From Bardot's Breton tops to Barbarella's sci-fi chic, some fashion references can feel too familiar. Carola Long finds inspiration in a new volume of truly original images

From stylists to photographers and designers, everyone in the fashion industry uses references – after all, inspiration has to come from somewhere.

Along with swatches of fabric and sketches, most designers' studios will have images of film stars, singers and even inanimate objects pinned to the wall. When I visited Stuart Vevers in Madrid last year, soon after he started as creative director of Loewe, there were numerous pictures of Catherine Deneuve in the film Belle de Jour on the wall. She exemplified, he told me, the "twisted bourgeois thing" that he wanted to capture. John Galliano's references, meanwhile, tend to be quite specific, with past shows for both his own label and Dior being influenced by Grey Gardens, a 1975 documentary about reclusive socialites, as well as by Fifties model Lisa Fonssagrives.

Ideas can often come from traditional dress or uniforms too; after all the Breton striped tops that Chanel first elevated to a style statement were inspired by a sailor's uniform. References also provide essential clues to understanding a collection by providing something easier to visualise than concepts of volume or proportion.

The most famous fashion references have tipped over into cliché, however. Audrey Hepburn's black Givenchy cocktail dress in Breakfast at Tiffany's, for example, Jane Fonda in a silver spacesuit as Barbarella, or Diane Keaton as Annie Hall in a man's shirt and tie. They're enduring images but a little too familiar, and as such weren't selected by former fashion editor Liz Walker to appear in Style Book, a compendium of nearly 500 fashion images, published next month.

The idea, Walker says, was to compile a series of images of strikingly dressed people – anyone from members of the Finnish Navy to Jane Birkin – and to include many images people wouldn't have seen, as well as the more famous ones. Diane Keaton is in the book, but not in Annie Hall. Audrey Hepburn appears too, but not in that cocktail dress; she is pictured lying on a boat deck in a hat which resembles a squat ice-cream cone.

There are recognisable images, such as a shot of Marilyn Monroe on a fur rug and the photo of Kate Moss smoking, but some have never been published before.

The book is divided into 13 themes, with such titles as Frills and Furbelows, All-in-One and Animal Magic – which includes images of Fifties sirens in leopard print, and a more unexpected photo of a dashing and haughty Norman Parkinson all in white with a leopard-print scarf. There is also a remarkable, and shocking, image from 1947 of two women selecting jaguar pelts which are drying in the African sun: "Which will make the best coat?" the caption reads.

Walker says that the "juxtapositions are the main idea behind the book," and with few words beyond the captions readers are left to make their own associations between such eclectic images as a Portuguese fieldworker in 1955, protected from the sun in a flowered shirt and straw hat, and a photo of Jacqueline Bouvier (before her marriage to John Kennedy) in a folkish skirt and blouse; a far cry for her boxy Sixties skirt suits.

References often work on the imagination in an organic and unstructured way, mingling in the subconscious until they form new ideas. And whether you work in the fashion industry or just like the clothes, fresh new ways to dress are what images like these will trigger.

'Style Book: Fashionable Inspirations' by Elizabeth Walker is published by Endeavour London, £20, on 14 September. To order a copy for the special price of £18 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600 030, or visit Independentbooks-direct.co.uk

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