Summer books for fashion lovers

Unraveled – The Life and Death Of A Garment
Maxine Bedat
Penguin,€28.95

Cheap clothing is often very expensive. Maxine Bedat, a researcher and advocate, travels the globe following the death and life of a garment. This shocking page turnser shows how fashionConsumption is a major factor in social and environmental inequality around the globe.

Her journey takes her from Texas’ cotton fields to China’s dyeing, weaving, and manufacturing factories to others in China, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the US, and finally to a frightening landfill in Ghana. She discovers, for example, that only one button-down shirt is enough. “was made of 40 separate cut pieces, the assembly of which comprised 50 steps on 60 machines, operated by 30 different people”. She discovers a company called Li & Fung – “which you have never heard of”– running a worldwide network finding the cheapest components and factories for any one garment (zips, buttons etc) anywhere in the world producing an enormous amount of clothing. 10,000 garments arrive in Europe with the same look as if they came from one factory after one order.

One of the most horrific descriptions is of the conditions at Amazon, the US’s biggest clothing retailer, where people are “pushed to become machines”And where the average worker makes less now than it did in 1979. She also talks about the perverse effect of influencers encouraging followers to buy more.

Well-written and accessible, this is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject, and her description of the people and places she visits and the human stories she tells serve to illustrate the destructive forces driving the industry today and the stark reality of the statistics that back them up. She concludes that globalization is the future of business. fashionIndustry and the global economy can be controlled. “They can be designed just like our jeans. The choice is ours.”

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Bill Cunningham was There: Spring Flings and Summer Soirees
By John Kurdewan, Steven Stolman
Rizzoli

Photographer Bill Cunningham. Photograph: Noam Galai/Getty
Photographer Bill Cunningham. Photograph: Noam Galai/Getty

Anyone who watched the documentary on Bill Cunningham (1929 – 2016) would be struck by the simplicity of his New York life and contrast with the extravagant society. fashionHe captured the entire world on camera. “We all dress up for Bill,” was Anna Wintour’s famous comment on the man, always clad in what the French call bleu de travail, camera at the ready. “Gotta get snappin’ and crackin’,”He would have said that as he documented everything from street style in New York City on his bicycle to Paris, Milan and Milan. fashionGalas in Hamptons and summertime Jazz Festivals. This book, Spring Flings + Summer Soirees, gives you a taste of his images of summer. fashionThis memoir is by John Kurdewan who was the head of production at New York Times and worked closely with him. “He found beauty everywhere and was completely uninterested in celebrities. It was all about how people wore the clothes and their personal style.”

Dandy Style: 250 Years of British Men’s Fashion
Miles Lambert and Shaun Cole,
Yale University Press, £25

The languid hauteur of the traditional dandy – assured, elegant, sartorially immaculate – can be attributed to Beau Brummell of Regency England, whose legacy can be traced to today’s urban dandies in whatever form that takes. Bakongo’s gentlemen are the most wonderful. “sapeurs” of Congo, with their bowler hats, pink tailored suits, glossy footwear and cigars, don’t make it into this book, however, which is about British men’s fashionOver the past 250 years. With copious illustrations and photographs, it charts the progress of male self-expression down the centuries, covering the life stories of men’s clothes, why they still wear suits, men’s style and subversion and the sheer extravagance of wealthy male clothing in the 18th century, including images of the purple and green silk satin suit worn by John Hobart, lord lieutenant of Ireland from 1776-1780. The book is part of an exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery that will take place in November 2021.

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Is it really green? Answers to Everyday Eco Dilemmas
By Georgina Wilson Powell
Penguin Random House, £12.99

The author was working in Dubai as a travel editor, with 25-plus flights per year. She had a change of heart and decided to start pebble, a digital magazine free for all. “for stylish, sustainable living”. Her book is about everyday living. “eco dilemmas”How you can go green by making small changes in your home, garden, kitchen, bathroom and even shopping. The fashion front, she covers eco-friendly fabrics, the dos and don’ts of washing and dry cleaning, as well as repairing and recycling. Don’t throw away plastic sequins, keep them in circulation, she cautions. In the section on family, relationships, she discusses ways to make your sex life more sustainable and addresses the issue of disposable nappies versus reusable. The book has more than 140 green-living questions answered and includes a glossary, bibliography, and index.

What Artists Wear
By Charlie Porter
Penguin, €18.95

“Our clothing is an unspoken language that tells stories of our selves,”Charlie Porter, in the introduction, states that “it seems logical that an artist should have an eye for clothing connected with the visual creativity of their work”. Louise Bourgeois was a pivotal figure in the world of clothing. But, few people know that she also had a lasting friendship with the author in her later years. fashionHelmut Lang, designer, was still wearing an extra-large sheepskin he made especially for her at 93. There are sections on workwear and denim, while suits figure prominently in the clothing of artists such as Giacometti, Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo – before she reverted to the Tehuana dress of her native Mexico – and were worn subversively by Gilbert & George, Jeff Koons and Laurie Anderson. Basquiat, for example, painted everything he wore from Comme des Garcons gear to shoes, and hats. According to Karen Binns, a stylist who was close to Basquiat, “his art and what he wore were the same thing”. These are just a few examples of the expression tools used by contemporary artists. Unfortunately, there is no index.

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Patchwork: A Life Amongst Clothes
By Claire Wilcox
Bloomsbury, €16.99

V&A curator Claire Wilcox (right), with fellow curator Andrew Bolton, at the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty fashion gala at the museum. Photograph: David M. Benett/Getty Images for Victoria and Albert Museum
V&A curator Claire Wilcox (right), with fellow curator Andrew Bolton, at the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty fashionGala at the museum Photograph by David M. Benett/Getty Images Victoria and Albert Museum

You would imagine that a book written by a senior curator at the V&A museum would reveal a lot about the clothing in her care and designers she has worked with – having been the force behind exhibitions including Radical Fashion; The Art and Craft of Gianni Versace; Vivienne Westwood; Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty and co-curating Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up. The book, which was published last year, is much more than that. It is poetic, personal and thoughtful, and quite captivating. Chapter headings like Entwined, Love Gather, Seam and Loss tell the story of her approach, which is often abstract but often concrete. Her personal life and work are interwoven in a unique and poignant way. It’s about the stories we tell with our clothes and the book has been well-described as a series of meditations. A wonderful summer read.

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