Decades Of Fashion - 1900 To The Present
Perhaps nowhere does the phrase "a picture tells a thousand words" apply more than in the world of fashion literature. Movie fans and fashionistas will no doubt recall scenes in the 2009 documentary "The September Issue" showing Vogue editor Anna Wintour poring, eagle-eyed, over stacks of stunningly shot photographs, yet the film implies that discussion of the magazine's text among its notoriously hard-working editors is minimal at best.
Imagery is similarly the emphasis of "Decades of Fashion: 1900 to the Present," a book which attempts to cover an entire century's worth of haute couture in just over 600 pages. Author Harriet Worsley gives the book's chapters -- each of which is dedicated, more or less, to a single decade -- a catchy title and two-page synopsis touching on that period's best-known trends and designers in women's fashion.
Worsley wisely devotes the remainder of the book solely to Getty wire photographs, most of which feature current stars and personalities and modeling the "in" looks of the day. Unlike what you'll find in most fashion publications, most of the photographs are candid and otherwise shot paparazzi style at runway shows or other public events, but many are just so cleverly composed, you'll forget you aren't looking at any number of high-end newsstand titles as you leaf casually through.
From the sharp bobs and the short skirts of the 1920s to the feathered hairdos and punk get-ups of the 1970s, no trend is left unturned, no style unexplored -- even if the author's analysis occasionally feels abridged at best. Many readers will no doubt be on the lookout for their favorite style icons -- and "Decades of Fashion" certainly features plenty of them.
From Marlene Dietrich to Elizabeth Taylor, from Debbie Harry to Princess Diana, iconic women from every generation are represented at least once, and those whose style reigned for more than a single decade (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) are included in multiple chapters. What you won't find too much of, however, is men, and those that do appear (John F. Kennedy, Prince Rainier of Monaco) are meant, in least in the context of the book, to serve as an accessory to their uber-chic spouse.
It's also interesting to note that the book, released last month, already feels due for an update. The last few pages feature, among others, Sarah Jessica Parker and Michelle Obama along with the designs of the sadly now-deceased fashion powerhouse Alexander McQueen, yet there's no mention of many current movers and shakers (Lady Gaga, et al).
Perhaps a point could be made that not enough time has passed to warrant any photographic or editorial analysis of those moments. Yet, as with any fashion-oriented publication, "Decades" could've benefited from a more forward-thinking conclusion to avoid feeling like a museum souvenir. Nonetheless, "Decades of Fashion" is a colorful, and occasionally mesmerizing, set of photos that will help bide your time on a lazy Sunday.
AUTHOR: HARRIET WORSLEY
PUBLISHER: HF ULLMANN
PUBLISHED: SEPTEMBER 2011
by Harriet Worsley