Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

Books push without filling closet

March 30, 2003

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— It's spring, and the urge to shop is almost overwhelming. The brightly colored frocks are practically calling your name from newly decorated store windows.

Yet something is holding you back. Are you a little jittery about the economy? Is there no room left in your closet?

Maybe the trendy miniskirts are just a little too miniature.

Here is a compromise: a new fashion book. It's sure to fit; it can make the rounds among your friends; and it's unlikely to ever be dismissed as "so spring 2003."

This season's crop of books, which seems bigger than in years past, allow readers to try on all sorts of looks -- glamorous, humorous and outrageous.

"Ralph Lauren: The Man, the Vision, the Style" (Rizzoli) by Colin McDowell is an inside look at the designer's childhood, his inspirations, his clothes and the mega-corporation that bears his name. The book isn't exactly an authorized biography, but McDowell was given access to Lauren, his family, his colleagues and his houses, which, according to McDowell, was the best part.

"It was a joy getting to know Ralph," says McDowell during a recent phone interview. "We had met in the '80s, but he's sort of a shy man. The other real bonus was seeing his fabulous homes -- in Jamaica, Montauk (N.Y.), Colorado, upstate New York. There's one for each aspect of his personality."

McDowell devotes many words to Lauren's distaste for the newness that drives the fashion world. "He (Lauren) prefers an evolution -- a continuation -- from season to season," the author explains.

In fact, Lauren's entire life is modeled after that philosophy.

"The way Ralph and Ricky (Lauren's wife) live their lives is by putting on an old jacket with this season's trousers or to drive a classic car one day and a modern motorbike the next," McDowell says.


McDowell, who also has written fashion books about Manolo Blahnik and John Galliano, isn't shy about his affinity toward Lauren and Lauren's clothes. "This is part of a series of books of designers I admire. ... I'm not interested in gossip, I consider myself a fashion historian."

It's no wonder then that McDowell's version of Lauren's life is different from Michael Gross', who previously wrote "Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women."

In "Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren" (HarperCollins) Gross describes a man with almost split personalities -- in public, Lauren is modest and purposeful, while in private he seems more vengeful.

Gross gives credit to Lauren for his ambition and brandmaking ability, but he also criticizes those very same things.

Before the opening chapters, "Patrician: From the Pale to the Promised Land" and "Aspiration: From Lifshitz to Lauren," there is a lengthy author's note that says the book was originally planned as an authorized biography, but Lauren got cold feet when Gross said the book would be as much about the designer's personal life as his professional one.

"Fashion People" doesn't ask its subjects if they are willing participants; merely by participating in the fashion world frenzy, Gladys Perint Palmer has made them targets.

The book is a collection of Palmer's humorous illustrations that have appeared during the past 20 years in magazines and newspapers around the world.

Some of the "characters" would be recognizable only to other fashion insiders, but the drawing of Chelsea (Clinton), Gwyneth (Paltrow), Madonna and Donatella (Versace), all with poker-straight blond hair and too-red lips, will resonate with the everyman.

"Fashion Victim" (Broadway) isn't about fashion's royalty; it's about the plebeians who shell out hundreds of dollars -- if not more -- each year in an effort to catch up with the always-evolving trends. The book's subtitle, "Our Love-Hate Relationship With Dressing, Shopping, and the Cost of Style," sort of says it all.

Author Michelle Lee attempts to explain how seemingly rational people are swept up into a clamor to buy leg warmers or a pair of Butt Couture low-rise jeans.


According to Lee, the 10 commandments of fashion include "Thou Shalt Be a Walking Billboard," "Thou Shalt Own Minutely Differing Variations of the Same Thing" and "Thou Shalt Dress Vicariously Through Thy Children and Pets."

And it is a very stylish Jack Russell terrier who stars in "What Willie Wore: Scenes From the Life & Wardrobe of a Very Fashionable Dog" (Chronicle Books). Alexander Stadler's line-drawn dog leads a jet-setting life that many people would envy; one day she's furniture shopping in Hussein Chalayan and the next she's hitting the clubs in Versace.

"Come Fly With Us!: A Global History of the Airline Hostess" (Collectors Press) by Johanna Omelia and Michael Waldock isn't exactly a "fashion book" but each page features photos of women in their high-flying best, from Scandinavian Airlines System's "New Look" uniforms by Christian Dior in the late 1940s to the hot pants and go-go boots worn by PSA hostesses in 1974. Other designers who got into the airline uniform game included Hollywood designer Jean Louis and pattern-crazy Pucci.

During World War II, Continental Air Lines hired a Hollywood makeup artist to teach flight attendants how to look like film stars.

The '40s also marked the middle of a watershed era for glamorous bathing beauties, and "Sunkissed: Sunwear and the Hollywood Beauty 1930-1950" (Collectors Press) provides a photographic history.

The book by Joshua James Curtis, a photographer who is fascinated with Hollywood's golden days, features studio publicity shots of Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard, Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth.

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