli and Anna Wintour (both at one time pretty close with Mizrahi but the friendships didn’t stand the test of time). Well-written (ghost written?) and detailed, the narration doesn’t get in its own way. I was disappointed that there are no photos and I thought his work with QVC deserved more than a mention. I was interested to know how that came about.  Target, however, does get a chapter.

There is much to say about this book but I have holiday chores to get to! I’ll wrap it up by saying IM, A Memoir by Isaac Mizrahi is a good choice for you, my fashionable readers, and/or any fashionable on your holiday list.

 

 

 

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