Everybody knows that reading is a great way to enrich your mind and improve your life. As fashion designers or enthusiasts, we often don’t think about fashion books. We always get inspired from other sources or by observing the people around us. But did you know that reading fashion books can make a significant difference in the quality of your work?
A great book is not just entertainment. It’s like food for the brain. It holds a wealth of knowledge and also helps get the creative juices flowing in our minds.
Whether you’re a fashion designer or just want to hang out in the fashion industry without spending money on a fashion degree or university, it can be great to educate yourself by reading. This list features the most important fashion books that can help you not only in your career but also in life!
From the history, science and technology of clothing to the business end of it all, these are books that fashion designers, as well as interested parties, should have in their library.
1) The End of Fashion: How marketing changed the clothing business forever by Tri Agins –
Written by a Wall Street Journal fashion journalist, The End of Fashion examines the business side of the fashion industry with fun anecdotes. Throughout the book, you will find detailed anecdotes covering topics such as the rivalry between Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger; fashion’s transformation from an elitist industry to one catering to mainstream consumers, and even a glimpse into the future of the business—beyond fast-fashion brands like H&M and Zara.
Going even deeper into the workings of conglomerates like LVMH, the book tells the truth behind manufacturing, retail, licensing, financing and celebrity dressing. If you can only read one book on this list, make it this one.
2) The Little Dictionary Of Fashion: A guide to dress sense for every Woman by Christian Dior –
Although this book is 50 years old, the tips given by Dior are as pertinent now as they were half a century ago. In fact, they’re as crucial to turning you into a proper lady today as Eliza’s metamorphosis was to her becoming a lady in the movie My Fair Lady.
But more than that, it’s full of important fashion terminologies that are still used in the industry. Mr Dior also offers tips in the book on everything from how to dress for a wedding, to how to pack for a trip abroad. And do I have to mention the interesting views he had on the art of walking? “It is ridiculous to wear beautiful clothes and then slouch along or sit in a slovenly manner”, he liked to say.
A must-read for fashion lovers, and the illustrations of Christian Dior’s haute couture creations are worth the price of admission alone.
3) The Fashion Designer Survival Guide by Mary Gehlhar –
Want to create your own fashion brand? This book is for people who want to learn how to start their own fashion label but don’t know-how. An experienced fashion consultant has put together this ultimate handbook on building an empire from the ground up.
This book will tell you how to make it big in the fashion industry! I guess that was a bit of an overstatement – but what it will definitely tell you is how to create a business plan, how to source materials, and how to run a successful runway show. Plus, PR and marketing techniques, how to work with the media, and celebrities. There are definitely many industry anecdotes thrown in to keep things interesting!
4) The Battle of Versailles: The Night American Fashion Stumbled into the Spotlight and Made History by Robin Givhan –
Pulitzer Prize winning fashion critic Robin Givhan’s non-fiction book The Battle of Versailles, which documents the historic 1973 catwalk clash between American designers and European designers, is so good you’ll think you’re reading fiction.
In a battle for international supremacy, 5 French designers including Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, and Pierre Cardin squared off against American heavyweights Oscar de la Renta, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, and Halston.
It’s a story of infighting, shoestring budgets, myriad technical difficulties, and a Cinderella-esque pumpkin coach. Who won in the end, the Americans or the French? The answer may surprise you.
5) The Beautiful Fall by Alicia Drake –
Let’s take a trip back in time through the streets of 1970s Paris. As Alicia Drake spins the yarn of what happened between schoolmates turned arch-rivals, Yves Saint-Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. The rivalry that fueled decades of creativity between two of the greatest designers of the 20th century.
Drake has documented the careers, sandals and escapades of these two designers in great dramatic detail. Which actually didn’t sit well with Karl Lagerfeld because he sued her for publishing too many of his private details.
6) Fashion – Oxford History of Art by Christopher Breward –
The full span of 150 years of modern fashion history is covered in this one book. And it’s the book they’ll make you read in most fashion courses. From Haute Couture to fabric technology, this history of fashion is more than just a designer’s back story. It explores the economic and cultural changes that have influenced some of the greatest names in fashion.
As you keep reading, you discover more and more about the ways in which fashion, film, promotion and production interrelate.
7) Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster by Dana Thomas –
Some people think that with luxury comes a high standard of workmanship. But this is not true for all luxury fashion houses. Greed for more profits has forced these fashion houses to abandon ethical manufacturing practices for sweatshops.
This book is a tell-all that exposes some of the dubious practices of the multi-billion dollar luxury fashion industry. It shows how tainted the business can be, from manufacturing, production to marketing.
8) Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty by Andrew Bolton –
When it comes to challenging people’s ideas about race, religion, sexuality, class, and the environment, there’s no fashion designer in the world that can hold a candle to Alexander McQueen.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s head curator, Andrew Bolton, invites you on an unforgettable journey into fashion with this breathtakingly beautiful book on the life, career, and brilliance of Alexander McQueen. It explores McQueen’s iconic designs in the form of photographs, interviews, quotes, and more. Any fashion-lover will appreciate this book as a timeless addition to any library.
9) Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas –
By now we are all aware of the high cost of fast fashion. Fashion’s exploitation of climate change, labor and intellectual property law didn’t go unnoticed.
This book is about Dana Thomas’s investigation into the perils of the fast fashion industry and emerging technologies that could bring more sustainability to the fashion world. Thomas interviews innovative designers and companies trying to make fashion more sustainable and cleaner with new-age technologies.
She takes readers on a journey to learn more about 3D-printed materials, smart manufacturing, fabric recycling and lab-grown materials. This book leaves the reader with an optimistic outlook on the future of fashion, offering highlights from brands like Stella McCartney, Levi’s, and Rent the Runway.
10) Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design by Deborah Nadoolman Landis –
From Audrey Hepburn’s little black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Julia Roberts’s red dress in Pretty Woman, every iconic movie has a signature look that sparks long-lasting memories for its viewers.
Deborah Landis, the Academy Award-nominated costume designer, tells the next best thing to being on the set of your favorite movie: stories from Hollywood’s golden age and a look at the original sketches and photographs that brought legendary movie characters to life.
Reading may not be the best way to learn how to design clothes, but that doesn’t mean that designers can’t learn helpful tips or ideas from great books. Plus, by reading some of these fashion books, you’ll get a much richer understanding of the history of fashion, and you can take inspiration from the stories of the most iconic designers and leaders of the past.
This is quite an eclectic list. So, I would recommend skipping to the one that suits your situation best. Some are a little heavy reading, while some are a lot more ‘light’ and fun. All of them, though, have their merits and are well worth their weight in gold (pun intended).