December 2007

Height of fashion

By Claire Wilcox
By Ralph Lauren
By Amy Larocca
By Kelly Hoppen
Review by
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If you were in London at just the right time this fall, you were able to see both Queen Elizabeth's wedding gown at Buckingham Palace and the opening of the Victoria and Albert Museum's latest fashion exhibition. The queen's gown was designed by British couturier Norman Hartnell for her 1947 wedding, a much-heralded dash of splendor after the austere war years. But it was another designer, Christian Dior, who ushered in what was dubbed the New Look of postwar fashion that year. Dior's full-bodied skirts and use of luxurious fabrics are the jumping-off point of The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957, the companion volume to the V&A show, edited by senior curator Claire Wilcox.

Ultra-sophisticated photographs by Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, the Seeberger brothers, John French and others highlight pieces by Dior, Balenciaga, Chanel, Balmain and Jacques Fath. Eight chapter-length essays cover the development of the French couture system, the industry before and during the Second World War, fabrics, the imagery of couture, the inner workings of fashion houses and more. Sidebars discuss the photographers, designers, the New Look itself, and such clever marketing ploys as traveling collections of exquisitely outfitted fashion dolls.

To mark his 40th anniversary in fashion, the eponymous Ralph Lauren, also available in a really expensive $400-edition, tracks the designer's career from his days as a tie salesman to his emergence as lifestyle merchant. This is no small feat, as shown in an illustrated timeline studded with Lauren's accomplishments first with a shop in Bloomingdale's, first American designer with a freestanding store and later with a store outside the U.S., first to launch a full home collection, first official outfitter of Wimbledon. Lauren has always managed to infuse his clothing and home fashions with the kind of backstory that inspired him, one of Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Mickey Mantle, FDR, and JFK. This oversized volume is full of beautiful photographs (even Lauren's family photographs are magazine-quality) from fashion shoots, progressing from the earliest Polo shirts to the latest Purple Label suits. A visual index at book's end lists the photographers (Bruce Weber, Patrick Demarchelier, Carter Berg, etc.) and the names that go with the famous faces (Linda Evangelista, Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Penelope Cruz, Tyson Beckford, Jane Gill, Valentina Zelyaeva).

There's couture and then there's what people really wear, as documented in New York Look Book: A Gallery of Street Fashion, a collection of the monthly columns by New York magazine fashion writer Amy Larocca and photographer Jake Chessum. These are literally person-on-the-street interviews and shoots, of a perfectly coordinated Jerry Hall-esque mother of four, design firm partners in outfits worthy of Andre 3000 (navy RL blazer, striped scarf, houndstooth trousers), a stylish tot in a vintage pram, and, at the other end of life, a natty retiree in taupe suede shoes. A few celebrities show up as well Oleg Cassini; Helen Mirren in long, charcoal pleated skirt and pale pink cardigan, red glasses hanging around her neck; John Waters in turquoise Levi's; and Cynthia Rowley. There is a delightful contrast between youthful experimentation and the self-assuredness of the older subjects.

British interior designer Kelly Hoppen's loft home is in a converted girls' school; that aesthetic of cozy spaces within wide-open expanses fills her latest book, Kelly Hoppen Home: From Concept to Reality. Teaming again with writer Helen Chislett and photographer Vincent Knapp, Hoppen offers a practical guide to designing one's abode, regardless of preferred style. Using her home as well as those of clients for case studies, she explains each space with floor plans, photographs and detailed room boards featuring fabric swatches and images of the room's elements. A beautiful presentation of Hoppen's signature style neutral palettes with light and dark contrasts, peppered with a splash of color or show-stopping piece Kelly Hoppen Home is also a useful project manual for expressing one's own vision.

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