Icons, The Absolutes of Style
Dodie Kazanjian, St. Martin’s Press. 1996.
“Crocodiles should be killed, because they are the only animal that is very, very cruel.” – Manolo Blahnik (spoken just after he states, “I don’t like to use animal stuff.”)
These are chronicles of Kazanjian shopping for iconic fashion objects like a Chanel suit, a Kelly bag, a string of pearls and a little black dress. They originally appeared in Vogue or the New York Times. While reading about how hard it is for a size four petite to find clothes can be a little trying, it is funny and illuminating to read Kazanjian taking us through excruciating processes like the hoop-jumping one must go through to acquire a Chanel suit, including trying on suits that have been sold to someone else, being ninth on waiting lists for suits in the wrong color, months of waiting, numerous phone calls, messages left and the timing of vacations so that one doesn’t miss one’s spot on the waiting list. If there was any question before of the brilliant strategy the purveyors of luxury goods have conceived to manufacture the rarity and therefore covetability of their wares, this book lays it all out.
There’s also a cavalcade of insider moments, like finding out where to find good quality faux Kelly bags. Thousands of dollars are spent in the process of shopping with a personal shopper – Manolo Blahnik mules, a real Kelly, and more. She doesn’t buy pearls, but as she shops for them, you may learn everything you’ll ever need to know about pearls.
Kazanjian has a knack for capturing personalities. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that her portrait of Manolo Blahnik as an enthusiastic, funny companion who also happens to be a marvelous craftsman (he himself carves and crafts the model for a shoe he’s sketched) has had a lot to do with why his name is everywhere and his shoes are golden today. She perfectly captures my beloved Isacc Mizrahi in a short encounter with him, trying to find the perfect black dress.
Icons is a quick, fun read from which you incidentally learn loads about the rarified worlds of shopping for luxury goods. Oh, and Anna recommends it (Wintour, that is).
Couture Culture. A Study in Modern Art and Fashion
Nancy J. Troy, The MIT Press, 2002
If Kazanjian’s book is a wading pool, Couture Culture, published by The MIT Press, would require hip boots at least. It’s not deep-end cultural critique, but it is an illuminating history of the business of fashion and how it intersected with and borrowed from the world of fine arts. A friend who is a contemporary couturiere (making only made-to-order apparel) recommended this book that traces the origins of the way the fashion business works today.
Paul Poiret was one of the first fashion designers to present himself as an artist. What this meant was that he was the first to create a brand. Today we are accustomed to the name of the designer representing a certain look. Poiret was the first to claim design authority and to start our modern system of couture garments being the top tier, ready-to-wear apparel the next tier. He was the first to allow his name to be used for mass produced garments. All of this we take for granted today. Ralph Lauren sheets, anyone?
It’s interesting to look back at the innovative way that Poiret brilliantly promoted his business through exotic parties (to which one pretty much had to wear a Poiret) and his support of theater and dance. Like modern designers he melds his business and private lives to marketing gain. Like modern designers at charity galas, Poiret is coy about business-based motivations behind his support of the arts. In addition to sponsoring the performing arts, he hired visual artists to create invitations and advertisements for his house. And the river ran both ways. We have Poiret to thank for importing theatrical presentation into the modern fashion show.
Like the experience of going to an exhibition of modern art and seeing how contemporary some pieces can look today, the reader will get the same feeling reading about the business of fashion as practiced by Paul Poiret.