Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth WIlson
The Season’s Chicest Style Books on Royals, Change Makers and Dressing Well
From Vogue editor Edward Enninful's memoir to a lexicon of American fashion, these six sartorial tomes will inspire and delight / BY Nathalie Atkinson / September 19th, 2022
It was his exchanges with a younger generation of Black kids on social media, British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful writes, that encouraged him to step up his career-long ethos of inclusivity – one that led to the Order of the British Empire in 2016 for his services to diversity in fashion. That responsibility to young people is also why Enninful finally agreed to share his story in his engaging new memoir, A Visible Man, one of our most-anticipated reads of the fall. “I set out to bring the ‘othered’ to the table,” he says in the book. “We’re here to inspire and give people something to dream about as well as a sense of the possible here and now.”
Born on an army base in Ghana to a seamstress mother and military father, Enninful moved with his family to London in the mid-1980s. They expected him to study law, until a stylist scouted him to model when he was still in high school. The self-described “awkward refugee kid from Africa” started writing about fashion for i-D magazine and, at 18, was appointed fashion director of the influential British magazine (the youngest ever for any international style publication), where he covered the Paris shows while still in his teens.
Taking stock of failures and victories against the backdrop of a world he is helping to transform, Enninful, now 50, recounts with genuine awe the groundbreaking moment in 2017 when he was named the first Black editor-in-chief of British Vogue – an institution with a poor history of inclusivity and diversity. With its candid commentary, A Visible Man is an absorbing glimpse into the life, career and creative impulses of a cultural change maker who continues to challenge our perception of beauty, whether it’s through January’s “all-African” cover with nine Black models, or featuring octogenarians like Judi Dench and Jane Fonda.
English cultural commentator Elizabeth Wilson, another style trailblazer and prominent gay liberation and women’s rights activist, also has a riveting read out this season. “Memories cling to the folds of a dress,” Wilson, 86, writes in her memoir, Unfolding the Past. Her erudite, decade-by-decade reminiscences are filtered through her relationship to evolving trends of the day, from her austere childhood in London during and after the Second World War, as a young woman during the upheaval of the bohemian ’60s, and through to her current impressions. When brought into conversation with history, Wilson contends, objects like clothing illuminate “our own lives and those of others, past and present.”
That’s surely why, 25 years after her untimely death, Diana, Princess of Wales (and her wardrobe) continues to fascinate. British fashion journalist Eloise Moran has made a careful study of thousands of fashion photographs in her new book, The Lady Di Look Book: What Diana Was Trying to Tell Us Through Her Clothes. Moran draws from her popular Instagram account,
@ladydirevengelooks, and expands those posts into smart observations that chart Princess Diana’s transformation from “sacrificial lamb to revenge queen” in va-va-voom Versace and bicycle shorts. Moran contends that, early on, when the media took advantage of her silence to spin their own narrative by dissecting her fashion choices to extrapolate meaning, Diana realized her clothes had the power to communicate. “Each outfit became somewhat autobiographical,” Moran writes, as she deconstructs their crafted strategy.
Consider The Lady Di Look Book a cheat sheet ahead of Season 6 of Netflix’s The Crown (expected in November), as Elizabeth Debicki takes on the role of ’90s-era Princess Di, when she shed the pie-crust collars and polka dots for higher heels, shorter skirts and sleek designer looks. The sexy little black “revenge” dress with the fluttering scarf that she wore in 1994 after Prince Charles admitted (on national television) to being unfaithful, for example, was a callback and emphatic counterpoint to her wedding gown and its enormous train. Another provocative frock (a lingerie-inspired slip dress from John Galliano’s debut collection for Dior) helped the People’s Princess make a similar point in 1996, soon after their divorce was final. The occasion? The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Costume Institute fundraiser.
The Met Gala, as it’s now known, has since grown into the undisputed fashion event of the year. This year’s red carpet extravaganza was for “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” an exhibition exploring the country’s homegrown fashion from different perspectives.
The just-published companion catalogue, In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, edited by curator Andrew Bolton, features the usual suspects, but also spotlights those less often celebrated – such as Black designers Stephen Burrows and the late Patrick Kelly. In turn, Kelly’s politically tinged runway paved the way for the current generation of renegade labels like André Walker (whose blanket coat, made from signature Hudson’s Bay stripes, is featured), activist label Pyer Moss and Virgil Abloh’s Off-White. Abloh was also the men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton, and worked across boundaries – from street fashion to high style and contemporary art – until his death last year, at 41, from a rare form of cancer.
Since then, Virgil Abloh: Figures of Speech, the comprehensive monograph of his interdisciplinary work put together in 2019 by the designer himself, has become an elusive holy grail of devotees and, by popular demand, a new printing finally arrived Aug. 30.
As Costume Institute curator Bolton explains in the Met exhibition book, the DNA of modern American fashion is often contrasted with the furbelows and couture fantasies of Paris, and “defined in relation to the principles of utility, practicality, simplicity, and egalitarianism.” So it’s fitting that the Met show spotlights a simple 1943 wraparound dress by Claire McCardell. A pioneer of effortless chic, McCardell (who died in 1958) defined the midcentury American Look that quietly revolutionized the way women dressed. She was one of the first American designers to have name recognition, appearing on the cover of Time in 1955 and named by Life as one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century. While her legacy of understated, affordable and casual elegance endures, the designer herself is largely forgotten. The republication of her bestselling 1956 style manifesto, What Shall I Wear? , will hopefully change that.
The new edition features a foreword by Tory Burch, an avowed fan who not only paid homage through designs in her Spring 2022 collection, but has also endowed an academic fellowship in McCardell’s name. Burch’s lifestyle empire is arguably built on the same ethos as her pragmatic predecessor. “I believe that clothes are for real, live women, not for pedestals,” McCardell declares in her witty handbook. “They are made to be worn, to be lived in.” It’s a wonderful philosophical guide to being stylish and, as with all good modern design, her tips are timeless.
A version of this story appeared in the August/September 2022 issue of Zoomer Magazine, “In & Out of Fashion, on p. 52