It’s All About the Labels

A Dandy Guide To Dating Vintage Menswear From WWI to 1960

Sue Nightingale’s process for dating vintage is simple: look at the label. Most of A Dandy Guide To Dating Vintage Menswear WWI to 1960 is devoted to how to properly read and identify them. Only a few pages in, I found myself interested in learning just how to date denim, despite the fact that I haven’t worn jeans in about 12 years.

The book is filled with black and white ads for Sears, J.C. Penny, and other major menswear labels from WWI to 1960. Throughout the book, we see the graphic design of labels become less ornate and more regulated as the decades pass, showing us how subtle visual clues can reveal the exact date of the piece. A Dandy Guide goes into great detail over legislation that affected the look of labels during the time—incredibly helpful and very thorough—making some key notes on this section will help this guide become more functional for the reader. A quick reading of this section will familiarize you with the decades you are dealing with, but the book is a guide and having it handy while actually dating clothing will be when it’s most useful.

The second half of the book is an explanation of the general styles and trends of the time as well as practical care instructions for vintage clothing. Nightingale outlines popular styles on the pages filled with old pictures and advertisements, then gives tips as to what to initially look for when dating vintage. An entire chapter devoted to robes and “smoking jackets” is something we rarely see in contemporary men’s fashion, and is an interesting reminder as to how much the lives of men have changed—and thus their clothing. The same can be said for men’s work clothing. Denim was functional long before it was trendy.

A Dandy Guide to Dating Vintage is a valuable resource to anyone interested in vintage clothing, men’s or women’s, as the tips and tricks are helpful for both. Above all, this book is a guide. It’s not an evening read for the bathtub, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s designed to be lugged to Value Village with you the next time you’re eyeing those velvety smoking robes in the men’s aisle.

photography // Brianne Burnell

Have They Always Looked This Good?

Condé Nast and the Evolution of Fashion Photography

It’s true: I don’t buy Vogue for the articles (another heiress has an adventure, hurrah!). I buy it for the spreads. The lush, high-budget fashion spreads will always be my reason to pick up a copy of the magazine—something that, as a fashion nerd, has always made me feel a little shallow. Thankfully I picked up Coming into Fashion: A Century of Photography at Condé Nast, a book all about the importance of fashion photography as an art form, and its many contributions to the fashion world. Now, thanks to editor Nathalie Herschdorfer, I feel much more justified in flipping straight to the pretty pictures.

Herschdorfer acknowledges in her introduction that she made a bit of a devil’s bargain—choosing to focus only Condé Nast’s contribution to fashion photography, and leave out spreads from rival Harper’s Bazaar and other fashion mags. This does make for a bit of a one-sided read, but she makes an effort to mention the other publications when relevant, which definitely made me want to do some research on my own. That being said, the photos Herschdorfer was able to find at this one publishing house are truly remarkable especially because she decided to narrow her scope further by focusing on the early work of Condé Nast’s troupe of ‘Old Masters.’ As a result we are given a selection of the most innovative and inventive images printed in the magazines.

The book is filled with over two hundred beautifully reproduced photographs, which are mostly from Vogue or one of its international editions, with the occasional image thrown in from GQ, Vanity Fair, or a few others. The most remarkable thing about looking at these photographs is how often the clothing seems almost irrelevant in the photos—despite Herschdorf pointing out that Condé Nast was infamous for criticizing his photographers for being too ‘artful’ when they lost sight of their sartorial focus. It’s especially easy to view the photos as high art once they are taken out of the context of the magazine page, and the truth is that the photos were never entirely about clothes. As Herschdorf points out, the success of Conde Nast’s photographers was based on their ability to highlight a mood or lifestyle as much as a model’s outfit. Herschdorfer herself pays little heed to the fashions displayed, usually only bringing up the styles when a photographer has directly contributed to or popularized them.

Two essays penned by fashion historians Oliver Saillard and Sylvie Lecallier round out the book. Saillard focuses on the symbiotic relationship fashion photographers developed over the years with the couturier, arguing that the success of a fashion designer is often dependent on how well the concept behind a line can be expressed through a photo. Lecallier is more interested in the relationship between the fashion photographer and the model. She focuses on how photographers have helped define beauty ideals by choosing to work with certain models, often introducing the next supermodel or look. There is also an interview with Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani focusing on the relationship between the fashion editor and the photographer, which offers an interesting look into the mechanics behind creating a fashion spread.

The book is broken up into four areas with brief summaries explaining why the photos you’re looking at are important. The narrative is filled with juicy tidbits about Condé Nast discovering young talent and the imminent threat of Harper’s Bazaar stealing them away. Sidebars offer helpful details about how things developed stylistically and technically—what cameras were used, who used them, and the intent behind the image—as well as who the photographer was, their relationship to Condé Nast, and how they developed during their time with the publishing house. The participation of well-respected artists further emphasizes the artistic merit of the form, with photos by people like Salvador Dali and Diane Arbus receiving particular attention.

Although the essays and interviews are all interesting reads, the photographs are still the most compelling part of the book. I loved flipping through and trying to guess when an image was from; the high quality of the reprint often made it difficult to figure out when a photo was taken. It was fascinating to see the artistry behind the average fashion spread, and read about how the fashion photographer has evolved to become such an important figure.

photography // Laura Tuttle

T-Shirt Manifesto

Threadless tells the story of how an idealistic vision became a design revoluion

Threadless is not just a t-shirt company that produces inspired graphic work, and it’s not just an internet upstart that championed “crowdsourcing” and social networking. In the words of co-founder Jake Nickell, Threadless “is a living breathing community of people that can’t be told what to do.” In Threadless: Ten Years of T-Shirts from the World’s Most Inspiring Online Design Community, Nickell chronicles the scrappy start-up’s rise over the past 10 years and makes a pretty good case that the company is something of a (t-shirt) revolution.

Nickell is joined by a cast of new media experts, designers, and fans who collectively recount the company’s deal: users are encouraged to upload designs and visitors vote on which t-shirt will go into production. Guest essayist Seth Godin writes that Threadless is, “a company that hires the unhireable, codes the uncodable [and] markets the unmarketable,” and Jeff Howe notes, “The genius of Threadless is that they put the community on a pedestal and then stepped into the background.” The mini-essays illustrate a company that democratizes art, and are the highlight of the book’s written content.

Text is dwarfed by the technicolour t-shirt designs and I found myself recognizing a lot of the prints as I pored over the pages, like this graphic of a badass Scooby-doo fanfic drawing of Velma with a shotgun and a bloodthirsty Scooby. Threadless’s designs have become pervasive over the past decade, and my sentiments on ubiquity were shared by those interviewed. Barnaby Bocock from New Zealand, speaking of his design “Nuts” said, “I think the ultimate compliment is seeing how much it has been ripped off. It was especially surreal when I found fakes being sold in Bangkok.”

Nickell’s strength as a businessman is sharing the spotlight. And although he’s writing about the company he started, the charismatic and critical engagement of other thinkers and artists are what put his success into a broader context and make it shine. As Nickell says: “Threadless is a community of people first, a t-shirt store second.” He gets away with wide-eyed utopian statements because the book is just as much an inspiring testament to sticking to your principles as proving that innovation can be more than empty business jargon. Threadless isn’t so much a coffee-table book as it is a colourful manifesto.

further reading // Threadless: Ten Years of T-Shirts from the World’s Most Inspiring Online Design Community by Jake Nickell and Jeffrey Kalmikoff // Henry N. Abrams // 2010

book report // Cayley James
images // Brianne Burnell

Stories About Jewels

"Drawing Jewels for Fashion" is more about how to dream than how to draw


There is whole world of jewelry that exists beyond Tiffany’s and Cartier, and Carol Woolton’s Drawing Jewels for Fashion is the place to begin for anyone who wants to learn about it. Don’t be fooled: this is not a how-to. Although its title and cover indicate that it might be, the book profiles 36 modern jewelry designers and the ideas and stories behind their work. (This was a relief for me, as it meant I wouldn’t be reminded of how poor my drawing skills are.) Along with photographs of the actual jewelry, Woolton features pages from artists’ sketchbooks and images from their mood boards, helping the reader understand all of the processes that precede the pieces. Drawing Jewels for Fashion is for readers who are strangers to the who’s-who of contemporary jewelry design, and who want to know more about the “how” behind the art.

The book is organized around six different themes: Civilizations, the Natural World, Art and Architecture, Culture and Literature, the Material World, and History and Symbolism. The sections explain themselves—in the Natural World, designers found inspiration in everything from animals’ movements to different kinds of fauna. In the 36 designers profiled, no two are alike, and the book includes names I recognized, like Diane von Furstenberg, and designers I didn’t know, like Victoire de Castellane, who I learned designs jewelry for Dior.

It was hard to pick favourites, though the work of London designer Hannah Martin stood out to me. Most of the artists featured were creating jewelry for women, but Martin’s pieces were different. She explains that he dreams up various masculine characters, places them in made-up worlds, and then combines this masculinity with feminine elements to create jewelry that is both imaginative and androgynous.

What I took away from reading this book was that everything has a story, jewelry included. My understanding of clothing has always included designers’ inspirations—I obsess over fashion collections and their back-stories. But I had never extended those thoughts into the world of jewelry. I had always given my own stories and values to the pieces that I owned, but hadn’t considered the other histories that might exist behind this ring or that necklace. Not anymore. Long gone are the days where I simply muttered, “That’s a nice watch. It’s shiny. Cool, cool.”

further reading // Drawing Jewels for Fashion by Carol Woolton, Prestel Publishing, 2011

book report // Sofia Luu
photography // Brianne Burnell