Monday, April 20, 2009

Book Review: The Beautiful Fall: Fashion, Genius, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris

Title: The Beautiful Fall, Fashion, Genius, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris
Author: Alicia Drake
Publisher: Back Bay Books, New York, 2006
Category: Non-fiction, Fashion, History
Number of Pages: 439
Price: US$14.99, Canada $17.25 (Paperback)

What it is about:
The lives and careers of Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent were intertwined from the moment they both stood on the stage to receive their awards in the 1954 International Wool Secretariat fashion design competition. Yves Saint Laurent, aged eighteen and recently arrived from Algeria, was the winner of first and third prizes in the dress category. Karl Lagerfeld, aged twenty-one from Hamburg, was winner of the coat category. From that point, Laurent and Lagerfeld were friends and rivals as their careers and lives evolved in the heady world of Parisian haute couture.

The story of the rivalry between these two iconic designers is written chronologically and the book spans the period 1954-1989. The pawn in the game between the two men was the bon vivant Jacques de Bascher. In the course of his short life, Jacques traveled between the two rival fashion camps, wrecking havoc in his wake with his affair with Yves Saint Laurent and troubled relationship with Lagerfeld.

Why I Chose this book:
It was recommended as an excellent chronicle of the 1970s fashion scene in Paris.

Favourite Passage:
"It is a grim moment for the designer when he or she finds himself or herself totally out of fashion, left behind, out of synch as time moves on. A new generation is born and the designer's vision or creative expression no longer describes or evokes the time around them. This is a creative pain unique to fashion. Of course there are trends and moods in every art form, the recent dominance of conceptual art being an obvious example. But a painting, even if it is not fashionable, can still possess its own intrinsic artistic and creative merit. Whereas one of the defining qualities of fashion is that it should describe its epoch and the desires of that moment." (page 291)

This title of this book is a misnomer because it doesn't even hint at the scandal contained within the pages. The author has constructed shocking portraits of two of the 20th centuries greatest designers.

I was stunned by the story as it unfolded. There was so much genius, so much debauchery and so much animosity. Even though I have written extensively about Yves Saint Laurent on my fashion blog, I had little knowledge of his personal life until I read this book.

I was horrified by the degree to which Lagerfeld has manipulated and refashioned his life story to suit his purposes. The fact that Lagerfeld filed a legal writ against the author in 2006 claiming invasion of privacy, which was denied by the court, is proof of the explosive nature of the material contained in this book. No doubt the author's meticulous research and documentation (extensive footnotes and interview lists are included in the book) served her well in court.

The only weak part of the book are the title and the cover image. The rest of it is sizzling hot!