When I first received My Wonderful World of Fashion, my main concern was that I would write such a raving review that I’d sound like the publisher’s flack. Nina Chakrabarti’s lovely line drawings take us on an interactive tour of fashion history, letting her young audience explore their own twists on the designs en route. Opening it made me want to either take a hot tub back in time to play with it as a 12-year-old, or breed purely for the pleasure of giving it to my girls later.
The book contains a mishmash of colouring, design and basic crafty projects, the latter all simple enough that a ten- to thirteen-year-old (which seems to be her target audience) could do them without adult help. My favourite pages let you colour in iconic designs such as Marc Jacobs’ animal-face flats, Elsa Schiaperelli’s shoe hat, Hussein Chalayan’s wooden corset, Ferragamo platforms and two full pages of Roger Vivier pumps! She also includes guides to a mixed bag of sartorial topics, such as basic embroidery stitches, Yoruba Adire textile patterns and antique Bengali jewels, and throws in the odd project like making paperclip necklaces or pom-poms. She is keen to teach, often showing her audience how to draw an article and then giving them space to get creative with it; so, for example, she’ll include several examples of collar lace to colour in, followed by a page of blank collars where her users might render their own lace patterns.
I decided to test drive this bad-boy with an accomplice, the lovely and talented Miss Eva Barney, 11. Eva is a young designer, currently drawing a portfolio of her own dress patterns around a demanding public school schedule. I couldn’t have asked for a more fun book review buddy, and she helped me catch some of the book’s age-appropriate foibles that I otherwise would have missed.
We started out filling in a design on an outlined dolly dress, which we decided would be best suited for a sailoress. Eva came up with the concept, and she executed her vision with the precision of a field marshal. I’ve been out of the colouring game for a while, so she patiently gave me some tips for staying inside the lines and taught me how to smudge the pencil crayon so the colours bleed into a pretty fade. We were supposed to design a handbag to go with our dress, but we decided that sailor girls don’t need handbags and moved on. I sort of coerced Eva to colour several pairs of Vivienne Westwood platforms with me, and she begrudgingly obliged, even though they were a bit bizarre for her taste (“that one looks like a rock star’s head upside down!”).
Which brings us to our first issue: Chakrabarti wears her taste on her sleeve—the lady really goes for weird couture—which is both a strength and weakness of the book. While this subtly encourages her audience to embrace fashion at its most whimsical, my colouring partner merely found a lot of these designs weird (“where would you wear a shoe hat?”), suggesting that she might potentially be alienating her target audience. That said, the author really is all over the map, which I loved, and the book is eminently inclusive—the hair section in the back gives more space to afro stylings than to non-nappy locks, and the design portions are evenly distributed between couture history, street fashion and forays into global or ethnic fashions such as henna tattoos, Moroccan kaftan or geta shoes (the book has a pronounced shoe fetish, in case this wasn’t clear—but, hey, who doesn’t?).
After we’d had our way with Ms. Westwood’s oeuvre, we flipped around for a long time before finding a new project. Which brings us to issue number two: Eva was most interested in designing and stylizing full outfits, and she didn’t think that the book made enough room for this. There are a lot of smaller tasks where users can decorate or personalize parts of her images—creating tee shirts logos, embellishing Carnival masks, applying patterns onto tights—but very few spaces where you could use Chakrabarti’s line-work as the basis for your own design, as we did with our first project. Eva pointed out that anyone old enough to be interested in fashion history as it is presented here is probably too old for colouring—and I’d probably believe her if I didn’t have a date with a pack of pencil crayons and some Tokio Kumagaï slip-ons as soon as I finish this sentence.
My Wonderful World of Fashion by Nina Chakrabarti, Lawrence King, 2009.
Reviewed by Emily Raine and Eva Barney.