Behind the Look

Vogue celebrates some of their favorite in-house stylists with a new book

Condé Nast’s most recent literary exploit, Vogue: The Editor’s Eye is an ode to the role of the stylist, fashion editor or sittings editor – the glue between the photographer, the model, the writer and the magazine itself. Beginning with Anna Wintour’s forward, The Editor’s Eye explains that until recently, stylists weren’t even identified in the credits for the photo shoots they coordinated, a ghastly oversight considering the influence they wield over a spread. The book is in some part an attempt to rectify this omission, giving the stylists the credit they deserve. Through an anthology of essays and accompanying image portfolios, it showcases some of the magazine’s most talented stylists throughout the last 65 years, with a particular focus on how their different personalities helped shape the various trends we have seen in fashion editorial.

I enjoyed the journey through Vogue’s history, starting in 1947 with Babs Simpson. The book effectively distinguished between the magazine’s different eras – loosely based on the editor in chief at the time (from Dianne Vreeland, to Grace Mirabella and then Wintour) – focusing on how the reigning editors inspired and collaborated with the sittings editors at the time. The eight essays, each focussing on a different sittings editor, were eloquent and insightful, and overall a pleasurable read. I especially enjoyed the essays on Jade Hobson, Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele and Tonne Goodman; I thought their profiles really captured their individual attitudes and styles. The various essayists also succeeded at painting a fascinating picture of a seemingly golden epoch for fashion editorial during the 60’s and 70’s.

Each profile was accompanied by a portfolio of images to underscore the theme; I found the photos striking and timeless for the most part, though I think certain portfolios did a better job of highlighting their stylists’ approach than others. I thought Camilla Nickerson’s body of work included in the book added great insight into her personality and modus operandi; it was thematic, tight and complemented the essay well. Same goes for Jade Hobson and Babs Simpson. However, there were times when I found it difficult to distinguish the differences between certain editors’ styles, and I didn’t think the images accompanying the essays always illustrated the point the writers were trying to get across. As an anthology, it wasn’t very cohesive; though in their own right the profiles and portfolios were certainly effective.

If you consider Vogue your fashion bible you will enjoy this book. But, make no mistake, this is a book published by Vogue, written by Vogue writers, about how great Vogue is. For a more ambivalent reader seeking an unbiased gaze into the fashion editorial field as a whole (including influences from other magazines), you may want to keep reading.

photography // Brianne Burnell

Book Review: American Fashion Cookbook

Food and Fashion. Fashion and Food. We wake up. We decide what to wear. We decide what to eat. The capricious whims of our visual appetites guide our sartorial and culinary decisions. But food and fashion also have something important and practical in common: they are art forms through which we express ourselves effortlessly, everyday.

So it’s natural that fashion designers, masters of another kind of taste, would want to apply their à la minute aesthetics to our daily bread. Enter the American Fashion Cookbook; a compilation of more than a 100 eclectic and dependable recipes contributed by the members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Dishes range from Marc Ecko’s “Adults Only” Chocolate Chip Cookies to Tory Burch’s Andalusian Gazpacho.
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Book Review: Waisted Curves

When handed this book, I felt like I was intruding—the hand crafted spine creaked with hours of the author’s labor, and the muted green fabric frayed at the corners. I felt as though I had been handed a diary, and as it turns out, I sort of had been. Waisted Curves: My Transformation Into A Victorian Lady chronicles Sarah Chrisman’s journey from corset loather to Victorian garment educator and advocate in 250 hand-bound pages. We see Chrisman’s disdain for corsets melt away as she laces herself into the garment daily, and witness her transformation of thought and body, all brought about by an article of clothing.

Chrisman begins the narrative on her birthday, when her husband Gabriel gives her a corset as a gift. This spurs an extensive personal change, both physically and mentally. The narrow conception of corsets with which she begins the memoir quickly changes as she learns more about the history and practices of corsetry. Eventually, she dismisses the idea of the corset as oppressive as she records her changes in self-perception and self-esteem.


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Book Review: Stay-Stitched

Fact: sewing patterns can be intimidating. Really intimidating. Intimidating to the point that I hardly ever sew anymore because I’m under the impression that anything I would want to make from scratch and then wear would be a hair-pullingly complex and painful process.

To make a long story short, I was very, very wrong.

Erin Arsenault’s Stay-Stitched: Sewing without a pattern and designing as you go is possibly the most approachable sewing how-to book I’ve ever read. It’s also exactly what it says on the box—at no point is a pattern ever used, and since garment pieces are based on your own measurements, everything is designed to fit your specific shape. Arsenault describes it as a “workbook,” and she isn’t kidding. There are spaces for you to fill in with your measurements, and plenty of gridded blank pages for your notes, sketches, and ideas. The book contains instructions for eleven projects, including a simple tote bag, a cute kimono, and wide-leg sailor pants. It also has a list of basic sewing supplies, stitches, and instructions on how to do things such as make your own bias tape, add in pockets, and make facings for neck and arm holes.

Since making a tote bag for the purpose of this review seemed like cheating, I chose to make the “Egyptian Tunic,” a simple A-line skirt with braces. After picking out some cutely creepy Norman Rockwell baby-face print cotton, I set to work on my skirt. It was remarkably easy—all you do is use your measurements to find the waistband width and strap length, and the length and flare of the skirt are up to you. I ended up making my skirt shorter and more fitted at the waist than the book suggested, which was not a problem at all, simply a matter of pinning and re-stitching one of the side seams—and I love the way it turned out.

And that’s the beauty of Stay-Stitched—everything is customizable. All you have to do is re-draw your lines if you don’t like the way something fits or looks. Even if the projects in the book aren’t to your liking, I’m sure you could apply the skills learned in these pages to other clothes-making endeavours. A novice stitcher could learn a lot by starting at the beginning and working their way through. (Just a little note on the projects—the book is very skirt- and dress-heavy, but I’m sure some crafty gentlemen and those who don’t like skirts would appreciate the sailor pants and viking tunic.) I can also see this book being a godsend for anybody who doesn’t fit into standard pattern sizes.

I would highly recommend Stay-Stitched to people who want to learn to make their own clothes but don’t know where to start, or to jaded semi-experienced seamstresses like myself, who just need their faith in their abilities renewed.

Stay-Stitched: Sewing without a pattern and designing as you go, self-published by Erin Arsenault, 2009
reviewed by Kat Brightwell