Wednesday, January 19, 2011


I've been meaning to write more about the 1978 book The Fashion Makers for ages. I posted last year about its profile on Elsa Peretti, after I scored the book for 72 cents or something ridiculous. As you can see from the water damage on the cover scan, some idiot has obviously left the book out in the rain overnight (that was me). The book was actually in very good condition when I received it.

Written by Bernadine Morris, with photographs by Barbra Walz, the book offers "an inside look at America's leading designers" (in 1978). Of the 50 designers profiled, I knew the names of only 20 (and Cathy Hardwick's name I only knew as the woman who introduced Tom Ford to his partner Richard Buckley.) I wonder which of the current crop of leading American designers will be around or well remembered in 35 years. In a similar future scenario will some blogger or equivalent thereof be struggling to spell Schhhh-ooulerrr correctly and be baffled by Rodarte?

I find it fascinating to look at how the designers are portrayed - many of the male designers such as John Anthony, James Galanos, Charles James, Mr. John, Kenneth Jay Lane and Bob Mackie look as camp as Christmas - delighting in exaggerated bitchy queen poses - in what is still the general outside perception of male fashion designers I suppose; but they make the DSquared twins look rugged in comparison. Calvin Klein looks uncannily like Marc Jacobs does now. Pauline Trigere looks exactly like my grandmother but I can't illustrate that just at the moment. Apart from the fierce and beautiful Elsa Peretti, I love the profile and photographs of a young, just divorced Diane von Furstenberg who "had enough confidence to drop the "Princess" in front of her name. She had progressed enough to go it alone."(Pretty lucky she didn't need the title anymore, since in re-marrying she lost the right to use it.)

She is presented as the ultimate modern, liberated woman. The other really striking profile is of Mary McFadden, who reminds me of Edith Sitwell and Julie Verhoeven reminds me of her (but not of Edith). Most of the women profiled are at least a decade older than women we would currently consider leading American designers. There is no one fresh out of Parsons, or even in their twenties. Edith Head, the legendary costume designer is included at the age of 81 - near the end of her career and life. Edit: I just realised that the women look old because they look their age - they don't have the ageless botox thing. It's also interesting that Bill Blass, Geoffrey Beene, (both R.I.P.) Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and D.V.F - all of whom continued to be household names - projected exactly the same image we know them for back then.

I can't tell you how much I enjoy this book for its time capsule qualities - but mostly for the very engaging photography by Barbra Walz. It's informal and personal, capturing the mood of the late seventies as well.  Walz died of breast cancer sadly, in 1990, at the age of 39 and Bernadine Morris was the senior fashion writer for the New York Times for three decades.

{my scans from The Fashion Makers,  photos by Barbra Walz. 1. 2. front and back covers, 2. Calvin Klein, 3.  Diane von Furstenberg, 4. Mary McFadden}


trashsparkle said...

What an amazing record of that era. A great find!

Bombay Beauty said...

love time capsules... and always interesting to see our time through those time capsule lenses... xo bb

If Jane said...

let's not talk about water damage (me spilling half of my coffee on my keyboard!!)
wow! super find! the photos are top notch...and seeming define the designers (or at least how i imagine them!) oh it must be a interestiung read!

lin said...

Wow, that looks like a great book. I've been scouring the Internet for a book I want very much to no avail, and I envy your good luck.

I wonder who will be included in a book like this from the present crop of designers..

Ginta said...

Amazing find!
I love books something like "Fashion Now" from 70s. They're like time machines.

about a fox said...

hmm, women looking their age-- that would be me with some "water damage" having been left out in the rain (or snow, probably)

LOVE this-- you rock star.