Now Arriving from: Paris

So, how was your April in Paris? Nothing can compare with the real thing, but I hope it was good!

Shockingly, my month did not go as planned and I didn’t manage to finish any books set in Paris. However, books about Paris are always on my list and I will always be reading about the loveliest city, so I don’t feel like I’m missing out. Also, there are no Library Police.

I did squeeze in a movie though – Coco before Chanel  (yes, it’s in French!) starring Audrey Tautou. It’s about Coco Chanel’s early life and the experiences that helped shaped both her artistic vision and her life choices. As shown in the movie (and I believe it is accurate), Coco was not an easy person. She was opinionated and bold (at a time when women were encouraged to be quiet and decorative), and demanded her own way – which sometimes seemed to shift without warning. She is also largely responsible for cutting women out of restrictive corsets and creating clothes that are elegant, timeless and comfortable with clean lines and little fuss. In addition, she created and directed her own company in a world run by men and she set her own course unapologetically.

Sadly, there is very little about Paris in the movie until the end (Coco grew up in the French countryside, left in an orphanage by her father along with her sister after their mother died) and only a little is shown about her growing business and fashion influence. I would have like to seen more about that and also seen something about her life in Paris during World War II – she took a German lover during the Occupation and there has been speculation that she collaborated with the Nazis. She is a complex, enigmatic figure (French history seems to have lots of them!) and I’d like to learn more about her.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read/watch/listen to this month and what did you think of it?

 

The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker, starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth, tells the story of Tilly Dunnage, played by Kate Winslet. This movie is based on the novel of the same name by Rosalie Ham. Tilly is an accomplished dressmaker who spent years traveling the world learning her trade. She has returned to her small Australian hometown in 1950s Australia. Tilly escaped from this town when she was young after being accused of murdering a young boy. She has returned to learn the truth.

Upon arriving back in town, Tilly finds her eccentric mother, played by Judy Davis, living in squalor. She begins taking care of her and scheming to get revenge on those who accused her of murder. Tilly’s way of dressing shocks the town. She begins to offer her dressmaking services to women in town, seemingly as a kindness, but really as a way of revenge. She begins working with the local sergeant, a man who has secrets of his own. Tilly also falls for a local farmer, Teddy, a man who lives next door to her mother and whose family has been stopping in to care for her mother while she’s been gone.

This small backwoods Australian town is rife with secrets and scandals, more than just Tilly’s exile for the supposed murder of her young classmate. More and more of these secrets are exposed as Tilly works her magic on the local women. This movie shows that nothing is what it seems and that everyone has secrets. Tilly struggles to find out the truth, remember her past, and clear her name. I really enjoyed this movie because Tilly clearly knows how to get revenge on people. While she may appear strong, she also has a lot going on under the surface.

Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger

girl in diorI love reading fiction that I can tell has roots in nonfiction. Girl in Dior, a graphic novel by Annie Goetzinger, falls into this category. Girl in Dior tells the fictionalized story of Clara Nohant, a fashion-journalist-turned-model who ends up working and forming a friendship with Christian Dior in the last ten years of his life. In this graphic novel, readers get to see the stunning colors and designs that went into forming the House of Dior, as well as the behind the scenes work that Dior, his seamstresses, and models did in order to launch his New Look in 1947. By presenting this as a graphic novel, Goetzinger is able to showcase the different types of collections Dior put together, as well as the historical changes in fashion that the world was going through as Dior prepared to rock the world with his New Look.

Goetzinger takes great care to include the likenesses and back stories of influential people that would have been in the fashion and movie industry around the time when Dior was designing. She also includes back matter in the book along the lines of chronological reference points, a list of Christian Dior’s 22 collections, what the author calls “Christian Dior’s entourage”, as well as definitions of the different careers you can have in the fashion world and the different types of fabrics and accessories that were used. Goetzinger also includes a bibliography of works. The additional material she provided enhanced the book for me, giving me something to turn to besides an outside source when I wasn’t sure of what a certain term meant. Flip to this book if you’re interested in learning more about the creation of the Dior house, if you’re curious about how Clara went from a fashion chronicler to a model, or if you’re looking to learn more about how Christian Dior was able to change the world of fashion in the short ten years that he ran the house of Dior.

Dior and I

dior and iChristian Dior. Chanel. Givenchy. These names are only some of the legendary haute couture houses. Haute couture has a strict definition, but literally means high or elegant sewing. The Paris Chamber of Commerce protects haute couture by law and says that in order to be haute couture, you MUST follow a set of rules, rules that are clearly delineated by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, the association that approves you to be haute couture.

In Dior and I, viewers watch as, in 2012, the newly hired Artistic Director for Dior, Raf Simons, is given a short eight weeks to pull together his very first haute couture line. This documentary goes behind the scenes to show all of the intense labor and work that goes into making haute couture and how the introduction of a new Artistic Director, especially one with more of a ready-to-wear fashion background, added another level of difficulty to make sure the fitting for this new line would go smoothly. Dealing with a new Artistic Director who has his own ideas to bring to the table, juggling completing the line in time with the existing clients and their commissions, and working right up until the fitting brings stress and complications to the many pieces of the Dior fashion house that make sure everything runs smoothly.

Dior and I proves to be a stunningly beautiful documentary that provides a look into the history of Christian Dior through readings of his journals and also snapshots and film of the designer at work. This film is as much a homage to the fashion houses of old and the multi-talented seamstresses who have worked for Dior for years and who strive to bring the founder’s image and standards to life through every inch of fabric they touch on a day-to-day basis as it is also a glimpse into the future for the fashions to come. The combination of the classic and the new is a topic that runs throughout this documentary.

Watch along as all of the style elements from fashion to show design come together to introduce Raf Simons as the new Artistic Director of Christian Dior. (Interesting tidbit I found: Simons just announced he is leaving Dior leading to much speculation about why and who will replace him!)

Style Stalking by Refinery29

style stalkingGet set to build your best ever wardrobe featuring the hardest-working looks from around the globe with Refinery29 – the world’s leading style destination – as their editors break down the essentials of the everyday chic, straight from the street in Style Stalking.

What transforms a look from on-trend to trendsetting? Editor-in-Chief Christene Barberich and Executive Creative Director Piera Gelardi deconstruct their favorite outfits to reveal what trailblazing looks like on the real-life fashion front, including: * How to Wear modern metallics, mixed prints, everyday ladylike, tomboy chic, lots of layers, and more. * Cleaver Tips such as wearing one piece in three fresh ways, building blocks for discovering your own signature style, and updating your closet each season. * And a Zoom Lens on all the details and accessories that totally make the look.

Featuring the fashion world’s coolest tastemakers, designers, stylists, and editors, these fearless iconoclasts challenge conventions and inspire a whole new generation of women to dress for themselves and discover their true inner style stars…just like YOU. (description from publisher)

Madamoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda Garelick

mademoiselle coco chanelCertain lives are at once so exceptional, and yet so in step with their historical moments, that they illuminate cultural forces far beyond the scope of a single person. Such is the case with Coco Chanel, whose life offers one of the most fascinating tales of the twentieth century–throwing into dramatic relief an era of war, fashion, ardent nationalism, and earth-shaking change.

Coco Chanel transformed forever the way women dressed. Her influence remains so pervasive that to this day we can see her afterimage a dozen times while just walking down a single street: in all the little black dresses, flat shoes, costume jewelry, cardigan sweaters, and tortoiseshell eyeglasses on women of every age and background. A bottle of Chanel No. 5 perfume is sold every three seconds. Arguably, no other individual has had a deeper impact on the visual aesthetic of the world. But how did a poor orphan become a global icon of both luxury and everyday style?

Raised in rural poverty and orphaned early, the young Chanel supported herself as best she could. Then, as an uneducated nineteen-year-old café singer, she attracted the attention of a wealthy and powerful admirer and parlayed his support into her own hat design business. For the rest of Chanel’s life, the professional, personal, and political were interwoven; her lovers included diplomat Boy Capel; composer Igor Stravinsky; Romanov heir Grand Duke Dmitri; Hugh Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster; poet Pierre Reverdy; a Nazi officer; and several women as well. For all that, she was profoundly alone, her romantic life relentlessly plagued by abandonment and tragedy.

Chanel’s ambitions and accomplishments were unparalleled. Her hat shop evolved into a clothing empire. She became a noted theatrical and film costume designer, collaborating with the likes of Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and Luchino Visconti. By age forty, Chanel had become a multimillionaire and a household name, and her Chanel Corporation is still the highest-earning privately owned luxury goods manufacturer in the world. In Mademoiselle, Garelick delivers the most probing, well-researched, and insightful biography to date on this seemingly familiar but endlessly surprising figure–a work that is truly both a heady intellectual study and a literary page-turner. (description from publisher)

The Woman I Wanted to Be by Diane von Furstenberg

the woman i wanted to beOne of the most influential, admired, and innovative women of our time: fashion designer, philanthropist, wife, mother, and grandmother, Diane von Furstenberg offers a book about becoming the woman she wanted to be.

Diane von Furstenberg started out with a suitcase full of jersey dresses and an idea of who she wanted to be-in her words, “the kind of woman who is independent and who doesn’t rely on a man to pay her bills.” She has since become that woman, establishing herself as a global brand and a major force in the fashion industry, all the while raising a family and maintaining “my children are my greatest creation.” In The Woman I Wanted to Be , von Furstenberg reflects on her extraordinary life-from childhood in Brussels to her days as a young, jet-set princess, to creating the dress that came to symbolize independence and power for an entire generation of women.

With remarkable honesty and wisdom, von Furstenberg mines the rich territory of what it means to be a woman. She opens up about her family and career, overcoming cancer, building a global brand, and devoting herself to empowering other women, writing, “I want every woman to know that she can be the woman she wants to be.” (description from publisher)

I am Overdressed

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth ClineIn Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, writer Elizabeth Cline manages to educate the reader on the current state of the worldwide garment industry and to make it a page-turner. I COULD NOT PUT THIS BOOK DOWN. Cline covers the history of America’s Department Stores, the complicated ethics of a global garment industry, a trip to China’s factories for an experiment in fashion manufacturing, the effect of cheap clothes on the secondhand stores and charitable causes, and the role of social media in the “fast fashion” environment–all while unintentionally evolving herself into a “slow fashion” activist.

This is not a see-how-I’m-better-than-you-because-I-only-wear-handsewn-fair-trade-organic-cotton manifesto, but rather a conversation with a super smart friend who’s motto is I-used-to-shop-mostly-at-Forever-21-and-then-I-learned-some-stuff-and-now-prefer-not-to-shop-there. In fact, one of my favorite parts of the book is when Cline admits that only a few years before she began researching the book by sifting through her closet of cheap clothes from H&M, Target & Forever 21, she had participated in protests against her college for using sweatshops to produce their merch. If you were to ask me “Hey, are you against sweatshops and unfair labor practices?” I would say “Duh. Of course.” But then I would sheepishly look down at my clothing and have absolutley no idea how or where anything was made. It takes a lot of work not to buy cheap fasthion, and only Cline’s complete honesty, curiosity, and empathy could produce a book that could convince me to shop (a little bit) less at Target.

I highly recommend Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline to nonfiction readers, fashionistas, and fans of the slow lifestyle movement.

The Truth About Style by Stacy London

The hilarious, beloved cohost of TLC’s What Not to Wear examines the universal obstacles all women–including herself–put in their way With her unique talent for seeing past disastrous wardrobes to the core emotional issues that caused these sartorial crises, style savant Stacy London has transformed not only the looks but also the lives of hundreds of guests who have appeared on What Not to Wear. Now for the first time in print, London turns that expert X-ray insight on herself.

Like the women she’s transformed, London has plenty of emotional baggage. At eleven, she suffered from severe psoriasis that left her with permanent physical and mental scars. During college, she became anorexic on a misguided quest for perfection. By the time she joined the staff at Vogue , London’s weight had doubled from binge eating. Although self-esteem and self-consciousness nearly sabotaged a promising career, London learned the hard way that we wear our insecurities every day. It wasn’t until she found the self-confidence to develop a strong personal style that she finally became comfortable in her skin.

In The Truth About Style , London shares her own often painful history and her philosophy of the healing power of personal style–illustrating it with a series of detailed ‘start-overs’ with eight real women, demonstrating how personal style helps them overcome the emotional obstacles we all face. For anyone who has ever despaired of finding the right clothes, or even taking an objective assessment in a full-length mirror, The Truth About Style will be an inspiring, liberating, and often very funny guide to finding the expression of your truest self. (description from publisher)

 

If Looks Could Kill – Book 1 of the Bailey Weggins mystery series by Kate White

As someone who loves to read mysteries and is always on the hunt for another series to start, I stumbled upon the Bailey Weggins mystery series by Kate White and just finished If Looks Could Kill, the first book in the series.  Bailey Weggins is a freelance writer of crime and human interest stories for the monthly fashion and lifestyle magazine Gloss.  Early one Sunday morning Bailey is roused out of bed by her boss and the editor of Gloss, Cat Jones, who can’t get her live-in nanny, Heidi, to answer the door of her basement suite.  Bailey springs to action to help her boss figure out where Heidi has gone – and it isn’t far – when Bailey discovers the nanny dead in her suite.  Cat pleads with Bailey to use her sleuthing skills to try and figure out why Heidi was murdered.  Bailey, who puts her investigative skills right to the test, dives into the case.

The mystery heats up when it is determined that Heidi died from eating poisonous chocolate truffles that were an intended  hostess gift for Cat.  Who was the intended victim – Cat or Heidi?  Bailey uncovers evidence that points to someone trying to poison the editors of high profile magazines and she puts her life at risk with her unofficial investigation.

If Looks Could Kill is a light (as far as mysteries are concerned) and easy read that effortlessly blends fashion, vibrant New York City life and murder.