As someone who enjoys fashion, particularly watching the shows and reading reviews by the world’s best critics online, I do like a nice fashion book now and then. Of course, fashion books tend to be aesthetically super stylish, but aside from having an attractive book to show off, I do want to actually read, to learn and further my knowledge, whether it’s of a specific designer, era, or style. What is the point in a book that isn’t read?
At home, my favourite coffee table fashion books are Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty by Andrew Bolton and Manolo Blahnik by Colin McDowell. Both are excellent. More recently, I enjoyed the light-reads of How To Be Parisian and Diane von Furstenberg’s memoir, The Woman I Wanted To Be (a must-read for any woman who is yet to become her own best friend, or who needs the inspiration and motivation to make her dream a reality). When High Fashion: The 20th Century Decade by Decade by Emmanuelle Dirix (Thames & Hudson) landed through my letterbox, I was a bit disappointed to find a cover that was decidedly “un” fashion; pink in colour with a fairly predictable illustration of a chic woman in black, it gave the impression of being nothing more than a nice gift for girly girls and yummy mummies.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As much as ‘fashionistas’ would enjoy this book, so too would men and women who live and breathe high end, luxury fashion – the voyeurs, the collectors, and the professionals. It would also appeal to fashion students in any specialty, whether it’s design, marketing or journalism. High Fashion might have a very commercial cover but, inside, each page goes into detail about the last 100 years in fashion, from the post-Victorian Golden Age of Couture of the 1900s and Dior’s groundbreaking New Look in the late Forties/early Fifties, to the minimalism of the early Nineties and, latterly, the self-destructing Burberry Nova check towards the end of that same decade.
Its easy-to-read language, simple descriptions and small-chunk sections of Dirix’s vast knowledge (she is a lecturer, writer and curator) makes High Fashion an all-rounder with credibility. It details the trends of each era, making sense of the different decades from a business and consumer point of view, while keeping in context the cultural and political issues. It’s well written, well informed and structured neatly, with little fuss. High Fashion is a hybrid book: part commercial, part educational and, in being so, it delivers the somewhat elitist world of high fashion to a much wider audience, in an age when the runway infiltrates reality on a daily basis – regardless of social or economic factors.
High Fashion: The 20th Century Decade by Decade. Proof that one should never judge a book by its cover.
High Fashion: The 20th Century Decade by Decade is available to buy at Waterstone’s (£18.95).