Both as an academic and fashion entrepreneur, I have always been curious to find out what creates a successful fashion business, and for many years devoured books on the topic: from memoirs of fashion editors, designers, and stylists to coffee books of the likes of Tom Ford, Valentino, Paul Poiret and so on.
I am often asked by clients, friends, and students for book recommendations. So, I have decided to put together a list of essential fashion reading. For me, the joy has been discovering how the fashion industry that we see and know today came to be, how those iconic brands we love and wear today were built one dress and one accessory at a time. I hope you will enjoy discovering the fascinating life of fashion, as much as I did.
Photo credit: My bookshelf in Paris
1. The Beautiful Fall: Fashion, Genius, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris by Alicia Drake
I had enjoyed reading Alicia’s novel “I Love You Too Much” and her non-fiction book on the fascinating history of fashion, “The Beautiful Fall” was no exception. The book is a page-turner, and you will feel as if you are in Paris in the 1970s with Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent, as they define the fashion industry not only of Paris, but the world. Alicia provides a fascinating narrative, and it reads more like a fiction novel, but the truth is that her work is based on extensive research, interviews, and insider information. In fact, in 2006, Karl Lagerfeld sued Alicia Drake for violation of privacy (he lost). A must-read book for anyone who loves fashion.
2. Fashion: The Whole Story by Marnie Fogg
An excellent compilation of the history of fashion. It is direct, succinct, with beautiful images and Marnie has done an incredible job showcasing the most important landmarks that created the industry. A must-read for anyone who is interested in design, as well as the business of fashion.
3. Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano by Dana Thomas
Written by journalist Dana Thomas (who has other interesting books on fashion), this book traces the parallels between fashion’s most provocative and iconic names. I found the book to be a compelling biography, as well as offering an insight into the industry as two men progress from being talented students at Central Saint Martins to falling into the clogs of the corporate fashion machine.
4. Christian Dior: Talking about Fashion to Elie Ravourdin and Alice Chavane
This is a rare book, and it was a gift from my husband. I believe it’s only available to purchase in antique and rare book stores. It was published in 1954, and as the title depicts, it’s Christian Dior talking to Elie Ravourdin and Alice Chavane. You get to hear from Monsieur Dior himself what led him to create his business, how he built it, what he values, and what matters to him. It offers a fascinating and rare opportunity to get to hear him talk, and most importantly, it is filled with lessons that are just as (even more) valuable today. If you are not able to purchase the book, you can read the article I have written on the book: Inside the Mind of Monsieur Christian Dior.
5. The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed by Sara Gay Forden
I read the book over a decade ago, after having just completed my Ph.D., and had a deep interest in how iconic fashion firms were created. The book offers a different perspective, reads like a fictionalized novel that you can’t put down. But beyond the true crime story that is depicted in the book, you will get to discover how Guccio Gucci also first created his fashion brand. If you are interested to read more, check out the blog article I have written detailing Guccio Gucci’s entrepreneurial skills: Guccio Gucci (1881-1953): The Bellboy Who Created a Fashion Empire.
6. The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir by André Leon Talley
A fascinating memoir by André Leon Tally, who was a very close friend of Karl Lagerfeld (they ended up falling out as friends, and this is also detailed in the book), and rose to become the Creative Director of Vogue.
7. The Battle of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History by Robin Givhan
I love to delve deep into the history of fashion, as I believe it informs our future. The book, now depicted in Netflix’s Halston tv series, details the so-called Battle of Versailles: a fashion show that put American designers on the map of fashion, and cemented that it was no longer the Parisian fashion designers dictating what will be in style. Written by Pulitzer-winning fashion journalist Robin Givhan offers a lively and meticulously well-researched account of this unique event. The Battle of Versailles is a sharp, engaging cultural history; this intimate examination of a single moment offers an understanding of broad cultural (and fashion) shifts.
8. The Paris Fashion by Valerie Steele
While the format may look like a beautiful coffee table book, The Paris Fashion is actually a highly insightful, well-researched, and written historical document of how the fashion industry came to be. It starts with early designers of the 19th century and takes us into the 21st century while providing the reader with a fascinating account of renowned designers. It’s a book I consulted several times, and continue to do so.
9. Eternal Chanel by Jean Leymarie
This is also a rare book that I purchased at a Parisian collectible bookstore, and it offers a fascinating account of Coco Chanel’s connection with art, theatre, and music. Most books on Chanel focus on her style, but what makes this book different is her innate understanding and sensitivity to creative arts. As I have previously stated, Chanel had the unique and rare ability to predict cultural change, and this book gives us an understanding of why. To read more: Gabrielle Coco Chanel (1883-1971): Fashion’s Predictor of Cultural Change
10. Poiret by Yvonne Deslandres
While Coco Chanel has been credited to free women from corsets, it was actually Paul Poiret to do so. He was also the first designer to create a perfume, Rosine, that would pave the way for other fashion designers to do the same. A visionary, a talented designer, an artist, and the self-confessed party boy of the fashion industry, Paul Poiret is a fascinating designer. What I love about this book is that it showcases his drawings, designs, and very rare (never seen before) photos of his creations. A must-have for any fashion enthusiast.
And as a bonus, download the free e-book on Iconic Fashion Entrepreneurs here.