I’ve read a few fashion biographies and memoirs in my day. I use the word “fashion” because in that pile of books are designers,two editors and a icon. All related to fashion but playing different roles.
The latest was Gods and Kings-the rise and fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano by Dana Thomas. The main story is about the two brits (well kind of) that rocked the fashion world and which is very interesting; their different backgrounds and trajectories, the rivalry but also the similarities. Thomas also manages to place it in a bigger context and tell the story how the fashion world changed in those years. With those three stories interwoven, two designers and an industry, it becomes a fascinating (and sometimes rather scary read). Other designers make an appearance of course, and Isabella Blow, models etc. so there is just a dash of gossip column over the whole thing. Let’s not kid ourselves; for a while designers were rockstars. Sadly Mcqueen committed suicide and Galliano “lost it completely” shall we say? The end of an era.
Thomas writes really well, I also enjoyed her other book Deluxe-how luxury lost it’s luster; she has written about fashion for years and sprinkles it with her own memories. Well worth reading. On Goodreads a few people complained at the lack of pictures but I understand that photos can cost a lot of money. I do however wish that she had addressed the allegations that McQueen was misogynist once and not quote people several times throughout the book defending him. It becomes a bit of “me thinks she doth protest too much”. Same thing with comments about Mcqueen copying Galliano. Sure he did. And Marc Jacobs ripped of Prada every other season. The list goes on and on. And the defense is always “imitation is the sincerest form of flatter”. I don’t know if that’s true but I’m not gonna throw bricks in a glasshouse; a fair few of my creations have been inspired by the works of others and sometimes it’s just a zeitgeist that creatives (small and big) tap into and churn out similar things. Furthermore copying has always been around to some degree and we wouldn’t have a fashion industry without it.
Speaking of copying; one of the things that I really liked about Thomas book was how much it reminded me of a book I love and have read many times; The beautiful fall by Alicia Drake. The blurb on the cover says “fashion,genius and glorious excess in 1970’s Paris”. Yves Saint Laurent is one of my all time favorite designers. I could look at photos of his work for days. At the same time that he was starting out, there was a young German in town; Karl Lagerfeld. The seventies was a turbulent time in the world; terrorism,financial insecurity and oil-crisis. In such a world there emerged two creative souls that changed the fashion landscape profoundly. It is a book I’ve recommended to even those that do not love Laurent like I do (and are as endlessly amused,fascinated and frightened of Lagerfeld as I am). It is a book that is well-written, informed and such a great read. I will also throw in a recommendation for Alice Rawsthorn’s biography of Yves Saint Laurent which is very good(but The beautiful fall should be your priority).
On the other side of the fence? The press. If there is one player on the journalism side that can rival Lagerfeld for inducing fear in people it is Anna Wintour. I think a lot of that is the constant use of sunglasses actually: not being able to see someone eyes is discomforting. She is a powerhouse; undoubtedly one of the most influential players in the fashion world. Front row Anna Winter:the cool life and hot times of Vogue’s editor in chief by Jerry Oppenheimer was published in 2005 and he is not a fashion insider. But still its an amusing read. However so much has happened since then that I hope someone writes another one. A much more recent, and a lot more charming read, is Grace- a memoir by Grace Coddington. The former model turned fashion-editor published a tome of a book the other year but it is such a lovely thing. She writes well, her voice rings true for those of us that have seen the documentary The September issue, her illustrations are darling and what a life!!
Last but not least: the fashion victims. In this little rundown of fashion lives I’ve included Ian Stewart’s biography Beau Brummell-The ultimate dandy. Brummell of course lived before there was a fashion industry but he was particular about his clothes and spent a lot on them. In it I found a ticket to the Tate in London from 2006, which was probably where(London I mean) and when I bought the book. I can only remember snatches of it but what I do remember is that an almost three over delay at the airport did not bother me one bit as I was engrossed in this. It has survived several moves and purges of the shelves. I’m thinking about rereading it as I now know so much more about that era with the Napoleonic wars and so. I don’t know it will change my view of the book though, I will probably still think its brilliant, but maybe I’ll have better grasp of the context.
So there: a few fashion recommendations for what is apparently called “Non fiction November”.