My bias toward oral histories is this: they can be the most nostalgic, fluffy, self-important saccharin out there. Contributors, usually in the twilight of their influence, see this little trip down memory lane as means to remind the world just how special they – and their friends – once were, and thereby, to quote Woody Allen, “romanticize it all out of proportion.” (NB. This phenomenon is especially prevalent among books concerning rock movements and fashion people. Trust. I’ve read more than two.)
Now, enter The Stephen Sprouse Book, part sumptuous coffee table flipper, part oral biography of the late tastemaker. This could very easily be a book about how great The Mudd Club was. And it is, a little. What sets it apart is the sheer volume of Sprouse relics reprinted in its pages; there are dozens of Polaroids of friends Debbie Harry, Steven Meisel, and Karen Bjornson (to name a few). His illustrations for Halston are included, as is the diaphanous “scan line” dress he designed for Harry to wear in Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” video.
Personally, I feel the most insightful additions are the letters and sketches from Stephen’s childhood, which was, according to Roger Padilha’s essay in the beginning of the book, perfectly “idyllic.” These early sketches are especially remarkable, not only for their resemblance to the clothes he would later design, but because they present a fully conceived aesthetic. At 13 years old, Stephen designed sunglasses, gloves, and jewellery for his “line” – he even imagined hairstyles for each look (sketching the front and the back thank you very much). My favourite item from Stephen’s early years is a facsimile of the descriptions and notes for his Spring 1967 collection. A glance at number 10 on the list confirms the tween’s precocious nature. “A white satin tent over white satin bloomers. The collar on the tent and the cuffs of the bloomers are heavily beaded in white crystal. (I had this designed several months before I saw Oscar De la Renta’s in Women’s Wear Daily.)”