By definition, fashion is always in flux. As New York Times “On the Street” photographer Bill Cunningham explains, “An idea that is elegant at its time is an outrageous disgrace ten years earlier, daring five years before its height, and boring five years later.” These three books offer engaging looks at how trends evolve in the fashion world.
When Cunningham died in 2016, the world lost a trailblazing fashion icon. Thankfully, he left behind one last gift: a secret manuscript that’s now a book, Fashion Climbing: A Memoir with Photographs. And what a gift it is! You’ve never had such an effervescent guide through the style world—even fashion haters won’t be able to resist his charm.
Cunningham lived and breathed fashion from his earliest days, even though his mother “beat the hell out of him” when she caught him parading around their home in his sister’s dress as a preschooler. Despite his family’s shame, he doggedly pursued his passion, working after school in Jordan Marsh and Bonwit Teller department stores, where the gorgeous gowns made him think he’d “die of happiness.” With endless optimism, believing that “good came from every situation,” the Harvard dropout-turned-hat maker managed to transform being drafted into the Army in 1950 into a zany gig leading soldiers on weekend tours of Europe. Back home, he lived hand-to-mouth in his millinery shops and gate-crashed fashion shows, all the while making a name for himself.
Fashion Climbing is a multilayered fashion excursion and a heartfelt memoir that grabs you and never lets go. If only Cunningham had left behind a sequel covering the rest of his joyful, fashion-filled life.
STAN BY ME
Sometimes it’s best to simply embrace your worst feature. Early on, tennis player Stan Smith felt that was his feet: “One of the few disappointments of my tennis career were my big size 13 feet—yet the shoe I eventually wrapped around them enabled me to become better known than I could have ever imagined.” After being deemed too clumsy at age 15 to be a Davis Cup ball boy, Smith trained hard, eventually becoming a tennis great. Later, Smith’s sneaker deal with Adidas in the early 1970s led to a fashion craze and then a 1989 Guinness World Record, with 22 million pairs of those eponymous sneakers sold, more than any other “named” shoe.
Stan Smith: Some People Think I’m a Shoe—a weighty tome that’s nearly as big as Smith’s foot—is a self-contained sneaker museum, detailing the many incarnations and influences of his famously green-trimmed, white-leather shoe, which originally featured the name of French tennis star Robert Haillet. With detailed, personal commentary from the modest, affable Smith, this fact-filled compendium takes the form of an alphabet book, with entries like “V is for Versatility,” explaining how Stan Smiths became hip-hop’s favorite footwear. As Smith confesses, “I guess that I have become somewhat of a modern sneakerhead since my closet is full of both everyday and rare shoes that all happen to be Stan Smiths.”
Stan Smith is a unique blend of sports history, funky fashion chronicle and chic celebrity memoir.
Sarah Barrett Moulton: Pinkie, by Thomas Lawrence, 1794. From Pink, edited by Valerie Steele. Courtesy of the Huntington Art Collections, San Marino, California.
Perhaps like me, you have a love-hate relationship with the color pink. If so, you’ll enjoy exploring those complicated emotions with Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color. Consider just a few of its many shades: Drunk Tank pink, Kissing pink, Millennial pink, Naive pink and, of course, Princess pink. You’ll learn that Asians, especially the Japanese, seem to like pink more than Europeans do, while in the United States, pink has been called “the most divisive of colors.” And guess what: Pink didn’t become associated with girls in the U.S. until the 1930s, and the “pinkification of girl culture” didn’t take over until the 1970s and ’80s, spurred by Barbie’s wardrobe.
This lavishly illustrated pink menagerie features everything from French fashion of the 1700s to a 1956 ad for a pink Royal Electric typewriter and plenty of political pussy hats, plus the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Sugar Ray Robinson, Rihanna and Mamie Eisenhower all looking pretty in pink. Pink’s publication coincides with a major exhibition on view now at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Editor Valerie Steele, the chief curator of the exhibit, includes an intriguing mix of essays written by a costume designer, an art historian, a gender studies expert and more.
Whatever you think of pink, there are fascinating tidbits on every page of this eye-catching history.