Fact and fashion blur in portraits of industry’s great and good


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The Independent Culture

As with clothes, there is a fashion tome to suit every taste. Some will become an invaluable, well-thumbed resource for students and fashion fanatics, while others present a moment of fantasy to be displayed with pride on a coffee table already groaning with beautiful books.

The legends of the fashion world are so much more than those that are borne on everything from boutiques to bags, and for many brands, maintaining those myths is a vital element of the modern-day magic. As such, separating truth from fiction is an art in itself.

The life of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel is one of the most fascinating examples of this phenomenon. As the somewhat unreliable narrator of The Allure of Chanel, by Paul Morand (Pushkin Press, £30), the designer dispels much of the fantasy that clouds her story. Composed of conversations with the strong-willed Chanel, recorded in 1946 and published in the Seventies, this reissue doesn’t disclose any new revelations, but illustrations by Karl Lagerfeld make a neat update.

It’s not just the long-dead who continue to cast a spell. The life and early death of Lee Alexander McQueen has been the subject of endless fascination since his suicide in 2010. Working Progress, with photographs by Nick Waplington (Damiani, £40) provides one of the most intimate visual portraits of the troubled designer yet, as commissioned and edited by him, allowing readers to take a privileged peek at the creation of his autumn/winter 2009 collection “The Horn of Plenty!”.

Indelibly linked with McQueen is his friend and supporter Isabella Blow, currently the subject of an exhibition at Somerset House. The accompanying catalogue Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore! edited by Alistair O’Neill (Rizzoli, £40) features contributions from a range of Blow’s collaborators, friends and fans, including the Independent on Sunday’s fashion editor Alexander Fury, accompanied by beautiful images by Nick Knight.

The exhibition has had the fashion set in a reflective mood, with newspaper ink spilled like tears over the loss of an eccentric, unique talent. This tome provides a record of Blow’s life and work that is fittingly permanent, refreshingly honest and will be treasured long after the exhibition ends.

Another exhibition that caused great excitement this year was the Victoria & Albert Museum’s look at the style set of the Eighties club scene and its relationship with the catwalk. The accompanying book From Club to Catwalk, 80s Fashion, edited by Sonnet Stanfill (V&A, £19.99) is enlivened with the passion, vim and vigour of those who contributed to the scene, with images infused with the energy that seamlessly straddled partying and politics.

The well-captured commercial trials and tribulations of the decade’s emerging designers make this a helpful resource for today’s aspiring young fashion students too.

Filled with illustrations and interviews, Fashion Designers’ Sketchbooks Two, by Hywel Davies (Laurence King, £28) is another great resource for those seeking visual inspiration and encouragement, unsurprising given Davies’ long-standing role as a respected fashion educator at Central Saint Martins.

Lee Miller in Fashion, by Becky E Conekin (Thames & Hudson, £19.95) looks at the model-turned-photographer’s life in fashion both in the frame and behind the lens. Through Miller and her peers, including Dali and Picasso, the book provides a wonderful insight into the creative world of that time via Egypt, Paris and London, and a wonderful snapshot of life in Vogue.

The Anatomy of Fashion, by Colin McDowell (Phaidon, £59.95) looks with laser-like precision not only at the physical evolution of clothing, but cleverly delves into the physiology and psychology that lies beneath. The layout can be difficult to get to grips with, but a rich collection of photographs, sketches, and artworks provides a wonderful context to the esteemed author’s words.