It all started when I was a kid. I would walk to the convenience store, get a blue raspberry lollipop filled with gum, and head to the thrift store a couple shops down in the strip mall, where I would peruse stacks of used books and feed my Archie comic addiction with their huge selection. I poked around other parts of the shop—at furniture, wicker baskets, old wedding dresses—but I wasn’t interested in that stuff yet. As I grew older, moved around, and found new thrift stores, the sections I checked changed: black clothes to cut up and safety-pin back together when I had just started high school; boots, belts, and shoes; dresses to alter once I started sewing, cassette tapes for when I got my car, and vinyl to play when my roommates had record players. Over time, I learned that the key was to check every section and leave your trip open to the thrill of discovery.
Now imagine someone who has dedicated most of his or her life to learning these tricks of the trade, someone who can perfectly describe the thrill of the hunt, the ever-growing mental list of things you want to find, the triumphs and tribulations of searching for that perfect item amongst the discarded. Al Hoff is that person, and reading Thrift Score feels like sitting down and listening to a real thrift expert funneling years of that knowledge straight into your brain. In her introduction, Hoff mentions that the content of Thrift Score is as varied as what you might find in a thrift store, and this observation is apt. Chock full of facts, tips, and trivia, it’s hard to believe so much information can be crammed into one book.
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.
…isms: Understanding Fashion is a guide to Western fashion practices over the past several centuries by Mairi Mackenzie, a specialist in Cultural and Historical Studies at The London College of Fashion. The book envisions fashion through the iconic figures and sociopolitical circumstances that influenced the trends and anti-trends in costume over the years.
Organizationally, it is structured like a travel guide or a text-book. A “How to use this book” section introduces the hokey, yet useful icons in each section to delineate material such as “Introduction,” “Key Words”, “See Also” (related practices), and “Don’t see” (contrary practices). A preference for flowing text led me to regularly skip to the “Main Definition” of every ism. Despite its engagement with the format of a User’s Manual, the main content flows with an engaging readability that is impressive for a reference book.
Mackenzie skillfully distills the several hundred years of fashion into concise descriptions of specific aesthetics and influences. The book is arranged by century starting with the 17th and 18th Centuries. The evolution and decline of Baroque and Rococo fashions are examined as the direct result of a changing socioeconomic climate in 17th Century France. While clothing was once a statement of privilege, the egalitarianism of the French Revolution led to the decline of fanciful fashion by the end of the 18th Century.
In the 19th Century, the technological advancements of the Industrial Revolution enabled a burgeoning middle class that imposed stricter social etiquettes. Mackenzie explores the ways in which codes of class and gender were presented in fashion, focusing in particular upon how women’s clothing became more physically restrictive as a direct reflection of women’s constricted place in society.
Thanks to globalization and India’s emergence as an economic powerhouse in the last decade, the latest bout of Western infatuation with all things Indian is arguably the most intense it has been since the heady days of British colonialism. There has been a a recent artistic renaissance, coupled with a steady increase in both interest and export. First it was a small curiosity about Bollywood films, solidified by Slumdog Millionaire, followed by the wild success of Indian contemporary art in the last five years. It is no wonder that the next area of focus would be fashion. Contemporary Indian Fashion, edited by Federico Rocca, is a visually stunning and well-curated coffee-table book featuring 24 leading young designers working out of India. They not only represent the here-and-now of Indian fashion, but its future as well.
This is, essentially, a picture book. Made up of 6 to 12 page spreads, the work of each designer is showcased along with a very short rundown of their background and an interview. All of the clothes are wonderful to look at, and I found myself flipping through it again and again, as I would a really great magazine. Each spread nicely balances editorial flourishes, pages featuring multiple looks from a collection, and several detail shots. In the case of Indian fashion, the prominence of the detail shot is absolutely essential due to the meticulous details of the clothes themselves.