photo courtesy Ralph Lauren
Every season brings a fresh crop of style books, and this spring's offerings are delightful, from fashion insider memoirs to inspirational coffee table tomes. Here are my favorites.
Isabel Toledo has been a working fashion designer since the mid-80s, when she sold her first collection to Patricia Field and Henri Bendel. But it wasn't until First Lady Michelle Obama wore Toledo's lemongrass felted lace coat and dress to her husband's inauguration that the Cuban-born, New Jersey-bred designer became a household name the world over. Her new memoir, Roots of Style, traces her journey from Castro's Cuba to FIT to the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute (where she interned under Diana Vreeland) to the top of the fashion pyramid, with helpful advice for fledgling designers and fanciful artwork by her illustrator husband, Ruben.
Unlike Toledo, Marisa Berenson has been famous her whole life, a claim backed up by A Life In Pictures. The book features 300 lavish photos of the aristocratic heiress (and granddaughter of legendary fashion designer, Elsa Schiaparelli, currently the subject of a Met Costume Institute exhibit) beginning with her privileged childhood (her christening portrait, by Irving Penn, was published in Vogue and she was photographed for her first Elle cover at age five) to her 70s-era modeling heyday (when she was a constant presence on the covers of Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Interview, Newsweek and Town & Country) to film stills from her acting work in Barry Lyndon, Cabaret and I am Love. All told, this is a fascinating portrait of a fascinating woman.
Brad Goreski's inspiring, surprisingly moving memoir, Born to be Brad follows the dapper Canadian import's rise from Barbie loving, much-taunted chubby wannabe actor to an internship at Vogue, a well-publicized stint assisting Rachel Zoe (as chronicled on Bravo's The Rachel Zoe Project) through his current incarnation as celebrity stylist and star of his own reality show, It's a Brad, Brad World. Really, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.
As I mentioned in an earlier piece on TFI, photographer Kirstin Sinclair is the ultimate fashion insider, covering the New York, London, Milan and Paris Fashion Week shows season after season for Elle UK and other A-list outlets. A Front Row Seat gathers her most striking images from the last decade, taking readers backstage, behind-the-scenes and front row center at some of the biggest shows around. There's also a section devoted to street style, starring the world's favorite models, bloggers and fashion editors.
Subtitled "Beyond the Boundaries of Fashion," blogger Lizzie Garrett Hettler's Tomboy Style shines a light on our most intriguing boy-meets-girl icons, from Coco Chanel, Marlene Dietrich, Lee Miller, Amelia Earheart, Jean Seberg and Katharine Hepburn to modern day muses Lauren Hutton, Diane Keaton, Patti Smith, Lou Doillon, Alexa Chung and Tilda Swinton, none of whom ever met a tailored blazer or pair of boyfriend jeans they didn't like.
Photographer Lillian Bassman worked with some of the finest magazines and advertisers of the day back in the 1950s and '60s. The just-released Lillian Bassman: Lingerie captures the late photographer's artful images for lingerie companies Maidenform, Vanity Fair and Warner, featuring lanky Mad Man-era models in excruciatingly glamorous brassieres, girdles, peignoirs, corsets and camisoles.
Christian Louboutin makes women see red, in the best way possible. This lavish coffee table book of the same name showcases twenty years worth of the French cobbler's most fantastical crimson-soled creations–including snakeskin platforms, glittering t-straps, feathered sandals and thigh-high boots–in surreal photos by Philippe Garcia and David Lynch.
ALL ABOUT BEAUTY
American Beauty, by fine art photographer (and Anna Wintour's former assistant) Claiborne Swanson Frank, features casual-yet-studied portraits of some of our country's prettiest natives, such as Aerin Lauder, Minnie Mortimer, Elettra Wiedemann, Amanda Brooks, Cristina Cuomo, Joan Smalls, Marissa Mayer and Amanda Hearst, as well as Lauren Santo Domingo, Meredith Melling Burke and many of the author's other former Vogue colleagues. The majority of Swanson Frank's subjects are shot outdoors in natural settings that complement their natural beauty (though oddly, none are shown smiling). Which may be why my favorite image is that of interior designer Nena Woolworth, photographed leaning against the railing of a child's playhouse, a cigarette dangling from her mischievously smirking lips, looking like she's having the time of her life and doesn't care what anyone thinks. Now that's a beautiful thing.
Finally, artist/hairdresser Bob Recine takes a decidedly more unnatural approach to things, as can be seen in his book, Alchemy of Beauty, which is filled with images of gorgeous women transformed into otherworldly creatures thanks to Recine's artful way with wigs, hairpins, sunglasses, flowers, safety pins, Play-Doh, duct tape, razor blades, cellophane and rubber duckies, all of which are used in new and inventive ways that will have you rethinking the very meaning of beauty.
I just spent a lovely afternoon hanging out with nail lacquer designers Ginger Johnson and Liz Pickett at the soon-to-open Nail Suite by Lisa Logan on Strivers' Row. Join me, won't you?
Calvin Klein unveiled their fall 2012 apparel, jeans, underwear and accessories line last week, along with the brand-new ck one color cosmetics launch. I covered the action for Rue La La.
Although he's coiffed the likes of A-listers such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Charlize Theron, Angelina Jolie, Kate Hudson and Tilda Swinton, Bob Recine is more of a sculptor than a traditional hair stylist—at least where his editorial work is concerned.
Take, for example, the shoot Recine did with Mario Sorrenti for Another Magazine c. 2003, in which the duo re-imagined the beautiful Jessica Miller as a frightening rainbow-bewigged clown that called to mind the late, great Leigh Bowery. Or the 1996 Numero images (also shot by Sorrenti) that utilized felt "makeup" and Play-Doh wigs to turn Vivien Solari into a not-quite-of-this-world living doll. Or the 2007 story that cast Natalia Vodianova as a modern day Lady Godiva-slash-Rapunzel.
These are just a few of the striking images to be found in Bob Recine: Alchemy of Beauty (Freedman|Damiani), the new book devoted to the work of this incredibly talented, inspirational and thought-provoking artist (for, as the many sketches, collages and paintings gathered here attest, Recine is much, much more than a run-of-the-mill hairstylist). No wonder he's Lady Gaga's go-to guy for OTT hairdos and headdresses.
While many of Recine's creations are decidedly beautiful—the floral headpiece worn by Eniko Mihalik in the April 2009 issue of W, for instance, or the delicate stack of topknots sported by Tanya Dziahileva in the Spring 2007 issue of V—the majority of images in this compendium are twisted and perverse in ways that force the viewer to confront their long-held notions of beauty, and of womanhood itself. And isn't that the purpose of all great art—to make you see things in a whole new light?
images courtesy Bob Recine Alchemy of Beauty
image courtesy Chanel
Here's a glimpse of the holiday piece I just did for the latest issue of Entrée magazine, featuring Olivia Chantecaille celebrating at home. How gorgeous is she?
photos by Miki Duisterhof, courtesy of Entrée
We've long been fascinated by the beyond-chic enigma that is Daphne Guinness. Heir to the Guinness brewery fortune, the skunk-tressed beauty is famous for rocking some of the most outrageous couture creations out there (complete with matching 10-inch platforms)—and yet unlike some other fashion-forward style icons (*cough* Anna Dello Russo *cough*) Guinness always manages to look cool rather than cartoonish. Even when traipsing around in a ball gown with a 20-foot train or towering armadillo boots, the British-born eccentric wears the outfit, not the other way 'round. So with her fragrance, Daphne. Made in collaboration with Comme des Garcons, the scent is "a battle of contradictions," according to its namesake, with top notes of incense offset by tuberose, vanilla, saffron, patchouli, iris, amber, bitter orange, rose centifolia, Tunisian jasmine and oud, which result in an olfactory reflection its creator's peripatetic wanderings and her love of contrasts (as evidenced by her signature two-tone 'do). Daphne is, in a word, stunning. It's also strong (as in empowering), feminine and sensual—and we've been wearing it every day for the past year and a half. Hey, we may not be able to afford her million dollar wardrobe, but thanks to Daphne, we can channel a bit of her eccentric glamour—and smell like a million bucks.
images courtesy Daphne by Comme des Garcons
While most New York Fashion Week outings favor typical manicures, we've noticed a mini-trend (trendlet?) developing, with models' entire fingers dipped in paint—or tar—for a more statement-making effect. Check out the noir digits at Mara Hoffman's presentation (done in homage to Rick Owens' missus, Michele Lamy), and the golden fingers on view yesterday at Juan Carlos Obando (meant to convey a "golden touch"). One more and we've got an official trend, people!
Cowshed Spa opened in New York's Soho House back in 2003, but it's only been open to non-members of the tony private club since last year. So when we were recently invited to stop by and try our treatment of choice, compliments of the house, our immediate response was a) yes please and b) deep tissue massage, thankyouverymuch.
We were psyched about the prospect of checking out what we'd heard was a really swell (as in schmancy) spa but didn't think the massage could possibly live up to that of our usual spot, a low-key, no-frills joint whose masseuses take their deep tissue pummeling very, very seriously.
The Cowshed facilities are lovely, with a candlelit lounge that boasts wide beamed wood walls and comfy leather chaises, and a beautifully appointed changing room featuring a modern mirrored vanity table with vintage glass drawer pulls, ivory leather club chairs, plush oversized towels, assorted high-end toiletries (from Cowshed brand lotions and potions to individually-wrapped combs and tweezers) and seriously yummy reversible robes - terry on one side, cotton on the other - that we instantly wanted to steal, ummm...purchase. So far, so good.
Things got even better in the treatment room, thanks to a heated massage table and essential oils from plants grown and blended especially for Cowshed - our masseuse recommended a mix of Moody Cow (rose geranium, linden blossom and frankincense) and Bullocks (camphor, eucalyptus and clove bud) to heighten our relaxation, both mental and muscular.
And oh, what a masseuse. As tall and willowy as a model, the extremely gracious and competent Rachel Pfisterer may have looked like a runway refugee, but she worked over our tired, aching muscles like a professional linebacker (we mean that in the best way possible). She also taught us a useful new massage term - "yummy ouchy" - to replace our clichéd "that hurts in a good way." And did we mention the refreshingly non-twee music (Etta James, Louis Armstrong, modern jazz) that serves as the soundtrack to a Cowshed massage?
We noticed a placard in the changing room from Tatler magazine, proclaiming Cowshed's UK sister spa - in Babington House, Somerset - the 2009 International Spa of the Year. If it's anything like the New York outpost, we can easily see how they nabbed that prize.
After our Cowshed rubdown, we wandered back out onto Ninth Avenue in a blissfully dazed stupor; relaxed, recharged and plotting our return (for which we will happily shell out our own hard earned coin).
We first experienced Color Sensational this past summer when a colleague in the Vogue Promo department gave us a few sample tubes she had left over from The September Issue screening goodie bag. Something of a lipstick junkie (it's the only makeup we wear on a regular basis), we were instantly smitten by the gorgeous colors - 635/Very Cherry and 465/Madison Mauve, to be precise - and by the packaging, which is surprisingly sophisticated for a drugstore brand. Then we tried the actual product and - praise be! - were over the moon. So rich, so creamy, so incredibly pretty. We'd found our holy grail: a lipstick that really delivers, in shades that don't make us look like Sweet Baby Jane. After begging a few more samples (thank you, RC!), we ran to the nearest drugstore so we could try additional colors, ultimately purchasing several tubes of our new goes-with-everything, wear-it-everyday favorite: 405/Yummy Plummy. Which is a very silly name for the best lipstick ever. But then it's the minor flaws that make you really appreciate perfection, right?
Image courtesy Maybelline
We don’t know Lucky magazine beauty editor Jean Godfrey-June, but if her 2006 memoir, “Free Gift With Purchase: My Improbable Career in Magazines and Makeup” (now out in paperback by Three Rivers Press, $13) is any indication, she’s the kind of smart, sassy, down-to-earth chick you’d love to have as a friend. The fact that she has ready access to a million and one beauty products - and likes to share - would just be icing on the cake.
While most fashion and beauty insider memoirs or novels tend to be of the highfalutin’ variety, in which the well-connected author drones on about about their fabulous life and their fabulous job and their fabulous friends and all the fabulous perks they get from said job and friends, making for an amusing but impossible-to-relate-read (see: Diana Vreeland’s “DV,” André Leon Talley’s “A.L.T.: 365+” and any of Plum Sykes’ slimly plotted roman-a-clefs), Godfrey-June comes across like one of us.
She’s the likable, no-nonsense girl-next-door who just happened to be obsessed with beauty and cosmetics from an early and just happened to grow up to get a to-die-for job covering the same, first at Elle magazine and now at Lucky. The fact that she still can’t seem to get over her good fortune, even after two decades as a beauty editor, makes her a winning and empathetic narrator. And the fact that she favors a take-no-prisoners approach when ripping the veil - make that mud mask - off the inner workings of the beauty industry and glossy magazine world makes “Free Gift With Purchase” an engaging and enlightening beach read extraordinaire.
Whether she’s poking gentle fun at the fragrance industry’s self-important Fifi Awards, debunking beauty company promises with refreshing honesty, frankly discussing the difficulty of maintaining editorial integrity in a business filled with freebies and swag, or talking about the many ridiculous products that cross her desk on a daily basis - she gets between fifty to two hundred “hope in a jar” products each and every day (“Some of them new...some of them gorgeous and innovative, and most of them just some dull cream...often wrapped up in an equally uninspiring package”), it always feels like Godfrey-June is sitting beside you on your beach towel, dishing like an in-the-know, beauty obsessed best friend would.
And the chapters she devotes to her time at Elle in the 1990s, where she became famous for the off-the-cuff “Godfrey’s Guide” column she penned each month, skewers her superiors - most notably the megalomaniacal, philandering French creative director-head photographer she nicknames “The Playboy” and his clueless American “model/editor/socialite” wife - in a wickedly delightful way that makes anyone who has ever wanted to give their own nasty, shallow, insecure boss a well-deserved bitch-slap sit up and cheer.
She does play nice, though, as when singing the praises of “Sally” (that’s Sally Hershberger to you and me), recalling her beloved editor-in-chief at Elle, discussing the benefits of self-tanner (in which she claims to bathe) and laser hair removal (“It’s genius!”) or extolling the brilliance of cosmetics queen Bobbi Brown.
Godfrey-June also provides great insider tips on makeup application, taking a flattering photo, the pros and (mostly) cons of plastic surgery, treating skin problems, what cellulite creams can and can’t do, and what to look for - and avoid - at the cosmetics counter, along with a wealth of other useful, user-friendly advice.
But perhaps the thing that makes this book such an engaging read, even for readers who are not remotely beauty obsessed, is that while Godfrey-June takes her job - and the power of cosmetics and beauty products to truly transform women, inside and out - with the utmost seriousness, she never takes herself or the beauty industry itself too seriously. It is this ability to clearly see and convey the difference between the two - “I do love my job....But you know, I’ve got a cousin who sits in front of a microscope all day, helping find cures for pediatric cancer. Me, I ponder lipstick” - that elevates “Free Gift With Purchase” miles above the standard fashion insider memoir.
Two years ago, The Fashion Informer interviewed makeup maven Bobbi Brown for a shopping story. During the several hours we spent together, we asked Brown what we could do to to get rid of the fine lines that had begun appearing at the corners of our eyes, which we crinkled for demonstration purposes.
"Umm, don't go like this," the pint-sized brunette laughed, crinkling her own eyes and pointing at the lines that appeared when she did so.
"Seriously," she said, with a wave of her hand. "You can't worry about that stuff. Just take care of yourself....eat well, exercise....and moisturize, moisturize, moisturize."
Easy for her to say. At the time, she was 48 and looked ten years younger - and was obviously practicing what she preached.
In her new book, “Bobbi Brown Living Beauty” (Springboard Press; $30), a self-help beauty tome for women over 40, Brown, now 50, is still preaching the benefits of moisturizer, healthy eating and exercise. The preternaturally youthful cosmetics guru also advises readers on a host of other beauty topics, from tweaking one's hair color to offset the sallowness that can beset aging skin to the miracle that is Retin A (Brown’s a big fan) to the pros and cons of plastic surgery, fillers and Botox (Brown is not a fan), to learning to love - and make the most of - what Mother Nature gave you - all recounted in the down-to-earth, no-nonsense manner we’ve come to expect from the woman who made her fortune on natural-looking foundations, eye shadows and lipsticks that make women look like themselves, only prettier.
After opening with “Words of Wisdom” from a slew of equally age-defying celebrities (including Susan Sarandon, Vera Wang, Ann Curry, Mary Steenbergen and Vanessa Williams), and extolling the benefits of finding a good dermatologist and Rx skin treatments designed to remedy specific problems, Brown gets to the meat and potatoes of her beauty sermon in a chapter entitled The Makeup Face-Lift: Surgery-Free Ways to Wipe Away the Years.
Sounds like hyperbole, to be sure. But the before and after photos made an instant believer out of us, with page after page of near-miraculous transformations, in which, yes, years - and in many cases, decades - are removed from the faces of the women pictured, with nothing more than the right skin care routine (moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!) and the right combination of under eye concealer, foundation and skin-brightening cosmetics. Using easy-to-follow instructions, Brown offers step-by-step advice on a host of age-related beauty issues, from banishing extreme under-eye circles to minimizing fine lines and wrinkles to fixing uneven texture to filling in sparse browns and thinning lips.
Because the book is written in Brown’s trademark chatty/informative style, it’s like having your best friend sitting beside you - one who just happens to be a world-renowned makeup artist - giving you pointers as you primp in front of the mirror.
Brown also offers advice to the Menopause Set on cultivating the perfect wardrobe, BHRT hormone replacement therapy, the importance of diet and exercise (duh), and easy ways to modernize your look (ditch the mom jeans and Farrah Fawcett ‘do, ladies!). And she closes with advice from additional high-profile women who embody the notion of aging gracefully, including “O” editor at large Gayle King, photographer Kelly Klein. and Burberry vice chairman Rosemary Bravo.
But "Living Beauty"'s bookended chapters of famous faces sharing their views on their lives and looks aside, it’s Brown’s own positive, empowering take on aging and female beauty - and her user-friendly makeovers - that will have readers singing the praises of this feel-good, look good guide.