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Holiday 1996 / BOOK CITY

Drop Dead

December 08, 1996|Judith Gingold | Judith Gingold is a writer living in Los Angeles

Fashion has its victims, its followers and its dissidents. If anyone on your gift list falls into any of these categories, the chances are, you can find him or her a suitable book--small, medium or large--without having to worry about fit.

Erwin Blumenfeld (1897-1969) was one of the most highly paid fashion photographers of his day, and though he welcomed his success ("Fact is, I eat regularly and rather well") he felt that he had prostituted himself to achieve it and much preferred his other work.

The large and lavish Blumenfeld is the first retrospective examination of Blumenfeld's oeuvre. It brings together his Dada collages and drawings, his photographic portraits and nudes, his studies of ecclesiastical architecture, landscape and many other little-known achievements. His influential fashion work, much of it for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, is generously represented too--and enriched by its placement in the broader context of Blumenfeld's art and life.

Readers who prefer to stay closer to the closet may choose among several celebrations of designers, including slender, compact, illustrated tributes to Chanel by Francois Baudot, Valentino by Bernadine Morris and Dior by Marie-France Pochna or such hefty tomes as 10 Years of Dolce & Gabbana and Scaasi: A Cut Above.

"Wearing Dolce and Gabbana clothes is a declaration of love for movies," says actor Gary Oldman in one of the graphically arresting quotations sprinkled among the dramatic oversized photos that make up this slam book about the internationally celebrated fashion team Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbano, whose fans include Madonna, Jon Bon Jovi, Demi Moore and other members of the hipoisie. The photos, by such luminaries as Steven Meisel, Helmut Newton and Herb Ritt, are Drop Dead.

Scaasi's specialty is Drop Dead design, and his imaginative wedding dresses, brilliant ball gowns, multicolored feather-and-mink creations dominate the pages of this appreciation, along with his extraordinary clientele. In the 50 years since Arnold Isaacs reversed his surname to become one of the first hot New York designers, he has dressed, among others, Joan Crawford and Barbara Bush, Louise Nevelson and Mary Tyler Moore, Mamie Eisenhower and Aretha Franklin. A rags-to-riches story with great rags.

"Surfers Soulies Skinheads & Skaters" is something else entirely. The book is based on an exhibition of street fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where the co-authors are curators of textiles and dress. They collected and displayed 200 authentic outfits in a dizzying array of (mostly British) subcultural street styles of the last 50 years--rude boy, raga, Afrocentric B-boy, rockabilly, glam--and juxtaposed examples of the high fashion they inspired. (Interesting, but probably no consolation to the mums of the street kids.)

For subculture members, the point of the clothes was outlandishness and nonconformity. Once a style entered the mainstream, it had to be replaced. That's why there are so many of them--the glossary is an essential guide to this largely unfamiliar territory, as well as a source of fascinating pop esoterica.

The outfits are photographed as they were displayed at the museum, often along with comments and photographs of those who had worn them. A concluding essay analyzes the implications of a pop cultural display in a citadel of high culture. Perfect for intellectuals, fashion rebels and the parents of teenagers.

****

BLUMENFELD: Photographs. A Passion for Beauty. By William A. Ewing (Abrams: $60, 256 pp.)

CHANEL: By Francois Baudot (Universe/Vendome: $18.95, 80 pp.)

VALENTINO: By Bernadine Morris (Universe/Vendome: $18.95, 80 pp.)

DIOR. By Marie-France Pochna (Universe/Vendome: $18.95, 80 pp.)

10 YEARS OF DOLCE & GABBANA. Introduction by Isabella Rossellini (Abbeville Press: $67.50, 218 pp.)

SURFERS SOULIES SKINHEADS & SKATERS: Subcultural Style From the Forties to the Nineties. By Amy de la Haye and Cathie Dingwall . Photography by Danny McGrath (The Overlook Press: $40, 160 pp.)

SCAASI: A Cut Above Arnold Scaasi. Text by Bernadine Morris . Introduction by Liz Smith (Rizzoli: $55, 192 pp.)

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