In somewhat chronological order, here are some books I used for reference as well as some biographies, memoirs, and fiction titles that tie in with my June, 2019 lecture, “Evolution and Revolution in Women’s Fashion, 1850-1970”. I admit I haven’t read them all. If you know of a book that ties in, please leave a comment and I’ll add it to this list. Scroll down for a list of Fashion Historians to follow on Instagram, as well as links to some of the articles I used for reference.
HAUTE COUTURE by Richard Martin, and Harold Koda (1995). This book is available from AMAZON, but here’s something fantastic: The Metropolitan Museum will let you read this book for free, online, HERE. Anyway, it is a feast for the eyes.
From the Met website: “This is a survey of the history of haute couture, from the formation of the House of Worth in mid-19th-century Paris to the major designers of the present day. The book focuses on the highly skilled crafts that are essential to the production of haute couture. Separate chapters examine tailoring techniques and finishes, weaving, draping, and the intricate decoration produced by embroiderers, feather-makers, and other craftspeople on whom couturiers rely for the execution of their ideas.”
Talk about eye candy. Keep your Kleenex near b/c you’ll drool over PARIS HAUTE COUTURE by Anne Zazzo and Olivier Saillard. Available on Amazon. Saillard is a fashion historian and the former director of the Musee Galliera in Paris, which is a real must-see if you’re interested in fashion history.
From Amazon: “A comprehensive history of high fashion in Paris from Madame Grès and Balenciaga to Yves Saint Laurent and Yohji Yamamoto, spanning all aspects from clothing and accessories to perfume. Ever since Charles Frederick Worth dressed the Empress Eugénie in the 1860s, launching a “golden century” for dressmaking, Parisian haute couture has been a source of endless admiration and fascination. This volume is richly illustrated with images of the most superb pieces created by exceptional designers. Various incarnations of Chanel’s timeless quilted handbag, Fath’s charmingly patterned silk scarves, and Poiret’s elegant perfume bottles demonstrate that haute couture encompasses far more than just clothing.”
THE WOMAN’S HOUR: THE GREAT FIGHT TO WIN THE VOTE , by Elaine Weiss (Viking, 2018). available on Amazon. It is being made into a mini-series by Steven Spielberg’s production company. This is hight on my TBR list since I met Elaine at the Nantucket Book Festival in June. Over dinner, we talked bloomers.
Here is what Hilary Rodham Clinton had to say about this book: “At the heart of democracy lies the ballot box, and Elaine Weiss’s unforgettable book tells the story of the female leaders who—in the face of towering economic, racial, and political opposition—fought for and won American women’s right to vote. Unfolding over six weeks in the summer of 1920, The Woman’s Hour is both a page-turning drama and an inspiration for everyone, young and old, male and female, in these perilous times. So much could have gone wrong, but these American women would not take no for an answer: their triumph is our legacy to guard and emulate.”
THE HOUSE OF WORTH Thames & Hudson; 2018 By Chantal Trubert-Tollu, Francoise Tetart-Vittu. Jean-Marie Martin Hattemberg amd Fabrice Oliveri, with a with a foreword by Christian Lacroix. Available from BARNES & NOBLE.
Written by a descendant of Charles Frederick, this book explores the demise of the house with the rise of Christian Dior. Over 500 gorgeous illustrations. HERE is an interview with the author.
A WELL-BEHAVED WOMAN: A NOVEL OF THE VANDERBILTS, St. Martins Press, 2018. by Therese Anne Fowler. One of the greatest scenes in this wonderful novel is the William K. Vanderbilt Fancy Dress Ball, on March 26th, 1883. Alice Vanderbilt wore a Worth Gown called “The Spirit of Electricity.” The Museum of the City of New York did an entire exhibition inspired by the ball and you can read about it and see the gown HERE.
I’m a huge fan of audiobooks, and I love a good, British-accented narrator. E. M. Forster’s A ROOM WITH A VIEW is available on Audible.com with versions read by two of my fave narrators: Juliet Stevenson and Wanda McCannon. Listen to the samples and choose one, you can’t go wrong.
THE DRESSMAKER by Kate Alcott (Knopf Doubleday 2013) tells the story of a young woman who goes to work for the couturier Lucile, Lady Duff-Gordon, as a seamstress. Alcott does a great job weaving in the tumultuous and scandal-ridden story of Lady Duff’s rise and fall in the fashion industry. Available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
THE CRAMOISY QUEEN: A LIFE OF CARESSE CROSBY, by Linda Hamalian. I confess I haven’t read this one, but Caresse Crosby and her husband Harry were some of the most colorful and twisted characters in Jazz-Age Paris. In addition to her publishing work, Caresse patented the first bra in 1914 and was a writer in her own right. Here’s an interesting post about her and her bra design from Mental Floss. Available at: Barnes & Noble.
THE “IT” GIRLS, a novel, by Karen Harper, (HarperCollins 2017) tells the story of Lucile, Lady Duff-Gordon and her sister, the actress and romantic novelist, Elinor Glyn. I haven’t read this yet, but here’s what Hazel Gaynor has to say about it: “The It Girls is a glorious romp through the lives and loves of the scintillating Sutherland sisters. Karen Harper does a wonderful job of bringing Lucile and Elinor to life in this richly imagined and impeccably researched novel. Readers who enjoy historical fiction are in for a treat!” (Hazel Gaynor, New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home). Available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
“IT” by Elinor Glyn, (not to be confused with the Stephen King title!) was published in 1927. Although tame by moderns standards, it was considered scandalous at the time, and the movie version rocketed Clara Bow to stardom. “It” is out of print, but you can find an original copy, as pictured above, or you can read Elinor Glyn’s complete works as a Nook Book from Barnes & Noble, HERE. From Wiki: “Glyn pioneered risqué, and sometimes erotic romantic fiction aimed at a female readership, a radical idea for its time—though her writing is not scandalous by modern standards. She coined the use of the word it to mean a characteristic that ‘…draws all others with magnetic force. With ‘IT’ you win all men if you are a woman–and all women if you are a man. ‘IT’ can be a quality of the mind as well as a physical attraction.'”
THE LAST COLLECTION (Penguin Publishing Group). Jeanne Mackin has quite a few historical novels under her belt and here is her latest, which explores the rivalry between the Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel. This is a riveting, well-researched story with brilliant insight into the lives of both designers. Available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and Indies. I loved it.
From Barnes & Noble:
“Paris, 1938. Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli are fighting for recognition as the most successful and influential fashion designer in France, and their rivalry is already legendary. They oppose each other at every turn, in both their politics and their designs: Chanel’s are classic, elegant, and practical; Schiaparelli’s bold, experimental, and surreal.
When Lily Sutter, a recently widowed young American teacher, visits her brother, Charlie, in Paris, he insists on buying her a couture dress—a Chanel. Lily, however, prefers a Schiaparelli. Charlie’s beautiful and socially prominent girlfriend soon begins wearing Schiaparelli’s designs as well, and much of Paris follows in her footsteps.
Schiaparelli offers budding artist Lily a job at her store, and Lily finds herself increasingly involved with Schiaparelli and Chanel’s personal war. Their fierce competition reaches new and dangerous heights as the Nazis and the looming threat of World War II bear down on Paris.”
THE QUEEN OF PARIS by Pamela Binnings Ewen (Blackstone, 2020)
Legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel is revered for her sophisticated style—the iconic little black dress—and famed for her intoxicating perfume Chanel No. 5. Yet behind the public persona is a complicated woman of intrigue, shadowed by mysterious rumors. The Queen of Paris, the new novel from award-winning author Pamela Binnings Ewen, vividly imagines the hidden life of Chanel during the four years of Nazi occupation in Paris in the midst of WWII—as discovered in recently unearthed wartime files.
Coco Chanel could be cheerful, lighthearted, and generous; she also could be ruthless, manipulative, even cruel. Against the winds of war, with the Wehrmacht marching down the Champs-Élysées, Chanel finds herself residing alongside the Reich’s High Command in the Hotel Ritz. Surrounded by the enemy, Chanel wages a private war of her own to wrestle full control of her perfume company from the hands of her Jewish business partner, Pierre Wertheimer. With anti-Semitism on the rise, he has escaped to the United States with the confidential formula for Chanel No. 5. Distrustful of his intentions to set up production on the outskirts of New York City, Chanel fights to seize ownership. The House of Chanel shall not fall.
While Chanel struggles to keep her livelihood intact, Paris sinks under the iron fist of German rule. Chanel—a woman made of sparkling granite—will do anything to survive. She will even agree to collaborate with the Nazis in order to protect her darkest secrets. When she is covertly recruited by Germany to spy for the Reich, she becomes Agent F-7124, code name: Westminster. But why? And to what lengths will she go to keep her stormy past from haunting her future?
DIOR, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CHRISTIAN DIOR. (Abrams 2018).
Who knew? Either Christian Dior was a talented writer or he had a good ghostwriter. I don’t usually go for biographies, but this was really interesting. This edition was published by the V&A museum, available at Barnes & Noble
We all know about Diana Gabadon’s OUTLANDER series, but this gorgeous set from JUNIPER BOOKS is the prettiest, ever. Outlander set, $350.
Forthcoming: In early 2021, Only the Best (co-written with Kate Messner and illustrated by Erin Robinson) will be released by Chronicle Books, and another book about Ann Lowe, her biography, Sophisticated Lady will be released by Simon and Schuster.
QUANT. (Abrams 2018). Mary Quant invented the mini skirt. Her memoir, another in the fashion series by the V&A, is available from Barnes & Noble HERE. And here’s an link to an article by the curator of the current V&A Quant retrospective in London. From Barnes & Noble: “The autobiography of Mary Quant—the inventor of the miniskirt—was originally published in 1966 at the height of Swinging London. After opening her groundbreaking boutique Bazaar on London’s King’s Road in 1955, Quant soared to international fame with her brand of witty style that fitted perfectly with modern city life. She was at the forefront of fashion’s democratization—seeking to eliminate snobbery and “make fashionable clothes available to everyone.” Her joyful, evocative autobiography captures the world in which she found inspiration—and which she ultimately helped to define and change.”
LOULOU & YVES by Christopher Petkanas, (St. Martin’s Press, 2018). From Michael Callahan in The New York Times Book Review: “Loulou de La Falaise was “a cross between Holly Golightly and Sally Bowles,” in the words of André Leon Talley ― though you might also think of her as Cosette from “Les Misérables,” grown up to become the heroine of a Jackie Collins novel. A paragon of effortless glamour, Loulou twice married well (“I am not a gold digger or anything like that, but I usually do manage to get a castle. … My two husbands both have fabulous ones”) and, living a life brimming with sex, drugs and cosmopolitan éclat, charmed her way to the top of the international fashion order by becoming the longtime muse to Yves Saint Laurent, who imbued his designs with her turbans-and-tunics chic only to leave her with nothing.” Available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon. ―Here’s an interesting article from W Magazine about LouLou and Yves. Here’s a link to the YSL museum in Marrakech, with his biography.
Fashion Historians: For more eye candy, follow these Instagram accounts (just click the links):
Articles of Interest: here a a few of many I used as references:
- How Cycling Clothing Opened Doors for Women, from The Atlantic.
- The first National Womens’ Rights Convention, from ThoughtCo.
- Charles Frederick Worth, from Wondernet Magazine.
- Paul Poiret, from wgsninsider.com.
- Lucy Duff-Gordon, from Vogue.
- Caresse Crosby’s bra, from The Atlantic.
- Elsa Schiaparelli, from Wondernet Magazine.
- Jeanne Lanvin, in Vogue.
- Vionnet- The Bias Cut, from Heroine.com.
- Christian Dior, from causeafrockus.com.
- Claire McCardell, from collettehq.com.
- Ann Lowe- from Vintagefashionhistory.com .
- Mary Quant, from Medium.com.
- Yves St. Laurent, from shrimptoncouture.com.