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A holiday book list for the fashion-minded

A how-to on becoming a designer, the history of models' roles in changing the industry and much more will delight connoisseurs of style.

December 13, 2009|By Julie Neigher
(Penguin Books )

Acerbic writer and social critic P.J. O'Rourke once advised that you should always read something "that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it." Tongue tucked in cheek? Sure. Still, it's a constructive axiom for the intelligent fashion and style connoisseur. Think of it this way: A book is like an outfit. You don't want to be seen reading the Members Only edition when you could be spotted thumbing through something catwalk cool, do you?

Following is a holiday literary gift guide that focuses on the chic, the cheeky and the unusual. Each book is as full of substance as it is stylish. O'Rourke may have been on to something. Would you really want to be caught dead reading anything else?

"Fifty Dresses That Changed the World" and "Fifty Shoes That Changed the World"

by Design Museum

Can you imagine life without the flip-flop? Well, before 1962 it didn't exist. And did you know that a doctor's ankle injury launched a boot -- the eponymous Dr. Marten. And if it hadn't been for former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland's suggestion that Mr. Blahnik try shoe design rather than couture, Carrie Bradshaw would be a very different gal indeed. These are just three of the 50 delightful stories about shoes, designers and their history in "Fifty Shoes That Changed the World." And with a splendid array of photographs featuring some favorite kicks, you'll be inspired to stock your closet with some must-have heels.

"Fifty Dresses That Changed the World" is equally essential, but this time it's all about the frocks. Who could forget Elizabeth Hurley in the Versace that adrenalized her career -- the now famous safety pin dress? Or the Mary Quant mini that helped make London the most happening spot of the '60s? You know this book is going to be good when you see Audrey Hepburn perched on the cover in her iconic little black Givenchy from "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

Each book costs $20. Hardcover. Conran/Octopus Books USA. Available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Borders and Urban Outfitters.

Chanel three-book set, special edition

by Fran├žois Baudot and Francoise Aveline

The slipcover for this collection, designed after the iconic Chanel handbag, with its luxe quilting and original metal logo, is a must for any fan of Coco or simply for someone who cares about what's timelessly in vogue. Containing three books on fashion, jewelry and perfume, this set provides an extensive history of the brand and a selection of colorful images revealing the splendor that has made the label part of history. This is for the stylista who has it all, but who's missing that final, ne plus ultra accessory for her collection.

$550. Leather slipcase. Softcovers. Assouline. Available from Assouline bookstores nationwide or at

"Form, Fit and Fashion"

by Jay Calderin

If you know someone who's studying to be the next McQueen or McCartney, or who's simply eager to know more about what's behind the seams of the fashion industry, this is the instruction manual on how to become a designer. You'll learn everything from how to conceive a garment to how to market it. Calderin writes clearly, using easy-to-follow text and pictures that explain the route to the runway. A new fashion bible for designers, aspirers and the just plain curious, this tome contains all the secrets.

$30. Softcover. Rockport Publishers. Available from Amazon, Borders and Barnes & Noble.

"Model as Muse"

by Harold Koda and Kohle Yohannan

Suzy Parker, Twiggy, Beverly Johnson, Christy Turlington and Kate Moss. These are just a few of the sirens who have influenced and enlivened the designs of the world's top couturiers. You'll be fascinated by the manner in which models have influenced high fashion and how, through them, our notions of beauty and style have evolved over time. Photographs by, among others, Steven Meisel, Mario Testino and Richard Avedon.

$50. Hardcover. Yale University Press. Available from bookstores nationwide as well as museum shops.

"One Hundred Years of Menswear"

by Cally Blackman

The last century has been anything but boring when it comes to menswear. In fact, history (and author Cally Blackman) demonstrate that men have been at least as fashion-conscious as women. It was, after all, men's fashion that produced what could be described as the most dynamic and versatile garment ever -- the suit. Handsomely illustrated with rare photos, this book examines everything from the elegant tailoring of Savile Row to the progression of jeans and khakis. Celebrity icons, such as David Bowie and Mick Jagger, abound. There's also a fascinating comparison of the styles of Pierre Cardin, Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani (among others) with the street fashion of the 1960s, punk and clubbing scenes. With 12 sections, including titles such as "Rebel," "Worker and Soldier" and "Peacock," "One Hundred Years of Menswear" analyzes varying genres and scrutinizes the stylistic influence of the gay community as well as the manner in which the media have steered trends.

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