I love a fashion book divided into easily assimilated, bite-sized chunks.
I also love a fashion book that includes its fair share of words, not to mention one that you can pick up without the aid of a forklift truck. Hal Rubenstein's 100 Unforgettable Dresses (HarperCollins) fulfils all of these criteria. Better still, and also unusual, it caters both to the fashion trainspotter and the celebrity/gossip obsessed follower alike. Mr Rubenstein has found just the right balance between flash trash and hard-earned knowledge here.
A case in point: the opener is Elizabeth Hurley in "that" Gianni Versace safety pin dress. Everyone over the age of 25, say, remembers the impact this slither of brilliantly engineered black fabric had on its wearer's career. Rubenstein, though, takes the time to review the entire show it appeared in and to point out that it was Gianni Versace who chose it for Hurley when today a celebrity stylist would call in any number of gowns. Almost as famous is the vintage Valentino gown Julia Roberts wore when, in 2001, she won the best actress Oscar for Erin Brockovich. "Even prior to Roberts's appearance, the gown was always one of Valentino's bestsellers," Rubenstein argues, "so much so that variations of it appeared in his collections for several seasons after its initial presentation".
Some dresses have been chosen simply for their fashion credentials – Yves Saint Laurent's safari or Mondrian dresses, for example – others for their notoriety or camp factor – Cher in Bob Mackie at the Oscars again. Alongside a floral print dress from Marc Jacobs's infamous 1992 grunge collection for Perry Ellis is Sarah Burton's wedding dress for Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. "A memorable dress has to do more than merely look amazing," opines Alber Elbaz who writes the foreword and, as designer at Lanvin, he should know. Every one in this volume tells its own sparkling story.