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)
One 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)
In 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 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)
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.
The old adage says that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but the folks at the Bata Museum in Toronto, Canada, would probably say it is in the foot.
The Bata Shoe Museum, whose tagline is “For the curious,” houses an astonishing 12,500 shoes and shoe paraphernalia covering over 4,500 years’ worth of human history. From chestnut-crushing shoes to high heels for the men of the French court, the expansive collection is continually growing as a result of shoe-hunting excursions conducted by Bata Museum staff on a regular basis.
What makes this museum of interest to this blogger is the sheer amount of information and time they have invested in their website. In the “All About Shoes” section the web visitor can select several different collections to view, from footwear of the Native Americans to a history about elevated shoes to wedding wear and more.
If you would like a shoe expert or curator to spend some time talking to you about the who, where, what, why, and hows of the shoe world, check out their dozens of podcasts on a variety of topics. From dance shoes to wartime footwear and, yes, Justin Bieber’s sneakers, the Bata Shoe Museum has something for almost everyone (even Napoleon’s socks).
With hundreds of detailed and colorful photos, this visitor learned that high heels used to be closer to the center of the foot because early models did not have reinforced heels. When they placed heels on the actual heels, the shoes kept snapping off at the arch. I also learned that men used to wear high heels ostensibly because they helped them better keep their feet in the stirrups while horseriding. I also found interesting that early heeled shoes came with sled-like clog contraptions that you could tie on to your shoes. Why? Because heeled shoes were invented before roads were paved, and wearers in heels would get stuck in the mud without them.
The Bata Shoe Museum is definitely “for the curious,” but I would also say that their website is so well done and so engaging that they could even claim that their museum will make you curious.
Come on, admit it – the real reason you watch is the Oscars isn’t to find out who won Best Achievement in Sound Editing; it’s to see the dresses! Looking at gorgeous dresses being worn by beautiful people has been a favorite past time since celebrity began. Now you don’t have to wait for the next Red Carpet event – just check out some of the most amazing dresses ever in 100 Unforgettable Dresses by Hal Rubenstein.
Highlighting more than just Red Carpet dresses, this book has lots of other famous dresses such as the wedding dresses of Princess Diana and Kate Middleton, Marilyn Monroe’s white halter dress from The Seven Year Itch, and Julia Robert’s red gown from Pretty Woman. And while many/most of these dresses are for the famous and svelte, there are dress styles that made their way into every woman’s closet like Coco Chanel’s “little black dress” and Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dress.
There are also chapters (with lots of photos) of some our favorite style icons including Audrey Hepburn, Cate Blanchett, Grace Kelley and Jacqueline Kennedy. This is a fun and inspiring look into the world of high fashion, a time-line of modern styles and a homage to fine craftsmanship. And you can see it here, all without the boring Oscar acceptance speeches.
Project Runway is finally back on (although, stilts? really?) and summer is winding down and heading toward fall – it’s the perfect time to take stock of your wardrobe and make some updates. Need some help? Try these for inspiration.
Wear This, Toss That! by Amy Goodman. It’s fun to go through the pictures, comparing the “wear” with the “toss” (and sometimes cringing because you know you have a few “toss” items in your closet right now!) and figuring out why Goodman makes the recommendations she does. It’s a good education on learning how to recognize flattering styles for the average woman.
What I Wore by Jessica Quirk. To be honest, I like Jessica’s blog better than her new book, but you’ll still pick up lots of ideas here. I especially appreciate the styling – young and fresh without being out-of-touch or stupidly expensive. In fact, Jessica makes it a point to be able to use her clothes in multiple outfits and frequently gets her clothes from thrift stores and major retailers like Target. Fun and energetic and addictive (and be sure to check out the blog!)
Easy Closets by Joe Provey. Now that you’ve got your wardrobe shaped up, get your closet in prime condition. After all, if you can’t lay your hands on that perfect white blouse, it’s not going to do you much good. Easy Closets has lots of ideas for the perfect arrangement, covering everyone in the family and even the kitchen and garage. Neat and tidy.
I’m normally wary of anything that has too much hype surrounding it, because generally I feel like it can’t possibly be as good as everyone says it is. I’m sure you’ve heard of Mad Men, as it is constantly hyped as one of the best shows on TV and has won multiple Emmys and Golden Globes. If you’ve never seen it, it’s set in the 1960s in New York City, and it’s all about the “golden age” of advertising on Madison Avenue and the glamorous life that the ad men led. Last week I finally checked out a couple of episodes and I have to say, it really is fantastic. What I’m enjoying most about the show is the look and feel of it. Not only does it seem very historically accurate, it’s such a beautiful period piece. Everything from the clothes and the hair to the scenery is lovely to look at.
The acting in the show has also been wildly acclaimed, and it is also superb. Jon Hamm is fascinating to watch as Sterling Cooper’s morally-complex creative director Don Draper. You want to root for Don because he’s so charismatic and such an advertising genius, but he is certainly no angel. I’m also finding myself really interested in the storyline of Peggy, the naive new secretary to Don. We’re learning about how things work at Sterling Cooper right along with Peggy as she is thrown into a world filled with double standards between the men and the women. If you’re looking for a great drama series to watch and are especially interested in learning a little more about the past, I highly recommend checking out Mad Men. Currently we own season one, season two, season three, and season four, so stop by any of our three locations to look for one today!
At the beginning of his award-winning documentary, America the Beautiful, Darryl Roberts explains that he had once broken up with a wonderful woman because he had believed he would find someone more attractive than her. Later, when she was happily married to another, he realized his mistake and set-off to make this documentary about what it really means to be one of the beautiful people and how much the beauty industry influences our desires and opinions. Much of the film includes what has been seen before: the truth in image retouching, sex in advertising, too-thin models, etc, yet the film keeps the material engaging by presenting it from the viewpoint of a man who once felt responsible for making women feel unattractive, but is baffled to how and why.
The film’s most emotional scenes are those which follow a 12 year old girl as she is pulled into the world of modeling, treated like a queen, and then called fat and put of a job before she turns 16. We see her sexily strutting down the runway and attending lavish after-parties, crying when her mom won’t allow her to wear a push-up bra to school, treated harshly by her school’s principal who disapproves of the fashion industry, and sadly watch her fall into a depression as she loses her career and her confidence. The film is harsh on the fashion industry, and although I still plan to continue enjoying the newest issues of Vogue, Elle, & Glamour each month, I was surprised and horribly disappointed in the lack of sensitivity displayed from the magazine representatives during their interviews.
Overall, I would recommend this documentary to women and girls of all ages (and men and boys as well) as everyone can benefit from America the Beautiful‘s message that each person’s beauty should be celebrated.