Thursday, February 4, 2010

Book Review: Fifty Dresses that Changed the World

Given my fascination for dresses, it probably comes as no surprise that I could not resist buying this book which is one in a series published by the Design Museum. Others include Shoes, Cars, Chairs etcetera. And while it hardly seems likely that any object would change the world, it does provide a compact survey of 50 dresses that impacted contemporary fashion design from 1915 forward. Some of the dresses on the list of top fifty are: The Goddess Dress by Madame Vionnet (1931), Chanel's Jersey Flapper Dress (1926), YSL's Mondrian dress (1965), the Paper dress (1966), Vivienne Westwood's Mini-Crini (1985), Versace's Safety-pin dres (1994)...

If I had written this book, I would have gone back to around 1778-1779, when Marie Antoinette stepped out of her enormous paniers and adopted the milk-maid look with polonaise a deux fins or pleated caraco and apron of linon a fleurs. And who can argue against the revolutionary impact of Marie Antoinette wearing the lightweight chemise dress known as the gaulle. The outcry from  Elizabeth Vigee-Lebrun's portrait of the queen wearing this "undignified" and "indecent" gown was vitriolic. But obviously that wasn't the mandate of this particular book.

In any case, reading this book did set off a light-bulb for me when I read about Hussein Chalayan's Buried Dress collection of 1993.  In this collection for his graduation show at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design, he buried the garments in his back garden and left them to decompose. The results were not pretty but caused a fashion sensation and established him as a pioneer in the world of fashion. After I finish documenting my mother's dress collection, I may use this concept as a stepping stone for a process driven conceptual project with her dresses. That alone made the book worth the cover price.

Title: Fifty Dresses that Changed the World
Published by: Conran Octopus Ltd. 2009
Category: Non-fiction, fashion
Number of Pages: 112
Price: US$20, Canada $26, UK 12.99