50 Fashion Designers You Should Know is just what the title tells you: this is not a collection of obscure or niche designers, but rather a book profiling the biggest movers and shakers in the fashion industry. More specifically, it is a guide to those who have had the biggest influences, primarily on contemporary western women’s fashion. Spanning from Jeanne Lanvin opening her first hat shop in 1899 to Stella McCartney’s most recent collection, the book features short profiles of the biggest designers who show at the four main fashion weeks (London, Paris, Milan and New York City). While it’s far from being a comprehensive encyclopedia of names, 50 Fashion Designers is excellent as an unintimidating crash course for fashion newbies.
The names included are the more obvious ones: Coco Chanel, Vivienne Westwood and Marc Jacobs are all present. While the focus is on the famous, there is some variety. Both the more commercial designers (Gianni Versace, Calvin Klein) as well as the avant garde (Yohji Yamamoto, Hussein Chalayan) are included. There are also a few designers who had an impact in their time but have since gone a bit under the radar, like Madeleine Vionnet and Main Boucher.
The profiles themselves are well researched, and though quite brief they hold a fair bit of information. Author Simone Werle includes only the most essential of biographical facts (date of birth, country of origin, etc.), focusing instead on the designers’ technical and professional accomplishments. There are several instances where Werle editorializes, highlighting each designer’s strength in order to emphasize where he or she made an impact, although all the profiles remain heavily steeped in fact. Most of the personal sentiments in this book come from quotes pulled from the designers themselves, stating their own fashion philosophies. It’s intriguing to see the way so many designers differ in their ideals, even those who at first appear to be of similar calibers. Several designers, including Miuccia Prada and Franco Moschino, explicitly state that they hate fashion. Hearing these declarations from people who have devoted their entire professional lives to the creation of clothes made me wonder about the various ways fashion is considered by different people, and how commercialism can affect one’s creative output. Naturally, these were contrasted with profiles of designers who focus more on the business aspects of building a brand, with quotes about how buying one of their designs is akin to buying into a lifestyle.
My first thought upon finishing the book was, “where does one go from here?” The brevity of the profiles prevents any real analyses of the designers’ careers. While the book still works as a useful introduction to runway designers, it would have been helpful had the edition included sources, notes for further reading, or even an introduction or conclusion for those looking to dig deeper. Instead, 50 Fashion Designers dives right into its subject matter with little additional content explaining the processes behind its selections. However, even without this, I would definitely recommend the book to anybody looking for a place to start in understanding today’s fashion. Aspiring Wornettes take note.
50 Fashion Designers You Should Know by Simone Werle, Prestel, 2010
reviewed by Anna Fitzpatrick
photography by Deua Medeiros