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Fashion books reviewed: 'City of Style,' 'By Invitation Only'

Also reviewed: 'Schiaparelli and Prada' and 'The Gentry'

May 20, 2012|By Booth Moore and Adam Tschorn | Los Angeles Times
  • "City of Style" (Harper Collins, $21.99) is an approachable field guide to L.A. style in all its incarnations.
"City of Style" (Harper Collins, $21.99) is an approachable… (It Books )

Looking for a stylish read? Here are some very fashionable books out this spring.

"City of Style" (Harper Collins, $21.99) is an approachable field guide to L.A. style in all its incarnations, whether Laurel Canyon bohemians or Mexican American cholas, written by former Los Angeles Times Image section staff writer Melissa Magsaysay.

"L.A. style is ever-changing and moving in a direction not solely dictated by what's happening on the runway. It blends the past with current trends and a lifestyle determined by the varied landscape, golden light and sense of freedom," Magsaysay writes in the introduction. The breezy book is divided into sections about romantic bohemians, glamour, skaters and surfers, rockers, chola-style, indie eclectic and casual chic, with historical context for each.

In the course of describing the boho look, Magsaysay flashes back to the 1960s, talking to Trina Robbins, Laurel Canyon's unofficial seamstress who designed folksy costumes for the likes of Joni Mitchell and Cass Elliott, and Bob Steinberg, purveyor of paisley and tie-dye at Melrose Avenue's Fabric Emporium, which had a strict "no-polyester policy."

For the rockers' section, she speaks to a range of characters, from groupie extraordinaire Pamela Des Barres (who danced with the Flying Burrito Brothers, Three Dog Night and other bands) to hard-rock guitarist Slash ofGuns N' Roses fame.

To bring the looks into focus for today, dozens of fashionable Angelenos are profiled, including stylists (Ilaria Urbinati), designers (Melissa Coker) and boutique owners (Desiree Kohan) who share their wardrobe signatures.

The book also contains handy styling suggestions and tips about where to shop the different looks — such as El Pachuco in Fullerton (chola style), Val Surf in Valley Village (skaters and surfers) and Hidden Treasure in Topanga (bohemians).

—Booth Moore

Online empire

In "By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop" (Portfolio, $27.95), Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson tell the story of how they launched Gilt Groupe in 2007, bringing the thrill of sample shopping online on their members-only site, where they offered designer merchandise at up to 70% off and created a new retail phenomenon.

Best friends first, the two met at Harvard Business School and bonded over a passion for shopping the rough-and-tumble world of designer sample sales. Using their cumulative experience at EBay, Merrill Lynch, Louis Vuitton and Bulgari, they persuaded luxury brands to get over the fear that online discounting would kill their prestige, bringing Zac Posen onboard for their first sale. The members-only concept created a sense of exclusivity, even if all one had to do was sign up and anyone could join.

"If shopping was traditionally a slow, leisurely activity that might consume an entire weekend (the exception being sample sales), it would now be competitive, addictive, urgent, thrilling — a rush delivered at the same time each day via the Internet," they write. "It would be the appointment you couldn't miss at a time we'd specified."

From the first day, they drew a crowd, proving that luxury shoppers like a good bargain as much as anyone.

The book traces the rise of Gilt from its first days as a startup with five employees, including Maybank and Wilson. The company, valued at $1 billion, now sells a multitude of items, including cars, Judith Leiber clutches, chocolate truffles, as well as some non-luxury goods. Gilt ships to 90 countries and hosts more than 20 sales a day on several sites, including Gilt City, Gilt Taste and Jetsetter.

There is plenty for fashionistas and budding entrepreneurs alike to chew on, including anecdotes about Valentino, Madonna andJ. Crew Chief Executive Mickey Drexler; practical advice about how to find the right business partner; and tips on how to know if your business has the potential to go viral. There are also lots of behind-the-scenes stories about the origin of the Gilt name, how "The View" doubled membership overnight and why the two founders turned down an opportunity to buy acres of amazing European designer clothes and felt good about it.

—Booth Moore

Schiaparelli and Prada

Twins separated at birth, "most alike — indeed, virtually identical — in their sovereign ambition to be unique." That's how 1930s era fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli and her modern-day counterpart Miuccia Prada are described in Judith Thurman's introduction to "Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations" (Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale University Press, $45). The book is the catalog for the exhibition of the same name that opened Thursday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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