5 books that take close look at fashion world

  • By Adam Tschorn and Booth Moore Los Angeles Times
  • Saturday, December 29, 2012 4:12pm
  • Life

Books that examine the world of fashion can make for good reads. Here are some of the latest.

“Alexander McQueen: The Life and the Legacy”

Judith Watt, $35.

It’s hard to think of someone better qualified to tackle her topic than Judith Watt.

In addition to being a personal friend of the fashion designer — who took his own life in February 2010 — Watt happens to head the fashion history department at Central Saint Martins (where McQueen studied).

Wyatt traces the trajectory of McQueen’s life primarily through his work, collection by collection, filling in the lesser-known parts of his creative CV that tend to get lost between the high-profile bullet points of things like his infamous “bumster” trousers or his Highland Rape collection.

Extensively footnoted, the book does pull from a good deal of previously published magazine and newspaper articles, but it also serves up first-person observations and insight.

“Empress of Fashion: A Life of Diana Vreeland”

Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, $35.

Legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland, who died in 1989, has been celebrated in a number of mediums this year — Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s documentary, “The Eye Has to Travel;” a museum exhibition in Venice, Italy; a Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award in Beverly Hills; and now Amanda Mackenzie Stuart’s biography.

With cooperation from Vreeland’s family and access to Diana’s private diaries, Stuart creates a complete portrait of Vreeland, drawing particular attention to her lifelong “complex” about her ugly duckling looks, her self-invented persona and her efforts to bring “pizazz” (a word she coined) to American fashion.

By working with designers to get around wartime restrictions on fabric and materials, Vreeland helped define a vision of American style that endures.

“The King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson”

Michael Bush, $45.

For more than 25 years, L.A.-based costume designers Michael Bush and the late Dennis Tompkins were the men behind the man in the mirror, designing tens of thousands of pieces of Michael Jackson’s personal and tour wardrobes and helping to craft his image.

“The King of Style” is a glossy scrapbook of stories, sketches, patterns, still photos and performance shots that detail their collaboration with Jackson (including eight pages about that glove).

The book reveals that everything was designed to enhance Jackson’s performance or to create mystery and tease fans.

Among the looks and styling tricks that are explained?

The “Smooth Criminal” Lean shoes, which had a device inside that bolted to the floor to let Jackson lean forward 45 degrees.

The “Billie Jean” pants, which had extra deep pockets, so Jackson could lift the material inside to raise his pant legs and draw attention to his dancing feet.

“Steampunk Fashion: Spurgeon Vaughn Ratcliffe,” $24.95.

Even if you’ve never heard of “steampunk” — the retro-future mash-up that marries science fiction and the Victorian era (think Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” or H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine”) — you’re likely to be intrigued by what’s depicted on the pages of “Steampunk Fashion.”

Part source book for emerging and established designers dabbling in the oeuvre and part glossy, coffee-table art book, it showcases 21 people and brands and their wares.

Among the featured items are underbust corset belts and bustle skirts for the ladies, swallowtail jackets and brass-filigreed top hats for the gents.

“Titanic Style: Dress and Fashion on the Voyage”

Grace Evans, $24.95.

The 2,223 passengers and crew of the ill-fated Titanic as insects trapped in amber?

That’s the kind of conceit of “Titanic Style,” with author Evans describing them as “a microcosm of post-Edwardian society,” each dressed according to his or her station, from the uniforms of crew members to the elaborate hats, corsets and dresses of the genteel women in first class.

The book is text-heavy and most of the photographs that appear depict what those aboard would wear, rather than what they did wear.

There are a few notable exceptions, specifically the apron worn by one of the survivors — the maid and secretary to first-class passenger and fashion designer Lady Duff Gordon.

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