This is an age, unfortunately, in which not many people have the time to read. Pictures – that too the most banal, two dimensional visuals – have replaced text and the romance of expression. Like technology, words too are suffering compression, becoming lighter, smaller and scantier for popular approval. Captions are replacing articles; light weight blogs and tweets are consuming the need for lengthy, researched and responsible features. Who has the time to read anymore? It’s a gradual and dismal slide into intellectual oblivion.
One cannot underestimate the importance of reading, even in a field that is (erroneously) considered flaky and frivolous: fashion. “I pity young fashion students who do not read,” Rizwan Beyg once said to me and I couldn’t agree more. Beyg, Pakistan’s original King of Couture, has been my Go-to-Google or Encyclopedia of Pakistan’s rich fashion history whenever I’ve been stuck for information. I don’t think there is a designer more well-read than him though Kamiar Rokni also belongs to the endangered breed of ‘informed’ designers. There aren’t many that can join this literary club, especially in the younger generation.
Though there are countless books on fashion that help one evolve a vision and opinion on the subject, I’m listing my favourite four: books that I don’t think any fashion student, writer or designer can survive without reading.
D.V. by Diane Vreeland
They just don’t make editors like her anymore. Diane Vreeland, editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Editor-in-Chief of Vogue wrote this biography in 1984, almost five years before her death, which is why it completely encapsulated her life and work at some of the most influential magazines in the world. The book is both witty and fabulous, and takes you to a time when uniqueness was celebrated and excellence was achieved in ways that are unknown today. It may be a bygone era but it allows us a peephole into why that era was such a landmark in the evolution of fashion. Once you’ve read this book, it becomes equally necessary to watch Vreeland’s documentary The Eye Must Travel, which will help you visualize the perfection of who she was and what she achieved.
The Vogue Factor
Former editor of Vogue Australia, Kirstie Clements takes us through three decades of her life in the fashion business, where she rose from being a receptionist to editor. She writes about a life where it is normal for models to eat tissue and faint several times a day; where what you wear is sometimes more relevant than what you have to say. Clements’ anchor is publishing and she draws us into the intricate balances struck between responsible stories and those that spike sales (not very often the same), covers that sell and those that show they are conscientious (never the same). In May 2012 Clements’ was unceremoniously sacked from Vogue Australia and she writes this story with no inhibitions whatsoever. It’s a tell-all tale of what happens behind the scenes.
The Gospel According to Coco Chanel
If there’s one designer whose life has been an inspiration, it’s Coco Chanal, born Gabriele in 1883 in a poorhouse in southern France, rising to be the most influential woman in the history of fashion. While there are several Chanel biographies to ponder over and countless books that take us through the vagaries of her life, I especially like this one for its simplicity and purpose of narration. Written by Karen Karbo, an acclaimed author, Gospel uses Chanel’s life as an example for practical purposes. It narrates her story but always keeping the reader at the centre of thought. “Chanel wore the clothes she designed for the life she led. She said, ‘I don’t do fashion, I am fashion.’” This book narrates how Chanel bequeathed women with a freedom that is celebrated even today.
The Devil Wears Prada
I don’t think there’s anyone who hasn’t watched the movie, even if they haven’t read the book but I do feel it’s important to. Positioned as fiction, Lauren Weisberger writes the story of Andrea Sachs, a young Brown graduate who applies as a secretary at Vogue, New York, in the hope that it will open locked doors to a more serious career in journalism. She deals with her boss’s grueling schedule and demeaning attitude in the hope that she will eventually get her the desperately needed recommendation at The New Yorker. As ‘Andy’ is repeatedly told: “It’s a job a million girls would die for!” The ‘devil’ in the book is Mirada Priestly, fashioned around Anna Wintour, actual editor at Vogue and one of the most powerful personalities in the fashion industry today. For young journalists and/or writers of fashion who feel their life is tough, this book is a must-read as a reality check!