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Posts Tagged ‘fashion books’

We live surrounded by cloth. We are swaddled in it at birth and shrouds are drawn over our faces at death. And yet there persists a stubborn belief that clothing and cloth are frivolous subjects – unworthy of serious notice – despite their overwhelming importance to human evolution.

Kassia St. Clair, British journalist and author.

This is, in part, a quote by Ms. St. Clair from the inside jacket of her book The Golden Thread: How Fabric Change History (Liveright Publishing).

I’ve started off the new year with this book, dipping back into non-fiction after reading quite a lot of fiction in Pandemic 2020. Having taken a textiles class in 2017, some of the information in this book is a welcome refresher, but I’m learning new things too! Such as the Vikings used wool to fashion their ships’ sails. I’m looking forward to the chapter on lace and I’m very intrigued by “Rayon’s Dark Past.”

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Walking with The Muses is a compelling jaunt through the life of model Pat Cleveland, who hit the fashion runways when she was a teenager back in the late 1960s. Tall and strikingly attractive, she started modeling for Ebony and then went on the road with the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion show for African American women.

While pursuing a career in modeling, Ms. Cleveland was also studying fashion design and making her own clothing. As she bopped around her native New York City, her unique style caught the eye of a Vogue magazine editor. Even Bendel’s department store bought some of her clothing, but fashion design and clothes-making hit a snag when Ms. Cleveland was unable to provide her designs in multiple sizes. So it was full steam ahead into modeling.

She went on to create a successful career as a runway and print model in Europe and the US. But there were rocky times, including not getting hired initially because she wasn’t a blue-eyed blonde. (She got her start in the industry as a fit model.) There was a disturbing incident while traveling in the south with the Fashion Fair, sexual harassment, and a violent stepfather. Still, Ms. Cleveland didn’t allow anything to keep her down; she knew what she wanted and kept going, taking knocks along the way as well as enjoying quite a few unusual adventures. Her bright spirit and inner strength is an inspiration.

During her decades-long life as a model, she worked and partied with the likes of Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Karl Lagerfeld, Halston and even her long time crush – Warren Beatty. Each one of her encounters has a story and there’s where we find the fun. She worked for the biggies such as Valentino, Thierry Mugler, and de Givenchy and she became known for her signature way of walking the runway, which was part strut and part dance.

Along with Ms. Cleveland’s life, Walking with the Muses offers a peek into the world of mid-century fashion in all its splendor from mini-skirts to shoulder pads. A good read for those interested in fashion history or anyone just interested in reading about a fascinating life of a successful model.

I say this is an easy holiday gift choice.

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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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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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41k91A-4djLThe English have this knack of putting together the weirdest combinations of clothing and accessories that somehow – with their warped sense of good, bad, and just plain weird taste – inspire the rest of the world. English style at its best is totally natural, fiercely individual and girlishly contrary. It can be funny, tough, sexy, clever and perverse, all at the same time. 

Luella Bartley – English fashion designer and fashion journalist.

This quote is from Ms. Bartley’s book, Luella’s Guide to English Style (Haper Collins, 2010).

I haven’t read this book but I must!

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Here’s a little story recounted by French fashion designer Paul Poiret (1879-1944) in his autobiography, King of Fashion.

paulpoiretI passed many times in front of the shop of this English master without daring to cross the threshold. One day, when I was feeling in cavalier mood, and since I needed a suit, I went in and ordered one, not, however, without asking the price, through fear of some unpleasant surprise. I was told one hundred and eighty francs – and I gave my order. 

“When shall I come try it on?” I added. 

“Our clothes are made in London,” I was told. “… and yours will not be ready for seventeen days.” 

… and in seventeen days I returned. Filled with emotion in the fitting room, I saw my coat arrive in the hands of the classic tailor, wearing a measure round his neck. I was astonished that they did not try on the trousers. He called the man who received me: “The trousers, Monsieur? What trousers? You did not order any trousers, nor a waistcoat either.” 

In the 1910s Paul Poiret was known for liberating women from the corset, only to confine their movement with the hobble skirt. Influenced by Asian aesthetics and theater, he was called “King of Fashion” and traveled extensively, including to America where he showed his designs and lectured.

I just finished Poiret’s autobiography, King of Fashion (V&A Publishing) first published in 1931. He led an interesting life and he was a good writer, but I was disappointed that he didn’t discuss his design process, his influences, and perhaps share some of his insights into the fashion industry of the era. I know that he fell out of favor after WWI and I was hoping that he might shed some light on that time of his life. I’m also aware that he met and encouraged designer Elsa Schiaparelli and I would have loved to know what he had to say about that, but no mention.

What he does discuss is his childhood and young adult life working for houses of Douchet and Worth. He goes into detail about opening his first fashion house and the many parties he hosted and attended. There’s lots of name dropping, which meant nothing to me as they were all French and a very long time ago.

Overall The King of Fashion is a good read, if you’re not expecting much about fashion.

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One of the assignments in the fashion history class I recently completed was to find historical fashion references in current fashion. In magazines I looked for examples covering ancient clothing to the 20th century and matched with historical images from books, plus I had to write a comment.

I hopped right on it and started looking when the class began in January and it took me pretty much the whole semester. It wasn’t something you could get done in one sitting (I think that some of the other students might have tried). It was old-school cut and paste and I really had fun with it.

I’m going to share my findings with ODFL readers over the next weeks. First up is the Schenti:

FH1

Tune in again next week.

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IMG_20200304_180839

In this French Court painting (c 1582), the ladies are wearing farthingale under their gowns to get that desired wheel shape. The men are sporting jackets with wide ruffs at the collar, breeches, and hose. 

… I would only add further that he ought to consider what appearance he wishes to have and what manner of man he wishes to be taken for, and dress accordingly; and see to it that his attire aid him to be so regarded even by those who do not hear him speak or see him do anything whatever. 

Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529), Italian courtier and Renaissance author.

This quote is from the book “The Courtier” by Baldassare Castiglione published in 1528.

In Fashion History class the first exam (of three) is behind us (yes, I did well!) and we are now studying The Italian Renaissance and The Northern Renaissance.

I found this quote in our text book, Survey of Historic Costume, by Phyllis Tortora and Keith Eubank. Throughout the book are quotes about fashion by individuals from different periods.

As for the quote – I say excellent advice for then and now.

 

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IMG_20200120_161145543Conde Nast: The Man and His Empire by biographer and historian Susan Ronald, covers Nast’s glamorous life and successful career as an American publishing giant.

There is much to cover and Ronald moves quickly over Nast’s early life from his birth in 1873 to his marriage to his initial interest in magazines. Once he enters into publishing she slows down and settles in on how Nast started with Collier’s magazine, moved on to Ladies Home Journal Patterns and eventually Vogue magazine.

Publishing Vogue and Vanity Fair are most of the story but we also read details about Nast’s famous “cafe society” parties and his grand apartment at 1040 Park Avenue in Manhattan. There are intriguing tales about fashionable characters such as Vogue fashion editor Carmel Snow, photographer Cecil Beaton, and writer Dorothy Parker.

The financial crash in 1929 hit Nast hard and he nearly lost his empire. We learn how over several years Nast fought to keep his business going by calling in favors. WWII was not an easy time either as French Vogue had to shut down and British Vogue (based in London) struggled to publish facing paper shortages and The Blitz.

But Nast and his empire did survive these challenges and that makes for great reading. Thoroughly researched with help from surviving letters and company documents, Conde Nast: The Man and His Empire is an excellent read for fashion and publishing industry history.

 

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