“Vogue, Elle, Harper’s; what does the fashion populace read apart from the usual suspects?
I am sure there are interesting books and magazines to read that don’t propagate age-old style stereotypes? Aren’t there books that don’t always explore the comedic life of a shopaholic with more debt than money? Where are the books I can read to understand the industry?” All questions that were pretty much shouted out at me during a recent conversation with a friend. I understand the frustration, though.
Unless you are deeply entrenched in the academic side of fashion (yes, it exists) or have a deep love for fashion and have spent much of your time on Amazon looking for reading material, chances are your fashion reading has been somewhat limited. And if they have been, then you aren’t alone. If you don’t know where to look and how to skim through the many titles, you will be more often than not faced with guides that tell you what to wear and how.
So, this week, I figured I will take a break from the usual and help you dip your toes in the many-coloured waters of fashion-related tomes by giving you a peek at 5 books that’ve shaped my view of the sartorial world. In no way expansive and in no particular order, I’ve given the fiction side of things a slip.
When I first started working in the Indian fashion industry, I struggled to find books that would help me make sense of this extremely confusing and chameleon-like world. That’s when I stumbled upon Fashion India by Phyllida Jay. More-reference book, less commentary, it documents India’s quarter-century old fashion industry, its diversities, and its future. Jay’s book works because it isn’t academic, the point of view is objective, and the references on point.
Why Fashion Matters?
It was the provocative title that drew me to this book. Anyone who has worked even on the fringes of fashion has been asked ‘why fashion’, when there are so many other ‘important’ things to write about/work on. Well, choice aside, fashion infiltrates every aspect of our life and creates millions of jobs across the world. So, it does matter. Frances Corner, the author and head of London College of Fashion, notes down 101 statements and questions which force us to think about what you wear, how you wear it, what it means, where it came from, and what the future holds. The essays are tad too short and each could make way for a book on its own, but they force you to think and that’s a good place to start.
100 Unforgettable Dresses
Often when I teach a class, my references to the history of fashion and specific outfits from before the early 80s are met with blank gazes. It saddens me because without history, we have no context and no way of revisiting Hammer pants from the 80s and 90s. Jokes apart though, that’s where Hal Rubenstein’s book comes to the rescue. If you love fashion, your bookshelf needs this book which dives into the stories behind 100 absolutely unforgettable dresses from the worlds of fashion, film, society, television, and politics.
Women in Clothes
This was a book I read mixed reviews about. Some people called it ‘enlightening and a process of discovery’, others called it ‘self-indulgent and lacking in individuality’. I think it is a bit of both. The book asks a question which has long intrigued me, ‘why do we wear what we wear,’ and it does so by surveying hundreds of women from different nationalities about their choice of clothing and how it defines them. Where it doesn’t stack up to expectations is its lack of diversity of the women spoken to, absence of actual data, a seeming obsession with quirk, and the fact that it misses a unifying discussion. Read it though. If for nothing else but to get a starting point in a much-needed exploration.
The Green Room
He was one of the first Indian designers whose work captivated me, his pristine white collections were magical, and Wendell Rodrick’s book had the same effect on me. He takes you back in time and lets you indulge your voyeuristic side with a peek into his life. The best part about the book though, is that it’s not a story of one man, it’s a tale of how the Indian fashion industry has evolved over the years. It’s a candid and entertaining read that will capture your attention.
There you have it folks, books that have changed the way I think about this gorgeous world that I am a part of. In no way do I claim that these are the best books you will ever read, but they will get you thinking. On my wishlist, Luxury Indian Fashion: A Social Critique by Tereza Kuldova and The Fashion System by Roland Barthes. Both books examine aspects of fashion I am deeply interested in; the former investigates the Indian luxury aesthetic and the role of fashion, and the latter analyses the language of fashion magazines. And the reading continues…