Everyone has their addictions, right? Frankly, I may have more than my fair share, but not all of them are bad. One of my more expensive habits is a collection of fashion-centric coffee table books. The big covers, glossy pages, and endless whimsical photos I like to think I could duplicate if I really wanted to. Obviously there’s a major market for such books, but I’ve listed my favourites that I could flip through for days. And aren’t you lucky? They’re all way cheaper than back when I bought them!
100 Unforgettable Dresses by Hal Rubenstein. Foreword by Alber Elbaz. $25
I absolutely adore looking at pictures of famous dresses from years gone by, and this book has them in spades. While the book isn’t in chronological order, it does cover red carpet phenomenons (Halle Berry’s Elie Saab at the 2002 Oscars), iconic runways (Gianni Versace’s 1992 dominatrix collection) and famous film frocks (THE Marilyn dress in 1955 by William Travilla). The book travels back as far as Coco Chanel’s 1926 little black dress, and even includes controversial ones like Tilda Swinton’s ‘garbage bag dress’ designed by Alber Elbaz for Lanvin at 2008′s Oscars. Certain style icons are allotted a few pages with more than one outfit (my personal goddess Cher is one of them) and each dress is accompanied with a short paragraph explaining the background of the design.
Lady Gaga x Terry Richardson. Foreword by Lady Gaga. $35
If you’re one of those people who needs visual motivation to work out, go get this book. In it scandalous photographer Terry Richardson snaps Gaga in various forms of undress and, good Jesus, is she fit. Richardson followed Gaga around for the better part of a year and shares both private and public moments with us. Between concert rehearsals, bathroom trips, yoga classes, and red carpet appearances, we see Gaga with her family and tourmates in what seem to be quiet moments between the storm. While she’s hardly ever out of caked-on makeup or impossibly high heels, there is a sense of dressed down simplicity to the photos. Oddly though, a few pictures have photographer Richardson himself in them (Ed note: Of course there are. It’s Terry Richardson).
Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty by Andrew Bolton. $35
Unlike most superfans of late genius Alexander McQueen, I wasn’t able to book a trip to see his Savage Beauty exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was told that buying this book was the next best thing. As the photographs inside rendered me speechless, I can only imagine myself in a near-catatonic state seeing it live. After an 11-page intro by Susannah Frankel, a fashion editor at The Independent, the pictures themselves have no accompanying words. In no specific order, each garment appears on a mannequin that looks as if it’s mid-movement, practically sashaying down a runway. The very last image is McQueen himself leaning on a smoking skull. Back pages are filled with an extensive interview with Sarah Burton that discusses McQueen’s inspirations and methods of his incredible madness.
The World in Vogue: People Parties Places. Intro by Hamish Bowles. $60
I used to buy Vogue every month until I realized it was just so I could swoon over the stunning photos. Does any other magazine get to peek inside the parties and homes of fashion’s elite? Not to the same extent as Vogue, and not with the same impressive history. Broken down into chapters, this huge book has photographs of their favourite women (Brooke Astor, Diane von Furstenberg, Michelle Obama), parties (The Venice Ball, Met Costume Gala), places (Valentino’s France chateau, Mick Jagger, and Jerry Hall’s Mustique hideaway) and muses (Isabella Blow, Penelope Tree, Iman). The only thing missing from this book are the men! Sure they’re shown at parties (Truman Capote) and as grooms at high-profile weddings (Dita von Teese and Marilyn Manson), but for the most part they’re nonexistent.
Patrick Demarchelier. Foreword by Anna Wintour. $65
Everytime I flip through this immense collection of Patrick Demarchelier photos, I’m overcome with the desire to rip a few out, frame them, and hang them in my living room. As with McQueen’s book, these images are largely unaccompanied by words. Keeping the book classy and utterly whimsical, photographs are mostly black and white. Subjects of the photos range from celebrities, to scenery, family members (including an adorable puppy), and nudes. The few portraits that feature models in couture keep the clothing simple, and the effect is a timeless photograph of no disconcernable season or designer. For anyone who only knows Demarchelier as a celebrity photographer, or the line “I have Patrick!” from The Devil Wears Prada, this is an important portfolio to flip through. Just try to keep the pages in the book.
Valentino: Themes and Variations. Foreword by Valentino Garavani. $55
Put together by Pamela Golbin, curator-in-chief for the Fashion and Textiles collections at Les Arts Decoratifs in France, this book details a much more broken down scheme of the design process. While the McQueen book showcased collections in their finished capacities, Valentino is made up of sketches of gowns, close-ups of details, and shots of models in the studio wearing crude mock ups of the soon-to-be finished products. The only text on the pages of this book are those at the bottom corners of the finished products that state the collection date, season, and materials that went into constructing the completed garment.
This book’s books cover is outfitted in the same red shade and carpeted texture as, well, celebrity red carpets. Every photo in the book was taken by Frank Trapper, who has attended every red carpet event under the sun. Starting in the 80s and working through the early 2000s, photos are occasionally grouped together by trends (the cropped shirts…dear God, the cropped shirts). Men and women feature equally throughout the pages and, to be honest, it’s actually fun to map out the style evolution of personalities showcased again and again. See Lenny Kravitz morph from a fringe-loving hippie to a rockstar hottie clad in head-to-toe leather. Or just stare at Lenny Kravitz.
100 Years of Fashion Illustration by Cally Blackman. $30
The 400 images in this book feature the great fashion illustrators throughout the years. Over 140 artists are present, as is an array of iconic fashion imagery rarely seen and hardly reproduced. With fashion illustration taking a backseat from its popular explosion at the beginning of the 20th century, this book brings it all roaring back. Different kinds of illustration are shown throughout the book including art deco, modernism, computer-generated, and painterly. Historians will love images of couturiers’ works created before fashion photography was on every website known to man. The likes of Chanel, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and Gianni Versace appear in jaw-dropping illustrations that will make even the biggest art snob appreciate the delicacy of these images.
Bianca Teixeira writes about style for Toronto Standard. Follow her on Twitter at @BeeLauraTee.