Hello! How is your reading going with this month’s Reading Challenge subject, Fashion? Have you found something you’re enjoying, or have you hit a dead end? If you’re still looking, here are a couple of movie s to consider.
Phantom Thread with Daniel Day Lewis in his final role before retiring from acting about an exclusive London fashion house in the 1950s.
Coco avant Chanel starring Audrey Tautou about the early life of Coco Chanel and how it influenced and affected her life and career.
McQueen a documentary about the extraordinary life, career and artistry of fashion designer Alexander McQueen.
Dior and I is another documentary, an extraordinary behind-the-scenes look at Raf Simon’s first haute couture collection as artistic director of the House of Dior.
Hello Again Challenge Readers!
It’s a new month and time for a new topic. This month our topic is: Fashion!
One of the first books I ever bought for myself, through a program at my elementary school was The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter. I am still enchanted by the beautiful language and imagery of the mice sewing an exquisite vest at night to help the elderly tailor. I love the language of fashion – “twists of thread” and “cherry-coloured silk” and “gold-laced waistcoats” and buttonholes with stitches so tiny “they looked as if they had been made by little mice!” I’m sure Beatrix Potter inspired my love of words and details and encouraged a great respect for craftsmanship. And so this month we celebrate the world of fashion in its many forms.
For historical fiction, try The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott about a young seamstress to a fashion designer who survives the sinking of the Titanic. I loved The Gown by Jennifer Robson which details the lives of the women who embroidered Princess (now Queen) Elizabeth’s wedding dress. Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini is based on the true story of Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, a woman who was born a slave, bought her freedom and became Mary Todd Lincoln’s seamstress.
For contemporary fiction, you can’t beat the snark in The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger about the cut-throat world of fashion magazines. For something a little less ruthless, go for The Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff about a woman running a shop that specializes in vintage dresses.
The high cost of fashion can be found in books such as Triangle: the Fire that Changed America by Dave Von Drehle which recounts the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, one of the worst industrial accidents in US history that led to laws requiring safer working conditions. Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline looks at “the high price of cheap fashion”. If you’d like to step away from “fast fashion” The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees helps you build a wardrobe of clothes you love and want to wear. And Mending Matters by Katrina Rodabaugh teaches visible mending and just how beautiful it can be.
I’m going to read Nine Women, One Dress by Jane Rosen about one perfect little black dress and how it affects the lives of nine different women.
Do you see something you’d like to read? Be sure to stop at any of the Davenport Library locations and check out our displays for even more ideas!
I’ll admit it. I love a Royal wedding. The music, the ancient church, the flowers, everyone wearing hats and dressed in their best, the pomp and circumstance (and no one does ceremony like the English). And, of course, the wedding dress. Whether ruffled (Diana), festooned with lace (Kate) or modern and simple (Meghan) they are all astonishingly beautiful.
While the designer gets all the accolades and attention, it is the women behind the scenes – seamstress’ and embroiders – that turn dreams into dresses. Their work – their craftsmanship and artistry – has always fascinated me. The Gown by Jennifer Robson brings life and personality to some of these anonymous women and gives you a glimpse into their working lives and what is actually required to create such beautiful gowns.
London, 1947. World War II is over and won but life is still a struggle. Rationing is very strict (rationing lasted much longer in England than in the US after the war), damage from the Blitz still scars London and the losses and horrors from the war are raw and fresh. Into this austere atmosphere a wedding is announced – a royal wedding between Princess Elizabeth and her dashing soldier, Philip Mountbatten. While there were complaints about the extravagance (the Princess carefully saved her clothing ration cards in order to pay for the dress), the celebration turned out to be just what the war-weary country needed.
Quinn shows us the careful and intricate work that goes into making the gown (designed and created by Norman Hartnell and his fashion house) by introducing two of the (fictional) embroiders, Ann, a plain English girl who lost her entire family in the war and Miriam, a sophisticated French woman escaping a difficult past. As the two most talented women in the workshop, Ann and Miriam work tirelessly to create and embellish the exquisite details for the gown. The novel flashes forward to the present several times as the granddaughter of one of the women unravels her Nan’s secret, leading her to modern day London.
The friendship that blooms between the women as they support each other is one of the highlights of the book. Quinn expertly evokes the atmosphere of a London feeling downtrodden but unbowed and still optimistic and joyful at the wedding of two young people. Quinn based the story on actual events and was able to talk to one of the women who worked on the Princess’ gown and that authenticity shows. This is historical fiction at its finest.
If you’re a fan of the Netflix series The Crown (and you should be, it’s excellent!), you’ll see the gown in the first episode of season one. The producers of the show spent $37,000 to make an exact duplicate!
Growing up, I always wished that I had an identical twin sister. I blame The Parent Trap movie for that wish. Having someone who looked exactly like me who would be there to trick our friends and family into thinking they were the other person sounded like so much fun. I met a set of identical twins in middle school, realized just how confusing that would actually be, abandoned that desire, and stuck with my normal, not identical, siblings. A lot easier that way. I had forgotten about my twin sister desire until I picked up The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand and got a glimpse into what it is like to have an identical twin as an adult.
The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand tells the complicated stories of Tabitha and Harper Frost. One twin lives on Nantucket, while the other lives on Martha’s Vineyard: a distance of only two and a half hours away by ferry. Yet that two and a half hour separation is widened by years of disagreements, arguments, and resentment that continuously builds because the two never talk to each other. While the two may look exactly like each other, that doesn’t mean they are alike AT ALL. Their personalities, life decisions, and clothing choices only prove to illustrate this point.
Harper and Tabitha have spent their entire lives trying to separate themselves from the other twin and from their other parent. You see, when Tabitha and Harper were young, their parents divorced and each parent took one of the twins to live with them year round with vacations thrown in so the other twin got to see the parent that they didn’t live with. This awkward situation left the twins with some major resentment towards each other and weird interactions with the other parent.
A major family crisis forces the two women together after many years apart. This forced reconciliation sounds like a recipe for disaster, but add in the twin’s mother and Tabitha’s teenage daughter and things are bound to get interesting. Each twin’s personal life keeps forcibly making itself known to the other twin which results in confusion amongst others as they try to figure out which is which. Tabitha and Harper may not want to have to band together through this family crisis, but they sure know how to appear like they like each other. These false appearances can only last so long though and the twins are soon forced to turn to each other for real.
This book is also available in the following formats:
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, 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.
I 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.
Christian 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!)
Get 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)
Certain 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)