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Style & Substance: 12 Fashion Books for Spring

We've got you covered with biographies of the pioneering personalities behind Burberry, Ferragamo and Lanvin, plus a tribute to Karl Lagerfeld / BY Nathalie Atkinson / May 3rd, 2023

The season’s best fashion reads include a closeup of Met Gala subject Karl Lagerfeld, a collaboration that defined the ’80s and a lavish coffee table tome celebrating hip hop’s 50th anniversary. A young fashion activist and seasoned stylist each pen engrossing memoirs and several new books explore the pioneering personalities behind Burberry, Ferragamo and Lanvin, and suggest a wardrobe’s deeper meaning. Whether in search of sartorial inspiration or savvy fashion analysis, our spring style picks have you covered.

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image.

1Paradise Nowby William Middleton

This year the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and Met Gala celebrate Karl Lagerfeld with the retrospective “A Line of Beauty” (until July 16; there’s also an exhibit catalogue). Since the fashion designers death four years ago at the age of 85, several biographies have attempted to capture his essence, but this is the best. It meticulously details the workaholic tendencies of the German eccentric who designed for Fendi, Chloe and Balmain, but most famously helmed Chanel for more than 35 years. Read it ahead of the duelling biopics – a Disney+ mini-series starring Daniel Brühl and a feature film starring Jared Leto – that are now in production.

2Wildflowerby Aurora James

As the designer of the award-winning shoe and lifestyle brand Brother Vellies, the Guelph, Ont.-born, Los Angeles-based Black entrepreneur created Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s 2021 “Tax the Rich” Met Gala gown. James’s memoir about growing up as a biracial child – raised by her white grandmother and mother between Canada and Jamaica – recounts her childhood encounters with racism, and journey to activism and vision of economic equality. James also originated the Fifteen Percent Pledge, a defiant non-profit initiative and mission born in the wake of the 2020 death of George Floyd, which challenged retailers to commit at least 15 per cent of their shelf space to Black-owned brands. (May 9)

3Fresh Fly Fabulousedited by Elena Romero and Elizabeth Way

To coincide with the recent Museum at FIT exhibition in New York, this comprehensive coffee table book marks 50 years since the birth of hip hop. Hundreds of photos illuminate interviews and essays on the roots and evolution of the genre’s fashion and signature accessories (like the history of text and nameplate jewellery), and its major influence on mainstream style and pop culture. It’s a wealth of vivid insights on the first pairing of Adidas with Run DMC, rap emcees giving faded luxury labels new relevance through name-dropping and Dapper Dan’s logomania and his Gucci collab.

4The Dress Diary of Mrs. Anne Sykesby Kate Strasdin

In 1838, a young middle-class bride began compiling a textile scrapbook with swatches of fabric from her own clothes and other people’s garments. In 2016, this rare treasury came into the possession of the author, an English fashion historian and museum curator who spent six years piecing together its journey from Lancashire cotton mills to the port of Singapore. The compelling book of Strasdin’s findings is a window on the female experience of Victorian life.

5Burberryby Alexander Fury

This hefty, slip-cased tome charts the British fashion house’s rise from a family-run outdoors outfitter in 1856 England (founded by Thomas Burberry, a former draper’s apprentice) that specialized in garments to protect from the vagaries of English weather to its1990s ubiquitous Nova Check plaid trend and on to a high-fashion runway force. The 200 images of key moments in the heritage brand’s history prove it’s now about much more than a classic tan trench coat.

6Jeanne Lanvinby Pierre and Agata Toromanoff

It sometimes feels like fashion visionary Jeanne Lanvin has fallen out of the conversation, yet her creations, as these Parisian husband-and-wife art historians write, “range from wedding dresses to theatrical costumes and from exuberantly ornamented hats to evening gowns inspired by the clean lines of Art Deco” that embody every era in which they appeared. This stunning visual history spotlights Lanvin’s prodigious work, avant-garde spirit and branding savvy, and will rekindle appreciation for the oldest French fashion house, which began in 1889 as a humble hat shop in the heart of Paris.

7Tà’s Red Bookby Ginevra Visconti

This book, published to coincide with the “Women in Balance” exhibition at Florence’s Museo Salvatore Ferragamo, looks at the life of Wanda Ferragamo, the pioneering Italian shoe designer’s wife and widow, who was the head of the company until her death in 2018. After her husband died in 1960, Wanda took over as CEO and, during the post-Second World War economic boom that powered Italy’s fashion ascension, transformed the artisanal family business into a global luxury brand.

8Pazazz by Nina Edwards

Edwards, a London -based freelance writer (who has previously written about the significance of buttons), considers the complex meaning of white clothing throughout history. Delicate and impractical, in the past white cloth was difficult to obtain and maintain, so it became a symbol of purity, but also of class superiority, privilege and conspicuous leisure. Dip into it during peak wedding season for the brainy but accessible deconstruction of bridal gowns.

9Azzedine Alaïa and Arthur Elgort: FreedomForeword by Grace Coddington

The creative connection between Elgort, the 82-year-old fashion photographer, and the late Tunisian-born Paris couturier Alaïa produced images that shaped the 1980s and 1990s. The name of the book comes from the freedom of movement and energy in its selection of naturalistic black-and-white images of models such as Naomi Campbell (the designer’s muse) and Christy Turlington, which arose from playful, informal photo sessions over the years. (May 13)

10Merchants of Styleby Natasha Degen

“Art was assumed to be profound; fashion was dismissed as frivolous,” the professor of art market studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology writes. Documenting the historic relationship between fashion and fine art – Salvador Dalí’s window displays at the New York department store, Bonwit Teller, for example, or Jean Cocteaus evening jacket design for Elsa Schiaparelli – she then argues that Andy Warhol and his legacy definitively changed what had, until then, remained somewhat separate aesthetic industries. From artist-designed handbags like the 2017 Jeff Koons collaboration with Louis Vuitton to the luxury brands that have opened art foundations, this is a fascinating read on the shifting economics of culture for anyone interested in the intersection of contemporary art and commerce. (May 15)

11Pat in the Cityby Patricia Field

As much a cultural force as a costume designer, Field is the genius behind Sex and the City’s famously over-the-top outfits. The stylist chronicles the goings-on at her New York boutique and the 1970s nightlife that inspired her, and shares stories about turning Meryl Streep into sadistic style editor Miranda Priestly for The Devil Wears Prada and the madcap looks that made SATC such a hit and cemented its place in pop culture. It’s a fascinating read about a life in fashion, not that the 82-year-old is slowing down: her latest projects include a new fashion gallery and costumes for Kim Cattrall’s upcoming series Glamorous.

12The Kingdom of Prepby Maggie Bullock

Through more than 100 interviews with insiders, fashion journalist Bullock (a former editor at Vogue and ELLE) looks at the rise and fall of American lifestyle brand J.Crew. It was born as a mail-order retailer 40 years ago, but only became a household name in 2008 when soon-to-be First Lady Michelle Obama wore (and name-checked) the brand on the Tonight Show. It’s astute cultural commentary on how the shifts in American style reflect changing identity.


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