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Whether you’re shopping for a burgeoning Bach or someone who can’t carry a tune in a bucket, these books will play on any music lover’s heartstrings.


What do you get for the music obsessive on your list in the age of streaming? Skip the Spotify gift subscriptions and try one of these lovingly curated coffee table books instead. Whether you’re buying for a Woodstock fan who wants to relive the good ol’ days or for someone who’s always hoping to discover their next favorite artist, these are sure to please the person at your holiday gathering who always asks, “Hey, do you mind if I change the music?”

She Can Really Lay It Down by Rachel Frankel
“The present—if long overdue—push toward a more progressive, feminist reading of our cultural history requires disabusing ourselves of known canons, and some pretty deeply entrenched ideas about the history of popular music,” writes Amanda Petrusich in the foreword to the celebratory book She Can Really Lay It Down: 50 Rebels, Rockers, and Musical Revolutionaries. Author Rachel Frankel gamely sets out to help us reconsider the history of popular music with short but thorough essays on big names like Beyoncé, Selena and Dolly Parton. However, the most exciting pages in Frankel’s book shine a light on figures like guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe, folk musician Violeta Parra, South African singer-songwriter Miriam Makeba and other women who have been overlooked for too long. This incisive compilation delivers more than just surface-level girl power, and it would make an excellent gift for anyone with a deep interest in music, creativity and popular culture. I’d especially recommend putting this in the hands of a teenage girl.

Supreme Glamour by Mary Wilson
From the vantage point of 2019, it’s easy to wax poetic about the essential give-and-take between fashion and music, but that relationship certainly wasn’t a given when the Supremes began performing together and crafting their iconic looks in 1961. Mary Wilson, a founding member and anchor of the legendary musical group, takes us through the group’s sartorial evolution with Supreme Glamour, a collection of more than 400 photographs of their most influential sequined, bedazzled and brightly colored outfits. Wilson’s personal musings about the group’s journey perfectly accompany the glossy full-page spreads of dazzling gowns embellished with crystals and pearls, sequined show-stoppers seen on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and marabou-trimmed couture made for their Broadway performances. Fashion lovers will especially appreciate the attention to detail, with notes that include the material, embellishments and notable appearances of the outfits along with other interesting historical tidbits.

Country Music: An Illustrated History by Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns
As PBS devotees know, a new Ken Burns documentary is cause for celebration, and “Country Music” is already being hailed as one of his best. Although a big ol’ coffee table book that ties in with a television series can be a tough sell, Country Music: An Illustrated History is definitely a worthy companion piece. Country music afficionados are often left a little high and dry, as music journalists tend to reserve their ink for rock ’n’ roll heroes. But authors Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns dive deep into the roots and rise of this genre: the African American banjo players and Scottish American fiddlers who laid the foundations of the genre, the gospel-infused songs from groups like the Carter Family that helped radio stations get on board, the surprising rise of Hank Williams, the storied Nashville Sound of the 1960s, the outlaw swagger of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, the rise of modern pop-country and everything in between. This tome packs in hundreds of rare photographs, excellent historical asides and interviews with influential figures like singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris. I’d wager that this will be one of the more popular gifts for music lovers this year.

Woodstock Live: 50 Years by Julien Bitoun
It’s the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, and, like it or not, this music festival on a dairy farm in upstate New York remains one of the most influential cultural events in modern history. Long before “festival fashion” was even a part of the zeitgeist, more than 500,000 Woodstock attendees jammed out in harmony with each other, in the rain and mud, while watching performances that have reached near-mythological status. Guitarist and author Julien Bitoun revisits the weekend with Woodstock Live: 50 Years, an attractive giftbook that includes a short and reverential summary of each performance, along with every performer’s setlist, their accompanying musicians, the amount of time they spent on stage and striking photographs from each gig. Bitoun begins with Richie Havens’ improvised opening set at 5:07 on Friday and ends with Jimi Hendrix’s guitar-burning closer on Monday morning, then wraps it all up in an extensive epilogue that runs through notable absentees, the most iconic guitars played at the festival and how the weekend is remembered today. This will make a great gift for anyone hoping to relive the experience, or those who dream about traveling back in time to attend.

What do you get the music obsessive on your list in the age of streaming? Skip the Spotify gift subscriptions and try one of these lovingly curated coffee table books instead.

Creativity is often born under unexpected circumstances, as these books so beautifully demonstrate.


The Art of Love by Kate Bryan
Married British artists Idris Khan and Annie Morris have a framed sign in their London home that’s meant to be ironic: “An artist should avoid falling in love with another artist.” Of course, two highly talented artistic souls living and creating together can be a dream, a nightmare or a highly charged bit of both, as evidenced by the endlessly fascinating stories revealed in The Art of Love: The Romantic and Explosive Stories Behind Art’s Greatest Couples.

British art curator Kate Bryan—a lively, informed guide—profiles 34 artistic couples, ranging from 1880 to the present, including the likes of Françoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, and Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Asli Yazan’s illustrations of these artists add a wonderful touch of color, helping to bring their personalities to life.

Bryan writes that her goal was to “present as many different perspectives on artists in love as possible.” She focuses on how these relationships affected each creator’s art instead of chronicling the melodrama—yet she does dole out a variety of delicious tidbits, like the fact that even after Frida Kahlo divorced Diego Rivera, who was 21 years her senior, she “continued to mother the wayward beast, even running him baths with rubber ducks.” Oh my.

Skip by Molly Mendoza
Art and story meld beautifully in Skip, Molly Mendoza’s virtuoso graphic novel about fear and courage, friendship, change and creativity. In a dystopian world rife with the threat of attacking “tech-hounds,” a child named Bloom and his guardian, Bee, live on a lake’s island, subsisting on duck eggs and fish. After hearing a radio SOS, Bee announces that she must leave, asking Bloom to be brave until she comes back from her rescue mission—except she never returns.

While skipping stones one day, Bloom suddenly finds himself in a completely different world, where he meets a mysterious creature named Gloopy who’s having a hard time fulfilling his creative spirit and fitting into his community. Bloom and Gloopy join forces and “skip” into several different worlds, facing a myriad of dangerous creatures: a giant, lonely bird and a universe creator named Lily, who urges Gloopy to follow his creative desires. Mendoza describes her own artistic style as “chaotic yet rhythmic,” and her multicolored, imaginative creations make Skip a memorable, action-packed adventure, full of bold swirls of both color and emotion.

Body by Nathalie Herschdorfer
Curator and art historian Nathalie Herschdorfer has compiled a glorious celebration of the human form with more than 350 images from over 175 photographers in Body: The Photography Book. As she notes in the preface, contemporary photography reflects society’s changing standards of beauty and opens up “new pathways for bodily representations and perspectives beyond the traditional nude.” With artists like Sally Mann, Herb Ritts, Cindy Sherman and Liu Bolan, the sweepingly broad perspectives are fascinating, a mix of fantasy and reality.

You’ll see a 3D ultrasound of an 8-month-old yawning, the hunched figures of elderly people walking, sculpturelike nudes, baseball players in action, a crowd of happily dancing people at a Scottish Town Hall Christmas party and even the colorfully abstract, highly magnified view of the connections between human nerve cells. There are disturbing images as well—an anorexic young woman, a man’s face after a fight, scars left on a refugee’s back by the Taliban. Youth, love, joy, movement, health, disease, celebration—Body honors the many sizes, shapes and moments that make us all human.

Shoot for the Moon by Tim Walker
Shoot for the Moon takes its title from a Norman Vincent Peale quotation: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land among the stars.” It’s an apt title, for renowned British fashion photographer Tim Walker spends his life among stars, creating famously surreal wonderlands within his images.

A follow-up to a previous volume, Story Teller, Shoot for the Moon focuses Walker’s lens on the darker side of his imagination, somewhere he’d “been previously too scared to visit.” In a brief introduction, he writes, “Like every child, I had a fear of the dark—but now I know that it is here, in the shadows, that the magic is hidden.”

And what magic there is! These images are at times fun, funky, bizarre, glamorous, spooky and over the top, featuring celebrities like Claire Foy, RuPaul, Bill Hader, Tommy Lee Jones, Tilda Swinton and Whoopi Goldberg, all like you’ve never seen them before. A number of comments are included from models like Kate Moss, who says: “Tim’s magic is that he makes fantasy believable. He makes otherworldly images that seem so accessible.” Fashion fans will quickly lose themselves in these wonder-filled pages.

Creativity is often born in unexpected circumstances, as these books so beautifully demonstrate.

In the 1995 documentary Unzipped, Isaac Mizrahi is a flurry of genius, spouting ideas and stories and impersonations. He’s a fashion designer at the height of his fame, smoking cigarettes and hanging with his pals Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington. His wonderfully introspective new memoir, I.M., makes clear that Mizrahi is still the same creative force of nature, just polished down and with more years under his well-crafted belt.

The youngest of three children in a conservative Brooklyn family, Mizrahi was an outlier from the get-go. “The Syrian-Jewish community had never seen anything like me before,” he writes. “I stuck out like a chubby gay thumb.” While his peers were playing ball, Mizrahi was sewing costumes for his puppet shows and belting out Liza Minnelli tunes. He was perhaps destined to be a designer: His mother subscribed religiously to Women’s Wear Daily, and his father manufactured children’s clothing. But while his parents could tolerate—even nurture—his creativity, their hearts were not open to the possibility of a gay son. He thrived at Parsons, an elite Manhattan design school, but essentially lived a double life for years throughout the late 1970s and early ’80s: dutiful Jewish son at home, openly gay man in the city.

Even as he struggled with his personal identity, Mizrahi’s star rose as he worked at Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein and opened his own atelier. He gained a reputation as the rare male designer who really understood women and their bodies, in part because of conversations with his mother about fashion. “Any kind of fashion sets down its demand for a singular kind of perfection; one way or the highway,” he writes. “It translates essentially as one large punishment on women. Only recently are we beginning to acknowledge that beauty is a broad subject, one in which all people can participate.”

I.M. is as generous a memoir as I can remember. Mizrahi lays bare his struggles with body image, insomnia and relationships. He meditates on the fickle nature of the fashion industry and spills a little tea on his many celebrity friends. The book is like a classic Mizrahi design: joyful, colorful and always with a twist of the unexpected.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Isaac Mizrahi.

In the 1995 documentary Unzipped, Isaac Mizrahi is a flurry of genius, spouting ideas and stories and impersonations. He’s a fashion designer at the height of his fame, smoking cigarettes and hanging with his pals Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington. His wonderfully introspective new memoir, I.M., makes clear that Mizrahi is still the same creative force of nature, just polished down and with more years under his well-crafted belt.

Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi discusses his anticipated memoir, I.M., his love of New York City, his favorite designs from his many influential collections, creativity and more.


Why was now the right time to write your memoir?
It’s never a great time to write a memoir, but recently it’s seemed like the right time ’cause I was ready to share the specific details of my past and talk about where I wanted my life to go. I was ready to be honest. Any earlier it would not have been the right account. It takes a certain kind of distance from one’s past to be able to return to it.

You write, “I hate summer weather and sunny days.” What’s your idea of the perfect day, weather-wise and otherwise?
My idea of perfect weather is FREEZING COLD and grey. I love being able to open the window if it gets too warm indoors. I love the idea that I don’t sweat. I love the idea that my hair always looks so good. I love LOVE coats.

In your memoir, you’re very honest about your struggles with depression and body image. Was it difficult to write about issues you’ve grappled with since childhood?
Now that I’m in my 50s it seems like there’s enough distance from those troubled times, also I have enough strength in my life currently between my career and my husband, that no matter what anyone thinks of the book, I’m still OK. If the reviews are bad, if certain people don’t like it, it’s my story, told I think with no rancor, no anger, and deserves to be respected.

You write with such love for New York City. How has your relationship with your hometown evolved over your life?
For me, New York City has been a kind of magic place. I grew up here in Brooklyn, and began going to the city every day at high school. It was my way out. My way to a life of my own, which was something I had to take, I was not given. A big anonymous city is really important. A place where you can be exactly who you are without being judged. You can make mistakes and start over. You can actually start over any number of times here. You select your privacy here. I was told early in my life by a psychic that NYC was my forever home and not to think of moving. He described my feelings about NYC the way a farmer feels about the earth under his feet, there for his safety and cultivation.

Your mother is an enormously stylish woman, and you write about your weekend breakfasts when you both talked fashion as a child. Do you think you would have become a designer without her influence?
My mother was a great influence on me. She was a great example of pluck, of style, of shrewd maneuvering of events to suit her own agenda. More than stylish she was Machiavellian in her approach to making the best of her situation, manipulating the world to suit her. More than anything about style, I learned that.

You are one of the most successful American designers, yet you reveal you still feel like “a performer, a writer, trapped in the body of a fashion designer.” You’ve appeared in movies, had a talk show and performed cabaret! What do you think it’ll take for you to feel like a performer?
The more I work on stage the more I feel like a legitimate performer, and these days I do more and more of it.

You’ve worked with some of the most famous women in the world. Who are some of the most memorable women you’ve dressed?
Women I’ve dressed that I was awed by: Streisand, Liza, Meryl Streep, Hilary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Sarah Jessica Parker, Julia Roberts.

When I think of you as a designer, I think of the Isaac Mizrahi dress from Target that I’ve owned for years and will wear until it disintegrates or I die. Which specific pieces or collections first come to mind when you think back over all the clothing you’ve designed?
I love to think of the plain, well-cut, beautifully fabricated pieces I made for Target that were literally under $20. I think of a pink corduroy blazer I did in the first collection. I think of a red duffel coat. I think of the cashmere sweaters I did. Not to mention so many of the great, great handbags I did for them, some of which I still see people carrying. When I first started working with them, the merchants were scared of anything besides tops, mostly T-shirt tops. And by the time I left five years later, they had a big business in dresses and even skirts.

You married in 2011. How did that influence your creativity?
Meeting my husband, Arnold, and learning how to commit to him, learning how to love him, is a big influencer on creativity. As the relationship gets stronger I feel bolder about my approach to my work. It feels like I have nothing to lose. I can’t tell if that’s age or being secure in my marriage. My work is the most important thing in my life, but it wouldn’t be possible in so many ways unless my husband was there to support me. Not creatively, just as a human.
 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of I.M.

Author photo by Gregg Richards

Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi discusses his anticipated memoir, I.M., his love of New York City, his favorite designs from his collections, creativity and more.

Finnish sisters Saara and Laura Huhta share the wealth of their successful indie clothing pattern brand, Named, in Breaking the Pattern: A Modern Way to Sew. The nifty thing about their designs is the focus on extreme adaptability: They are “designed to offer as many options for personal customization as possible,” the sisters write. They have included patterns for 10 different garments—from bags and blouses to classy cocktail dresses and jumpsuits—and claim that “it’s possible to sew at least 50 different variations of the projects,” should you wish to experiment. These garments are built on Scandinavian design—clean lines, minimalist elegance—and they range from drapey styles to more tailored looks. In the back of the book, you’ll find six full-size pattern sheets, which are arranged from easiest to most challenging.

A new friend recently gave me a small pilea plant from one of the “babies” her plant produced. This has quickly become my most beloved houseplant—one with a story behind it. That’s the kind of joy that Caro Langton and Rose Ray, the authors of Root, Nurture, Grow: The Essential Guide to Propagating and Sharing Houseplants, want more people to experience. If you’ve got a good knife and scissors, some old containers, potting mix and a few other simple items, you can turn one houseplant into as many as you like. Langton and Ray (find them on Instagram at @studio.roco) cover different types of cuttings for a number of common plants, and they also discuss division, grafting and other in-depth aspects of propagation. Even if you stick to plunking stems into jars of water and watching roots form, you’ll enjoy having this pretty guide at your side.

Readers of Martha Stewart Living will recognize the concept of The Martha Manual: How to Do (Almost) Everything: quick, no-nonsense instructions for home-related tasks. Here, Martha Stewart’s how-tos are organized by themes like “Organize,” “Clean,” “Craft” and “Create.” But I find this guide fascinating to flip through at random to learn things like how to sew an apron, how to hang a tire swing, how to play lawn games, how to fix and maintain showerheads and how to build a fire. On the whole, the slant of this content may seem a bit gendered, but it’s safe to say all humans could amp up their home skills with the help of this book. Light illustrations, bullet points and brisk copy—dip in, dip out, done—are the name of the game here.

 

This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Finnish sisters Saara and Laura Huhta share the wealth of their successful indie clothing pattern brand, Named, in Breaking the Pattern: A Modern Way to Sew. The nifty thing about their designs is the focus on extreme adaptability: They are “designed to offer as many options for personal customization as possible,” the sisters write. They have included patterns for 10 different garments—from bags and blouses to classy cocktail dresses and jumpsuits—and claim that “it’s possible to sew at least 50 different variations of the projects,” should you wish to experiment.

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.

 

TICKLED PINK
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.

 

This article was originally published in the November 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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.

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