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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Book review: "100 Dresses", "High Style" and "Masters of Fashion Illustration"

There was no if's or but's about it - I needed a closet purge and revamp. Last year's two miscarriages and subsequent surgeries, followed by a battery of tests, not only impacted my immune system, but also wreaked havoc on my metabolism. My body had changed. And while I did get back into regular exercise, I didn't want want to leave dressing well and looking good until I lost a specific amount of weight or reached a specific dress size.

I started by getting rid of everything that pinched, squeezed, pulled, tugged, creased or otherwise didn't look right. I also ditched the pieces that looked ok, but came in a fabric that was itchy, scratchy, unbreathable or just plain uncomfortable to wear. The last but not the least were the pieces I loved so much I wore them into the ground, causing them to look faded, stretched, "clumpy" and shapeless.

All of the above filled two large moving boxes. And while there were still some excellent pieces left in my closet, the purge revealed substantial gaps, particularly in the business clothes area. Closing those gaps did not start with shopping for me - it starting with reading... Lots of reading.

Having squeezed everything I could out of the What Not to Wear books by Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, I did do some shopping, but not for clothes - not yet. I went and got more books. My fashion research took me in two directions. One had to do with my immediate sartorial needs - looking for advice and ideas suitable for m body. That was where the excellent Dress Your Best and Work It! came in.

The other part took place when I actually started looking and trying things on, taking careful note of what worked, what didn't work, what would have worked with minor changes. Inevitably, my thoughts turned to clothing design, bringing on the need to look into the history of fashion. I took a kind of "drill down" approach, starting at high level and going into more detail as I progressed.

100 Dresses was the perfect book to start with as it provided a bird's eye view of fashion development for the last two-three centuries. The dresses in question are creme de la creme of the Costume Institute's vast collection, the pieces that best represent their respective time periods and designers.

In addition to striking designs, fabrics, and workmanship, one can trace some of the old-fashioned elements that survived through centuries of sartorial development and are still prominent in the work of today's designers.

High Style is similar to 100 Dresses in that it provides the best examples of each sartorial era. The difference is in the number of examples as well as in the amount of information that goes with them. Each section offers a glimpse into the history behind major trends and fashion houses, leaving it to the reader to make his or her own discoveries.

I had quite a few "aha" moments while reading this book. I did not realize, for example, that Charles Frederick Worth, who is considered the father of haute couture, was also the one to lay ground for mass production of clothing and modern mail order catalogs. Yes, all of his pieces were custom-made for his clients - wealthy ladies of society. And he did pride himself on exquisite workmanship and unique fabrics he chose for his fabulous creations. However, when the house of Worth became wildly popular, patterns of skirts, bodices and sleeves were created in such a manner, that they could be easily interchanged to create new looks quickly. Some dresses were offered with two bodices: one for the day with long sleeves and high neckline, and one for he evening with bare shoulders and more decolette display.

In order to ensure the ongoing business from his clients, Worth started releasing booklets with new designs for the next season three to six months in advance, inviting the ladies to order their gowns for the opera season opening and holiday balls in advance, to be properly decked out in time for their next series of events.

Much to my embarrassment, I did not realize that Yves Saint Laurent started his career working for Christian Dior. Not only that, bur Dior named him a successor, when Saint Laurent was in his very early twenties. The boy must have been good!

I was also astonished to discover how many fashion designers were architects, engineers or doctors in their previous professions. Although, in retrospect, it makes sense, for clothing design does require knowledge of structure and human anatomy. Contrary to popular belief, many prominent designers promoted the "clothes should fit the body" philosophy, instead of the "body should fit the clothes" mantra that appears to plague today's high fashion.


Masters of Fashion Illustration
is as close as it gets to the sartorial drawing board - a peek into the minds of the greats like Tom Keogh, Andy Warhol, Carl Erickson and my great compatriot Erte. The lives and times of the fantastic artists are intermixed with illustrations that vary from superbly realistic to nearly abstract; sparsely outlined and three-dimensionally vibrant; pieces that were just as likely to have been sketched in fifteen minutes on a napkin at a Parisian cafe, as agonized over for many days and nights in a studio.

Art is subjective, of course, and the styles of the various artists represented in the book are so vastly different, that the readers are bound to have their own dislikes and their own favorites. However, there is one sentiment that I hope will be shared by all - the sense of wonder and admiration for the creative minds, whose ideas were so potent, they came to become reality.

Some may consider fashion to be an inconsequential subject unworthy of time and study. I, however, believe that it is a unique art form and one of the many ways in which we express ourselves - and has been since the first time a caveman wrapped an animal skin around himself and his mate hung a necklace of animal teeth around her neck. So, read, absorb, feast your eyes and enjoy!

1 comment:

DriveGoddess said...

Yes, I did read this before....I love my fashion history....and I love your candour and sense of practicality.