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English socialite, Lady Pamela Smith, standing beside French fashion designer Coco Chanel, Salons Haute Couture, Paris, 1932. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images

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Behind the Seams: 12 Books About Star Style

Red-carpet moments may be on hold due to labour disputes, but these notable new books will provide your fashion fix this season / BY Nathalie Atkinson / September 14th, 2023


We’re living for the gala premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival and the reliable style parade during fashion month, but until the Hollywood labour dispute is resolved, major red carpet moments will be fewer and farther between. Star-studded events are (mostly) on hold; the Emmys have been postponed; even late-night (always good for an outfit ogle) is on hiatus as the ongoing SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes leave most of Hollywood all dressed up with no place to go. Until the red carpets return in full force, here are a dozen of the latest stylish reads that take a peek behind the scenes of stylist celebrity.

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. 

1Designing Hollywood by Christian Esquevin

Esquevin, a retired library director, memorabilia collector and film aficionado who previously wrote a biography of costume designer Adrian, was one of the earliest bloggers to research screen style on his wonderful Silver Screen Modes. His new book showcases the in-house costume designers and wardrobe departments of the 1910s to 1960s (after which the studios disbanded their departments) and how they dressed Hollywood movie stars on and off screen.


2Fashioning the Beatles by Deirdre Kelly

Through a close reading of the band’s individual and group looks year by year, from 1960 onward, Kelly – a bestselling Toronto author (Paris Times Eight) and former Globe and Mail features writer – dissects how they developed their style and makes clothing the lens for an insightful history of the lasting ways the Fab Four influenced popular culture.


3Ideal Beauty by Lois W. Banner

French theorist Roland Barthes once remarked that the face of early Hollywood superstar Greta Garbo was a dream of perfection and Platonic ideal. In her new book, Banner (professor emerita of history at the University of Southern California who has previously written about Marilyn Monroe) tackles the enduring Garbo mystique. She considers the screen icon’s life in relation to standards of beauty, how her legendary looks bestowed a measure of power (to be a feminist presence on screen, for example) and how it became a paradoxical legacy as she enjoyed post-Hollywood retirement.


4Ann Lowe by Elizabeth Way, et al.

Lowe created Jacqueline Kennedy’s striking 1953 wedding dress (and those of her bridesmaids), but the Black fashion designer’s story as a pre-eminent American couturier has been neglected and she has been snubbed. From a childhood in rural Alabama through her rise as the go-to designer of debutantes, New York high society (Rockefellers and duPonts) and boldface names (including actress Olivia de Havilland), this book by a curator of New York’s Museum at the FIT – together with a new retrospective at Delaware’s Winterthur Museum – should restore Lowe to her rightful place in fashion history.


5Fly Fly by Mitchell S. Jackson

Elite athletes are style celebrities, too – just ask Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Off the court, their fits transform the walk from the team bus to the locker room and onto the red carpet. Walt “Clyde” Frazier’s cape, Serge Ibaka’s statement scarves, Magic Johnson’s Chicago All-Star game fur, Russell Westbrook’s Thom Browne skirt and the backstory of Allen Iverson’s signature accessory – a lollipop – are the focus in this splashy history of NBA fashion that traces the looks that have defined and elevated basketball style.


6Sofia Coppola Archive 1999-2023by Sofia Coppola

This pink-covered, 488-page cache of the filmmaker’s scripts, photographs and paraphernalia is the most coveted cinephile style tome of the season. It’s an intimate annotated look at her process, including costume fitting Polaroids and lipstick tests. It’s so up-to-the-moment, it even documents her preparation for Priscilla, her new Presley biopic.


7Mondrian’s Dress by Nancy J. Troy and Marguerite Tartsinis

In 1965, French couturier Yves Saint Laurent paid homage to Piet Mondrian with a collection inspired by the painter’s abstract canvases. The colour-blocked shift dresses that made YSL famous were admired by Jane Fonda (who sat front row at the presentation) and worn by Veruschka, Elsa Martinelli and Catherine Deneuve. They get a thorough dissection in this book about the intersection of fashion, celebrity and Pop Art.


8Daughter of the Dragon by Yunte Huang

Global screen icon Anna May Wong (1905-1961) – the subject of recent fictionalizations, The Brightest Star and Siren Queen was recently honoured with a Barbie made in her image, as well as a US Mint program. This novel by Huang, a California-based Guggenheim Fellow and English professor, re-imagines the life of the movie star whose family owned a Chinese laundry in San Francisco, in a diaristic style that’s set against the backdrop of early Hollywood. The story chronicles the racism, sexism and, eventually, ageism experienced not only by Wong, but by many in the spotlight.


9The Life You Had Imagined by Nelly Alard

Well before Grace Kelly and Meghan Markle, Hollywood stars and royalty had a long-entwined history. In this novel sprinkled with Old Hollywood stardust (think: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo), Alard, a contemporary French actress in Hollywood, explores the connection between “Sisi,” as the famously trend-setting Empress Elisabeth of Austria was known, and Elissa, a young actress in 1930s Hollywood touted as the next Greta Garbo, whose mother claimed to be Sisi’s secret daughter.


10Bogie & Bacall by William J. Mann

When young Brooklyn model Lauren Bacall graced the cover of Vogue in March 1943, Nancy Hawks took notice and insisted that her husband, director Howard Hawks, see her for a screen test. The rest is history: the 19-year-old with the husky voice and sultry upward glance became the breakout star of 1944’s To Have and Have Not opposite Humphrey Bogart – and they became a couple off-screen until his death. This is the story being their legendary (and some say unlikely) love story.


11Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie

Pioneering French fashion designer Coco Chanel, who died in 1977 at the age of 87, first ventured to Hollywood in 1931 when she accepted a $1-million contract from mogul Samuel Goldwyn to make costumes for Gloria Swanson. Her couture house has been collaborating with the silver screen ever since, most recently recreating a version of Priscilla Presley’s 1967 wedding dress for Sofia Coppola’s new biopic and hosting the annual Female Filmmaker dinner, with Variety magazine, at the Toronto International Film Festival. To coincide with the lavish new “Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto” exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, British fashion journalist Picardie (a former editor of Harper’s Bazaar UK) has thoroughly revised her acclaimed 2011 biography. The extensive update includes new research and discoveries that shed light on the nature of Coco’s wartime activities, both as a Nazi informant and as a member of the French Resistance.


12Pharrell: Carbon, Pressure & Time by Pharrell Williams

American record producer, musician and style maven Pharrell Williams, now a menswear designer for Louis Vuitton, has amassed a significant collection of one-of-a-kind jewelry over his years of collaboration with brands like NIGO, Tiffany and Chanel. This gorgeous coffee table book is a tour of his pieces, which also tells the story of bling in hip-hop culture and contemporary luxury fashion. (Sept. 26)

 


THE SCROLL

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