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Chic Lit: A Reading List for London Fashion Week

London Fashion Week is held twice a year—which is good, because when I went down to the Burberry show in February they wouldn’t let me in. Apparently my shoulder pads were too symmetrical. The doorman had accessorised his suit with a fabulous plaid truncheon which he used to prod me sharply away.

I’ll get my second chance on September 15th, and this time I’ll be ready. #LFW is one of the Big Four events in the couturier’s calendar (the others are New York, Paris and Milan, but you knew that, darling). Leading UK designers like Julien Macdonald and Christopher Bailey will showcase their work, inspired visitors will snap up a hundred million pounds’ worth of avant-garde togs, Topshop is taking over the Tate Modern, and Kate Moss will almost certainly be there.

To make sure you get a champagne flute in your hand rather than a truncheon in your neck, here are five of the best guides to the world of fashion.

The Beautiful Fall

The rivalry of designers Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld created some of the most memorable clothes of the century, and continues to influence fashionistas to this day. Even if you’re not especially into fashion, Alicia Drake’s portrait of two tortured geniuses—one debauched, the other controlled; YSL in relentless pursuit of a personal vision, Lagerfeld constantly remixing other people’s ideas—is a fascinating study of creativity. Oh, and did I mention that Lagerfeld and Saint Laurent’s feud kicked off in earnest when they both fell in love with the same debauched French aristocrat? A breathtaking quantity of drugs is consumed over the course of The Beautiful Fall’s nearly five hundred pages, and the author has extracted some very juicy gossip from her interviewees.

In Drake’s assessment, Lagerfeld and YSL between them laid the foundations of the modern fashion industry: the ascendancy of ready-to-wear and the relationships between designers, models, photographers and editors which keep fashion ticking over. If you’re looking to catch up on your fashion history, this is the perfect place to start.

Inside Vogue

The editor of America’s Vogue magazine, Anna Wintour, inspires terror in the fashion world—and thanks to a thinly-disguised portrait in the novel-turned-movie The Devil Wears Prada, she’s pretty notorious outside the fashion world too.

Alexandra Shulman, the former editor of British Vogue (she stepped down earlier this year), is much more laid-back. In this volume—a diary of Vogue’s one hundredth year of publication—she confesses that she’s never given much thought to her personal wardrobe, because in any case she’s ‘always had a pretty dodgy figure.’

She brings the same blunt and charming humour to the fashionable world in which she is a mover and shaker. Kate Moss, Charles Saatchi, Naomi Campbell and the Duchess of Cambridge all make memorable appearances, some more memorable than others...

Inside Vogue was published while Shulman was still at the magazine’s helm, and inevitably she pulls a few punches, but her wit and easy prose style—Shulman’s also a novelist in her spare time—make this an enjoyable read.

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The Language of Fashion

While Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld were burning up the catwalks of 1970s Paris, the theorist and cultural critic Roland Barthes was writing penetrating studies of fashion and its many meanings. This collection of his essays may be less fun than a coke-fuelled afterparty, but it will leave you with a deep understanding of fashion and its role in the modern world.

If you’re familiar with Barthes’ name from school or university, don’t be put off. While Anglophone readers are most likely to be familiar with his sometimes dense academic work, The Language of Fashion compiles essays which Barthes wrote for magazines like Marie Claire and Vogue. The ideas are still brilliant, but the prose is somewhat easier on the brain, and often splendidly witty. Amongst other topics, Barthes deliberates provocatively on the merits of Chanel versus Courrèges, and explains why hippy trends are nowhere near as rebellious as they like to make out. Barthes was a genuine lover of fashion, and his passion for the subject enlivens his musings.

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Haute Coiffure

In every era the top models, designers and even photographers tend to be celebrities, their names familiar even to people who don’t follow fashion. As yet no hair stylist has achieved that level of fame, but Charlie Le Mindu is on his way.

To call Le Mindu a hair stylist is a bit insulting, actually. His work is so mesmerising that his styling performances were an attraction on the Berlin club scene. His hair, wigs and hats have appeared in catwalk shows all over the world, and his celebrity clients include Lady Gaga and Lana del Ray.

This stylish coffee-table book is a work of art in its own right, and it provides a glimpse of one of fashion’s lesser-known corners.

Where's karl a fashion forward parody

Karl Lagerfeld’s eccentric personal style and decades-long domination of the fashion industry have made him a household name, and something of a mascot to fashion-industry insiders.

This affectionate parody of the Where’s Wally? series (that’s Where’s Waldo to American readers) tasks you with assisting the young fashion journalist Florence de la Sabine—but you can call her Fleur—as she struggles to track down the enigmatic master couturier. Your job is to pick him out from the fashionable crowds at the chicest locations in the world, from the Met Gala to the slopes at St Moritz.

There’s lots to spot besides Karl, of course. A-listers from Angelina Jolie to Pharrell Williams pop up in the corners, alongside fashion icons like Anna Wintour and Lagerfeld’s beloved cat Choupette.


I'm a copywriter based in Dublin. Bookwitting about literary fiction, mostly.