December 2010

For designers, past is present

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December 2010

For designers, past is present

Feature by
December 2010

For designers, past is present

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The holidays always bring a crop of sumptuous books about fashion and décor. And in a time when many are taking stock of what they have and where they’ve come from, designers too are looking back at history for grounding and inspiration.

The daughter of design legend Mark Hampton, Alexa Hampton comes naturally to her trade, and her interior designs speak to the history that’s clearly been instilled in her. The Language of Interior Design is the younger Hampton’s first book, and it succeeds as both a window into the stunning residences she revamps and a practical guide to the elements of good design.

Organized by four governing aesthetic principles—contrast, proportion, color and balance—this elegant tome takes readers through 18 impressive residences from Hampton’s portfolio, including a landmark New York pied-à-terre, a palatial Tudor home and a tucked-away Queen Anne summer cottage. Hampton explains that a client’s style and needs must be honored, but at the same time shows how she brings her own flair to all her projects—from her use of grouped furniture as a way to balance large spaces, to her untraditional combination of French, Moroccan and Swedish influences in one beach-side living room.

The lessons learned are applicable to even modest homesteads, and the sheer beauty of Hampton’s work is impossible to ignore.

Anyone familiar with American film history is no doubt familiar—at least by sight—with the work of Edith Head. Known for her Dutch-boy haircut and trademark sunglasses, Head was one of Hollywood’s leading and most influential costume designers, as well as a pioneering woman in a man’s industry. She worked on more than 400 films, including Double Indemnity and The Birds, and ultimately received more Academy Awards than any woman in history.

But her story is fascinating beyond the Grace Kelly ball gowns and Dorothy Lamour sarong, as Jay Jorgensen shows in his biography-cum-coffee table book, Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer. Jorgensen’s scrupulously researched and handsomely assembled work follows Head from her humble beginnings in Searchlight, Nevada, through her unparalleled success and struggles with industry politics, and up to her final years and ensuing legacy. Filled with pithy anecdotes and never-before-seen sketches, Edith Head is the book for the costume design enthusiast.

Barbra Streisand is undoubtedly an entertainment icon. But who knew she was a home designer as well?

Babs’ first foray into the world of writing, My Passion for Design, is a refreshing counterpoint to the celebrity tell-alls and workout regimens that litter bookstore discount bins. Instead, Streisand treats readers to her philosophy on architecture and construction as it pertains to her most recent Malibu homes, along with 350 vibrant photographs of these modern-day refuges. Her taste is both refined and lively (glimpses of her ravishing gardens are enough to make even the most green-thumbed jealous) and her look takes its cues from American design of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

Word has it that Streisand initially set out to write a more traditional memoir, but early in the process realized that her living spaces were the true portals to her life. My Passion for Design provides access to these portals, and lets fans see a new side of the woman behind the persona.

In the past year, there’s been a crop of books related to the Emmy-winning TV series “Mad Men,” from entertaining guides to ad industry tell-alls. So it was only a matter of time before the show’s impeccable 1960s clothing got the publishing treatment.

The Fashion File: Advice, Tips, and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of Mad Men by Janie Bryant, costume designer for the acclaimed program, takes fans and costume enthusiasts inside the show’s design process, while at the same time showing every woman how to channel her inner Joan, Betty or Peggy.

As one might expect, there are plenty of examples of how Bryant styles her now-iconic women (pastels and blues for icy Betty, small patterns for naïve and hopeful Trudy). But there’s also useful advice for readers looking to bring the sophistication and femininity of “Mad Men” to a more modern look. For instance, Bryant recommends that all women get acquainted with their body type before hitting the stores. “You can conveniently forget your age, but you had better be clear on your bust size,” she warns. Likewise, she explains how to use undergarments and shapewear to one’s advantage, creating the figure that will work best with your wardrobe.

There’s even a section on how to style your man, so you can make him Don Draper-dapper—if, hopefully, a little less of a cad.

Even runway aficionados often take Minimalist style for granted, reducing the easily recognizable looks of Balenciaga and Jil Sander to “classic” or “simple.” But the truth is, this mainstream aesthetic owes everything to the rich history of Minimalist design as it pertains to both high art and high fashion.

Parsons professor and fashion historian Elyssa Dimant’s weighty-but-approachable new volume, Minimalism and Fashion: Reduction in the Postmodern Era, traces the evolving genre—from its roots in 1960s art and architecture up through contemporary concepts of neo-minimalism and the 21st-century machine.

Organized chronologically and featuring 150 breathtaking images, Minimalism and Fashion examines the work of many fashion greats—Coco Chanel, Issey Miyake, Alexander McQueen, Miuccia Prada—as both products of their time and ambassadors for the style that has been at the design forefront for more than half a decade. And at every turn, Dimant compares trends in the world of clothing with those in the world of art—Sol LeWitt’s sculptural cube opposite Helmut Lang’s 2003 Spring/Summer collection, Calvin Klein’s streamlined, androgynous wardrobe in dialogue with 1980s and ’90s postminimalist feminist work.

“Minimalism is about moving forward without nostalgia,” boasts Francisco Costa’s appropriately restrained foreword. True though that may be, we’re glad that Dimant took the time to look back.

Alexa Hampton: The Language of Interior Design
By Alexa Hampton

ISBN 9780307460530

Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer
By Jay Jorgensen
Running Press

ISBN 9780762438051

My Passion for Design
By Barbra Streisand

ISBN 9780670022137

The Fashion File
By Janie Bryant
Grand Central

ISBN 9780446572712

Minimalism and Fashion: Reduction in the Postmodern Era
By Elyssa Dimant
Collins Design

ISBN 9780061925993

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