Books of the year 2014: Fashion, from Diane von Furstenburg to Sex, Sense and Nonsense

There is an auto-biographical strain running across fashion fare this year

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The Independent Culture

Glossy coffee table books are a great gift for a fashion lover, especially if you know their favourite designer, model, photographer or magazine. Two stand-out publications are W:Stories (Abrams, £50) and Another Man: Men's Style Stories (Rizzoli, £45), which feature photography and fashion stories that manage to be beautiful and never boring.

For something that goes a little deeper and is likely to be re-read and remembered by those who love fashion as more than mere clothes, there is an auto- biographical strain running across fashion fare this year, proof if ever it were needed that it is the people inside the industry that are fascinating, their work an extension of their story.

Before reading Diane von Furstenburg's latest memoir The Woman I Wanted to Be (Simon & Schuster, £20), I thought there wasn't much more to her story than what was well-known: we're familiar with the European émigré, a princess by marriage, who was a lively participant of the New York scene of the Seventies, with nights spent at Studio 54 and portraits captured by Warhol; we knew her main claim to fashionable fame was as the inventor of the wrap dress. Yet there was much more: while Von Furstenburg's business successes and failures punctuate the book, this is a personal tale, first and foremost.

The daughter of an Auschwitz survivor, Von Furstenburg relays her various love affairs and family life with a candour and self-awareness that is often lacking in the fashion industry. That refreshing honesty is shared with Betty Halbreich – the personal shopper who was a stand-out star in the 2013 documentary Scatter my Ashes at Bergdorf's. In her eighties and still working, Halbreich has much wisdom to impart in I'll Drink to That (Virago, £13.99) on the vagaries of fashion, how to shop and the psychology behind it.

Women in Clothes (Particular Books, £24) is a book I've been waiting for – a chronicle not only of what women really wear, but why they do so. The emotional attachment to our clothes is fascinating and although this book has some wonderful insights, its format sometimes feels as though it attempts to answer too many questions at once. This is one to be unpicked slowly and savoured.

Scintillating, sexy but never vulgar – that was the criteria Felicity Green set for her work as Fashion Editor of the Daily Mirror in the Sixties. A woman in a male-dominated world, in Sex, Sense and Nonsense (Antique Collectors Club, £29.99), Green chronicles how she transformed the fashion pages of the Mirror – then the best-selling newspaper in the world – to match the changing social scene of the Sixties. Many of those revolutionary layouts are reproduced here, accompanied by commentary from Green, as well as profiles of some of the leading lights of the scene in their own words, which offers a fascinating look back at the world of miniskirts and mods.

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