Fashion books round-up: The naked truth about everything from denims to dresses


Max Wallis
Thursday 26 February 2015 16:00

On Saturday morning, 5 March 1994, members of the fashion world arrived at the vacant townhouse of Parisian socialite Sao Schlumberger holding rusty keys. Attached was a handwritten note, sketched in an inky scrawl: John Galliano Autumn Winter 94-95. Walking inside this normally vacant place they found "a host of supermodels, who walked for free, ... a rabbit warren of rooms as journalists sat knee-to-knee on a raggle-taggle of chairs ..."

Invitation Strictly Personal (Goodman, £30) makes for a particularly addictive read for anyone remotely interested in the invite-only world of fashion shows and parties. The delight here is not just the invites but Iain R Webb's ability to contextualise them. Galliano's show, for example, came at a time of financial crisis for the designer, and Anna Wintour had to step in at the eleventh hour to help secure him the venue.

Someone who will have received her weight in exclusive invites over the years is Carole White, founder of Premier modelling agency, whose autobiography Have I Said Too Much (Century, £20) plots her rise from growing up with servants and avocado trees in Africa to spotting and managing fashion's elite. The foreword hints at the use of a ghost-writer, Alison Taylor, but the result here is formidable – there's a cracking wit throughout the book that matches White's dry humour. One particular delight is the story of a newbie model who, after being up all night with a music mogul and experienced model doing all sorts, came up with a "brilliant" idea. She wanted to change her name – to 1981.

Though one can't exactly fault a fashion primer for a lack of wit, it's a shame that Phyllis G. Tortora's Dress, Fashion and Technology (Bloomsbury, £19.99) misses the creative spark that might have otherwise made it a dazzling read. What's here, though, is still worthy: an analysis of the relationship between what we wear and the technology used to make it. Tortora covers a range of topics, from the clothes that framed The Ice Man to the technology behind Olympic athletes and further, how space travel made people rethink dress.

Fashion on the Ration by Julie Summers (Profile, £16.99) looks at how fashion shifted its influences away from Hollywood towards industrial production during the war. As class and gender roles shifted so did fashion. It's a fantastic book covering everything from Vogue during the war to the legacy of the utility scheme – ultimately the idea of mass-market fashion.

Clothing Poverty by Andrew Brooks (Zed Books, £14.99) is similarly concerned with textiles, opening with a look at the global denim industry. Brooks has a tendency to slip into academic speak, with each section reading as though part of a dissertation. The content, though, is worth the drudge, revealing the underside of the clothing industry. One nugget on what happens to all the celebratory gear that gets printed before Super Bowl matches, but never sold: they go to foreign markets with "people proudly wearing counter-factual champions' clothing".

If Clothing Poverty opens by revealing the underside of the denim world, Denim Dudes by Amy Leverton (Laurence King, £16.95) attempts to unzip the $75bn industry through the eyes of the men who have shaped, styled, sold and designed it. The pictures of men decked out in their jeans include Brian Kim, founder of THVM Atelier, who makes himself a denim long coat from scratch every year.

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