Valerie Steele

Curator; Writer / Fashion Design / United States / The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology

Books Every Fashion Designer Should Read

I never read a book that changed my life, but I did read two scholarly articles on the significance of the corset that launched me on my career and, thus, really did change my life forever. . . . It was as though a lightbulb suddenly went on, and I realized: “Fashion is part of culture.” . . . View the complete text
20 books

The catalogue of a highly original exhibition curated by Judith Clark (and inspired by Caroline Evans), with an introduction by Christopher Breward.

For some reason, there are not many really good biographies of fashion designers. This is a notable exception.

Barbara Vinken

A super-brilliant book by a German scholar who explores topics such as Chanel’s female dandy versus Dior’s transvestite, and why the “hundred years of fashion” (from Worth to Yves Saint Laurent) ended with Comme des Garçons.

Guillaume Garnier

A ravishingly beautiful exhibition catalogue, that is also extremely intelligent and well researched, on 1930s Paris couturiers such as Chanel, Vionnet, Lanvin, Molyneux, Augustabernard, and others, and on the fashion milieu, its institutions, workers, and mannequins.

Ian Kelly

A highly entertaining biography of the first dandy, celebrity, and metrosexual.

Caroline Evans

A smart book on fashion that might be described as Karl Marx meets Alexander McQueen, with chapters on haunting, phantasmagoria, glamour, and cruelty. Evans, a professor at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, explores why a lot of fashion imagery has become so dark and decadent. There are many terrific pictures.

Roxanne Lowit

My favorite new book of fashion photography by a single photographer.

Ellen Moers

Published in 1960, this is still the best book on dandyism, with terrific quotations from Charles Baudelaire, Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, and other great dandies. Moers explains how dandyism differed in England and France and how its significance changed over time.

Caroline Weber

I wish I’d written this book—it’s an amazing portrait of one of history’s greatest icons of style by a historian who really understands fashion.

Phillippe Perrot

A brilliant social history of France through its fashions. It includes wonderful period quotations from writers like Balzac. In fact, fashion designers who enjoy fiction might just want to read Balzac; start with Cousin Bette or Lost Illusions.

Elizabeth Wilson

There is no single, perfect history of fashion, but this is one of the best books ever written on the significance of fashion.

Patricia Mears

One of the best books, along with The Genius of Charles James and Hussein Chalayan, on an individual fashion designer—thoughtful and well-researched.

Deborah Nadoolman Landis

By far the best book on film costume. Landis explains how costume design works in the movies, and why it is very different than fashion. There are many beautiful pictures to inspire both costume and fashion designers.

Alicia Drake

A particularly good biography of an individual fashion designer, based on extensive research. Filled with risqué personal information and revealing photographs, as well as genuine insight into the creative lives of Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent.

Caroline Evans
Hussein Chalayan

One of the best books, along with The Genius of Charles James and Madame Grès, on an individual fashion designer—thoughtful and well-researched.

Susan Kismaric
Eva Respini

Intriguing images and essays.

Ulrich Lehmann Editor

A good exhibition catalogue (Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston) on fashion photography.

Giorgio Riello Editor
Peter McNeil Editor

This has lots of great pictures from the Bata Shoe Museum and 20 chapters on everything you could ever want to know about shoes, from antiquity to the present, including lotus shoes, military boots, red shoes, high heels, and shoes in art. It also includes an excerpt from my book Fetish: Fashion, Sex & Power.

Elizabeth A. Coleman

One of the best books, along with Hussein Chalayan and Madame Grès, on an individual fashion designer—thoughtful and well-researched.

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