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Posts Tagged ‘fashion books’

IMG_20180117_151930Marchesa Casati was quite the It Girl in early 20th Century Europe. With a family fortune backing her, she lived a large life in several Italian palaces and another one in Paris, bespoke and designer duds, jewels not just for her neck but also adorning the collection of the live exotic animals she kept close at hand – black panthers, snakes, and monkeys.

Infinite Variety The Life & Legend of the Marchesa Casati (University of Minnesota Press, 3rd ed.) by Scot D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino fills us in on all the details of the Marchesa and her surrounding admirers.

Her grandfather and father made their money in cotton milling during a time when Italy was a great exporter of the fabric. Luisa Adele Rosa Maria Amman was born in January 1881. Although pampered, Luisa was not the favorite of the family and not the beauty her older sister was, which made her a somewhat shy child.

As teenagers the girls lost both parents and inherited a great fortune. It was after marrying Camillo Casati at age 19 that Luisa began to reinvent herself, her style, and she discovered ways to spend her money. She was an unusual looking woman for the times standing tall and thin with a long neck, large dark eyes, and a mop of curly hair. Luisa decided to “exploit her type to the full” by chopping off her long tresses and dying it red and outlining her eyes with black coal.

Here she is described in 1920 by a Russian royal exile:

In the room where I was introduced, a woman of singular beauty was (reclining) on a tiger pelt with translucent veils outlining her slender body. Two greyhounds, one black and one white, were sleeping at her feet … I hardly noticed the presence of  an Italian officer … Our hostess raised her splendid eyes. They were so large in her pale face, you could not see anything but them. With a slow and undulant movement, like that of a royal cobra, she offered me a hand decorated with rings of giant pearls. The hand itself was ravishing. 

IMG_20180117_133130Sporting a new look and money no object Luisa was soon holding grand parties for which she created outlandish costumes. She caught the eye of artists Augusts John, Man Ray and a host of others who painted, sculpted, and photographed her. Isadora Duncan was a friend, Worth and Leon Bakst, costume designer for the Ballet Russes, are credited with dressing her.

Luisa overcame her timidity and successfully created a persona that men and women alike could not resist. She had that certain elusive something, which made her an early 20th century icon such as a modern day Lady Gaga. Indeed at first she reminded me of British fashion follower and muse Isabella Blow (1958-2007) but the Marchesa went way beyond the antics of Ms. Blow.

It was the aim it seems of the Marchesa to be seen, clothed or not, (she would have fit quite nicely into our modern world of selfies and social media). But why is the question I kept asking and this book did not answer. Although a great documentation of just about every outlandish party she ever held, what I found missing is any discussion as to what made this woman tick.

Infinite Variety is an interesting peek at an interesting woman but description after description of party after party and quotes about how extraordinary she was got repetitious. After awhile I got fed up with the Marchesa whose superficial ways cost her her only daughter and the family fortune. (Although I do applaud Luisa for stepping outside the conventions of the day. Something only a woman with money could do.)

For anyone interested in fashion, the Marchesa is worth knowing about since she was such an icon and muse even in recent fashion history to the likes of Alexander McQueen, Tom Ford, and John Galliano, but it’s hard for me to recommend a cover to cover read of this 259 page book. A brief skim and for sure spend some time with the images.

 

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0The people I most admire for their style aren’t those that follow every trend and dress in designer clothes from head to toe, but people like Sofia Coppola, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Grace Coddington. These women are style icons not because they follow rules but because they make their own, and each have a strong sense of style and a clear signature look. 

Anuschka Rees, German fashion blogger and author.

A sense of style is something that takes time. Time first to figure out what you like and what likes you. And then time to put looks together, learning and developing as one goes along. But it’s all fun, right?

Ms. Rees has a blog that talks all about this and she has a book, which I took a peek at last year. It’s very complete. Detailed and perhaps a little overwhelming but if taken a bit at a time it certainly has something to offer and it’s a good place to start for anyone who needs a little guidance.

As far as “rules” go I don’t think they’re such a bad thing. Rules can help, actually. Like the following:

Don’t mix prints. Don’t! Unless you know how to do it.

Don’t show your bra-straps. Come on! Showing bra-straps doesn’t look cool or sexy it just looks sloppy.

Spend money on investment pieces. My personal fave. Invest in expensive staples like a quality 100% cashmere sweater (from England or Italy), a wool blazer, a good fitting pair of trousers and/or a skirt. Choose classic silhouettes that will never go out of style. Less is more and much better for the environment.

 

 

 

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img_20170724_161221288.jpgEvery female student in Iran wore the same uniform, which consisted of pants, a manteau, and a scarf that covered the hair and neck. Imagine a throng of one thousand teenagers in the same color uniform only showing face and hands. We looked like replicas of one another … I hated blending in with the rest of the crowd, and most of my friends felt the same way. This meant that our shoes, backpacks, and jewelry really mattered. They were the only way to showcase our fashion sense and individuality … My friends and I usually wore matching colorful friendship bracelets, trendy backpacks, and funky shoelaces; we rolled up our sleeves and opened up our manteaus to reveal our shirts underneath. Being fashionable trumped any other responsibility. 

(A manteau is a loose fitting gown or cloak.)

Tala Raassi, swimwear designer.  This quote is from Ms. Raassi’s memoir, Fashion is Freedom (Sourcebooks, 2016).

I picked up this book at the library because I can never resist a fashion story. But Fashion is Freedom is more than that. It’s a compelling read about Ms. Raassi’s struggle to overcome restrictions in her homeland of Iran and the fascinating ups and downs she faced in the American fashion industry.

Oh, and there’s a very interesting section about Ms. Raassi’s experience as the swimwear sponsor of the Miss Universe Pageant in 2010 – it wasn’t pretty!

An informative read.

 

 

 

 

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IMG_20160517_145333Congratulations to Carlota Caulfield on the publication of her fashion memoir, Fashionable: A Poet’s Passion for Style (Ediciones Torremozas, S.L., 2016).

Carlota, poet and professor at Mills College in Oakland, CA is a woman of distinctive style. I know her from my days working in the library at Mills. I always enjoyed a visit from Carlota because she’s interesting to chat with and also because it was a treat to see her outfits.

With a touch of Berkeley sensibility mixed with European flair, Carlota creates unique, sophisticated looks for herself – often including layers, a hat, maybe a scarf and always the most intriguing shoes.

In Fashionable: A Poet’s Passion for Style we get a glimpse of Carlota’s sartorial past and present. She shares stories of her fondness for shoes, which started as a child growing up in Cuba, and why she feels hats are important – “A hat has the power to transform us.” She discusses perfume, pajamas, the LBD and many more topics of fashion all with a sense of fun and play.

A lovely and fashionable read.

 

 

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blog_Isabel-Toledo-Roots-of-Style-bookFashion is ephemeral. It is the flavor of the day, and useful for refueling your style inspiration when you feel you’ve run out of gas. Fashion is easy to apply because it’s all surface.

Style on the other hand, is an effective way to carve out your individuality. Style is content. A person with true style is displaying a fertile and thinking mind.

– Isabel Toledo, American fashion designer.

This quote is from Ms. Toledo’s autobiography, Roots of Style: Weaving Together Life, Love, and Fashion (Celebra, 2012). I enjoyed her story starting out in Cuba and moving to America with her family when she was young enough to see it as a big adventure. I also appreciate her positive attitude and of course her amazing talent, which began with desire to see how machines work and soon shifted to how clothing is constructed.

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Illustrations by Ruben Toledo. From Roots of Style.

A unique voice in fashion, Ms. Toledo started out in the 1980s and is one of the few who has remained independent, not selling out to big corporations. She gave up Fashion Week back in the 90s, seeing where it was headed. Her husband Ruben (they met in high school) is a fashion illustrator and her business partner. His illustrations are throughout the book helping to expand the narrative. Love his style … hers too.

Great book! Read it!

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51wtSkv9QhL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_A Dandy is heroically consecrated to this one object; the wearing of clothes wisely and well. So that others dress to live, he lives to dress. 

– Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Scottish historian and novelist.

This quote is from Carlyle’s novel Sartor Resartus (The Tailor Re-tailored) published in 1836, but I found it in Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Man of Style by Ian Kelly.

Beau (aka George) Brummell was the first Dandy, having turned men’s fashions of the late 18th century upside down. He rejected the trendy wig, powdered face, and ruffled shirt and instead strut about in tight beige jodhpurs-like-slacks, boots, and tailored blazers in black. Indeed he is credited with creating the first suit for men. He bathed regularly (unheard of at the time) and went without fragrance. The Prince Regent was influenced by Brummell as were most of London’s aristocrats. What he did and how he dressed was of such interest that men would arrive at his front door in the early mornings asking to watch him dress, which took two hours. He was a wealthy young man with a gift for witty banter and luck at the gambling table. Until it all flitted away.

Brummell’s is a fascinating story and good read for those quiet moments during the holiday season. We do get some of those, right?

 

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teri-agins-hijacking-the-runway-419x632When you see so many celebrities penetrating fashion brands – as well as celebrities becoming fashion labels themselves – you wonder, is there anybody left to carry on the tradition of creating real clothes?

Teri Agins, fashion journalist for the Wall Street Journal and author of Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities Are Stealing the Spotlight from Fashion Designers (Gotham Books, 2014).

Some designers, like Michael Kors, are making themselves into celebrities and many celebrities are pretending to be designers causing chaos and confusion on multiple levels. Still there are a few who refuse to join the madness. Derek Lam for example doesn’t invite celebrities to his shows and doesn’t seek celebrity status himself. For this designer, it’s just about the clothes.

(By the way, Michael Kors’ celebrity is biting back. Overexposure has branded him passé.)

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