Vanity publishing

Paul Golding finds two top fashion designers adrift in a sea of camp narcissism
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Men Without Ties by Gianni Versace

John Murray, pounds 57

Off the Record by Karl Lagerfeld

Scalo, pounds 35

Europe's foremost fashion designers, Gianni Versace and Karl Lagerfeld, seem, with their respective publications, to be suggesting that books is where it's now at. Big Books. Picture books. Books, literally, at at any price.

What, beyond vanity (since over 40 likenesses of its "author" grace the work) can have prompted Signor Versace to produce Men Without Ties, his third coffee-table manifesto in as many years, is a mystery; but one should not be swayed at the suggestion, printed in scarlet, that the proceeds from the royalties will go to Aids. Charity is no excuse for laxity.

The book opens with a eulogy of excruciating bombast by the Curator of the Costume Institute at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, in which not only is the designer hailed as a "utopian futurist" and "a prophet" but is further credited with the invention of (wait for it) the unbuttoned shirt, while the necktie is reviled as a "withered utility" and a restraint on modern masculinity. If, as Versace himself proclaims, "ties make everyone look out of date", why, pray, is he still flogging them at pounds 100 a throw? To donate the proceeds to charity?

This aggrandised publicity catalogue is a confused torrent of writings by mezzo-celebs, inspersed between old artsy piccies (Lorca with Dali, Cocteau with horse's head, Nureyev in leotard), inane pronouncements ("The important thing is to go" - Gianni Versace), reproductions of "heroic paintings", assorted fashion sketches and, naturally, lots and lots of shots of surly, skimpy boys - plus Linda Evangelista dragged up en garconne.

All its cant of liberation and virility suggests that Men Without Ties is aimed at the pink punter, so one wonders at the abundance of titties and bums, yet the absolute dearth of cocks and balls. And if the idea was to celebrate the maestro's fashion discernment, how ironic that the few striking images should portray male nudes unfettered by glamour rags - compositions which owe more to the (uncredited) photographers who captured them and the (uncredited) models who inspired them than to any vainglorious arbiter.

Karl Lagerfeld, though blessed with stamina and design genius, has not thus far been accorded much photographic respect. As if to redress such injustice, he has compiled, off the record, a series of "very private pictures", illustrating "new fantasies, stories and dramas," starring Claudia, Linda, Naomi, Helena (Bonham-Carter), Emma (Thompson) and other, equally refreshing, unknowns. Alas, very private pictures (and their captions) should remain precisely that: very private.

For all its black-and-white chic, this book is a technical disgrace. A sequence of shots of the (closed) portals to the Kaiser's numerous former residences could pass for rejects from Atget's century-old photographic record of Paris.

But it is "Nix" ("nothing"), subtitled "a simple, naive and moral story" and, according to the blurb, an allegory of German culture, that provided the inspirational navel for this body of work. Paying dubious homage to La Schiffer (who in the guise of Greta, grows to enjoy "a superficial life of fake luxury" and "gives lessons in savoir faire"), Lagerfeld crams his sets with tired Nazi memorabilia, oily gigolos, ugly genderbenders, rich frocks and big hats. The result, is a dated, campy mess which, a decade ago, would have had a job cutting the Tatler mustard.