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Have coffeetable. Need book.

From Lauren to Valentino, the annual onslaught of style books is upon us, some better than the rest.

December 02, 2007|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

They land in stores like extremely well-heeled, 300-pound gorillas in the weeks leading up to the holidays. They're the season's style books, ready to sit unopened on coffee tables around the globe. This year, the offerings include the aspirational "Poolside With Slim Aarons" (Abrams) and "Tony Duquette" (Abrams), the practical "Harper's Bazaar Great Style" (Hearst Books), with its month-to-month shopping calendar, and the too-weird-to-categorize "Liberace: Your Personal Fashion Consultant" (Abrams Image).

This being a year of designer anniversaries -- Dior's 60th, Ralph Lauren's 40th and Valentino's 45th -- there is a rash of designer titles, each one weightier than the next. "Christian Dior" (Assouline) by Farid Chenoune may be the first book to look at the legacy of the French fashion house from its origins, through the New Look, and into the present under the genius of John Galliano. If you had any doubt that Galliano is a worthy successor, the close-up photographs prove that his garments are every bit as technically complex as Dior's. "Lanvin" (Rizzoli) by Dean L. Merceron sheds light on a lesser-known label, documenting Jeanne Lanvin's beginnings as a children's wear designer and milliner in the 1920s through the end of her life -- when she presided over a full-fledged fashion house -- with sketches, photographs, artistic inspiration, beading and embroidery swatches. The book ends with a chapter giving Lanvin's current designer, Alber Elbaz, his due (he's a co-author), for making the house one of Paris' most watched today.

"Valentino" (Taschen) by Matt Tyrnauer and others may be the year's most expensive fashion book -- $4,000 for the art edition, which includes signed and numbered sketches by the Italian designer, who will retire next year. (The regular edition is $1,000.) But "Ralph Lauren" (Rizzoli) is the heaviest, at nearly 15 pounds. Rather than detailing the design process, as the other designer books do, this one deals with the construct of image, which is what Lauren built his business on. There is very little text (most of it written by Lauren himself) but plenty of snapshots of the designer and his family at their homes in Amagansett, N.Y., RRL Ranch in Colorado and Jamaica -- the same idyllic scenes that inspired the brand's Bruce Weber ad campaigns.

"American Fashion" (Assouline) by Charlie Scheips is a good primer for anyone interested in a larger history of fashion on 7th Avenue, and a reminder of the role the Great Depression and World War II played in kick-starting the industry here by forcing designers to rely less on direction from Paris.

Of course, America doesn't have couture houses, but it does have costume designers, and "Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design" (Collins Design) by costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis is a fitting tribute to her profession, from the influential Adrian, Jean-Louis and Travis Banton, right up to the costumers of today's blockbusters. There are hundreds of sketches and photographs, some unpublished, each with a first-person anecdote from someone associated with the production.

My favorite is from Lucinda Ballard, costume designer for the 1951 film "A Streetcar Named Desire," who said she was inspired to design Stanley Kowalski's skintight T-shirt when she saw Con-Edison ditch diggers in New York City.

Where the Hollywood studios and their wardrobe departments were the image makers of yesterday, fashion stylists are the image makers of today. "Stylist: The Interpreters of Fashion" (Rizzoli) by Sarah Mower introduces us to the unsung aesthetes who are sounding boards for designers, styling the magazine shoots, advertisements and fashion shows that have defined fashion over the last few decades.

Biographical snapshots are accompanied by examples of their most influential work, including the super-sexy fashion layout Carine Roitfeld styled for French Glamour in 1994, which was the genesis of her years-long collaboration with Tom Ford at Gucci. Ford saw the photo, featuring a model in vintage Gucci loafers, and contacted Roitfeld to shoot his first campaign.

Interestingly, this book does not include celebrity stylists a la Rachel Zoe. You too will long for the days before Zoe and her ilk ruled the red carpet after looking at Frank Trapper's "Red Carpet: 20 Years of Fame and Fashion" (Welcome Books). Examining his snapshots from 1987 to the present, one realizes how much more interesting Hollywood fashion was when celebrities had to dress themselves. Cher, Mr. T, Sigourney Weaver and Kirk Cameron look fabulously awful in the 1980s.

Then around 1992, everything starts to go down, er, uphill. Courtney Love cleaned up, the European design houses started to pay for red-carpet play and everyone looks just plain fabulous. What a drag.

Speaking of the red carpet, if you thought the tyranny of the Christian Louboutin red sole was a thing of the 21st century, think again. "Seductive Shoe: Four Centuries of Fashion Footwear" (Stewart, Tabori and Chang) by Jonathan Walford, founding curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, covers the history of footwear, including its place in 18th century France, where the aristocracy could be identified by their red-soled and red-heeled shoes, and revolutionaries circulated a pamphlet attacking Marie Antoinette titled "Portefeuille d'un Talon Rouge," or "Wallet of the Red Heel."

But what, no Manolo Blahnik, no Jimmy Choo? That's right, this book ends in the 1990s, which is strange considering the ever-frenzied obsession with shoes over the last decade.

Perhaps Walford is saving that for next Christmas.


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