Claire Wilcox

Curator; Writer; Lecturer / Fashion Design / United Kingdom / The Victoria and Albert Museum

Books Every Fashion Designer Should Read

Although I don’t have a good memory, the essence of every book I’ve read remains in me somewhere, inspiring connections or reflections when I least expect it. I’m sure it’s the same with fashion designers. Ideas and visual references are stored away; no gallery or museum visit is ever forgotten. . . . View the complete text
24 books
Valerie D. Mendes
Frances Hinchcliffe

The relationship between innovative textile design and fashion design is emphasized in Ascher’s work for couturiers such as Balenciaga. Balenciaga in particular utilized Ascher’s mohairs in sculptural forms such as his barrel coats.

Lesley Ellis Miller

For admirers of Balenciaga, the most authoritative book on this extraordinary designer.

Linda Parry

A visual history of British fabrics, this book draws on the V&A’s collections of woven, printed, and embroidered textiles and their designs. The creativity and diversity of historical textile design would, I hope, inspire any fashion designer.

Max Tilke

An old-fashioned book, but very useful for understanding the cut of non-Western dress. It’s interesting how the planarity and drape of such costumes inspire a particular approach to pattern.

Alexandra Palmer

Designers need to know the history of their discipline, and this examination of the Dior fashion house (1947–57) by the leading curatorial authority provides just that. Palmer (who also authored the excellent Couture & Commerce: The Transatlantic Fashion Trade in the 1950s, 2001) had unrivaled access to Dior's archives. What is remarkable is how in just ten years Christian Dior set the model for fashion houses of the future, while retaining all that was commercially and creatively successful in prewar couture.

A great resource to have available, day and night. There are various online encyclopedic resources but I like to have this three-volume set in my hand, and this is my favorite for browsing.

Angus Patterson

Not a book I would normally think to recommend to a fashion designer but, after all, both McQueen and Westwood have created collections inspired by armor.

Christopher Breward Editor
David Gilbert Editor

A useful examination of the powerful relationship between the metropolis and fashion culture. Few images, but Breward’s many publications (often with a focus on menswear) make essential reading for any aspiring designer.

Cecil Beaton

Beaton really is essential reading and his descriptions of designers in their heyday are thrilling. Writing of Chanel: “It was always impossible to guess Chanel’s age. She was dark and sunburned, with high cheekbones, an upturned nose with nostrils, as she said, ‘like tunnels,’ brilliant black eyes like buttons, and a gash for a mouth. Her hands were delicate, of a skin with a white sheen on it, and so strong that they could shoe a horse. She wore no red on her fingernails but reddened the tips of her toes, on the theory that feet were a dreary business and required every aid.” He also had the knack for summing up the elemental characteristic of a designer, calling Dior “the Watteau of dressmaking.”

Stephen Jones
Oriole Cullen

An essential resource for any aspiring milliner, from both a designer's and a curator's point of view.

Edith Head
Joe Hyams

A light read, co-written by the Hollywood costume designer Edith Head, which offers fashion advice from the 1960s. Some things never change.

Clare Phillips

An exploration of the beautiful relationship between dress and jewelry.

Paul Poiret

An example of brilliance transformed into megalomania. Beware, designers.

Clare Browne

Lace was one of fashion’s most expensive commodities in its time and is surely due for a revival.

Svetlana A. Amelëkhina

Glorious and inspiring dress and textiles. Think of John Galliano’s Fall 2009 Russian-inspired collection.

Bob Verhelst
Kaat Debo

A deconstruction of fashion, both literally and metaphorically.

Janet Arnold

The series of analytical case studies of dress Patterns of Fashion by Janet Arnold is essential reading for any fashion designer (or theater costume designer) interested in the cut and construction of historical dress. Arnold’s work is key to understanding Vivienne Westwood’s collections of the early 1980s, in particular the cut of her trousers, based on early menswear.

Avril Hart
Susan North

Beautiful and detailed photography that really gets under the skin of early dress.

Susan North Editor
Jenny Tiramani Editor

The first of three volumes resulting from a collaboration between the V&A and theater costume designer Jenny Tiramani. Excitingly, the publication includes x-ray images of garments, which reveal their skeletal understructures.

Ghislaine Wood

A reminder that nothing in avant-garde contemporary fashion has yet surpassed Schiaparelli’s surrealist designs of the 1930s.

Eleri Lynn

Eleri Lynn shines a light on the fascinating subject of undergarments and shows that the fashionable silhouette is achieved with an equal measure of pleasure and pain.

This boxed set would be a wonderful gift for a fashion or textile designer. Based on the V&A’s collections, it encompasses every pattern, weave, print, and color imaginable.

Rosemary Crill Editor
Jennifer Wearden Editor
Verity Wilson Editor

I hope the extraordinary garments in this book inspire designers to regard creative fashion design as a discipline in which anything is possible.

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