By all accounts Megan Hess’ books about fashion should not be my thing at all. I’m not into fashion, haute couture or otherwise. I don’t give a fig about luxury brands or prestigious designers. But Coco Chanel has always fascinated me – it’s her rags and riches story that intrigues me more than her fashion label. Chanel’s early fashion ideas stemmed from strong feelings she had about women, freedom of movement and independence – higher dress lengths, removing corsets, simple, elegant, easy to wear designs – are all hallmarks of her label designed to give women liberty and style.
Which is how Hess first came to my attention.
Coco Chanel: The Illustrated Life of a Fashion Icon (2015) appealed instantly with its illustrated picture-book-for-adults feel. It was fun, whimsical and a stylish gift book. Although I can’t but help think that Chanel’s ideal of freedom of movement would be seriously challenged by the dress featured on the front cover of Hess’ latest book, Iconic: The Masters of Italian Fashion!
The book is divided into four pages of text per designer/label followed by 10-12 generous pages of dress designs. I started off feeling sceptical, but Hess’ brief bio’s on each designer turned out to be rather fascinating, even though they were placed on unadorned white pages with lots of space around the text. It was a curious choice for a book so obviously designed to be aesthetically pleasing in every other regard.
I learnt that Armani initially trained as a medical student, until WWII & compulsory military service put paid to that idea. His modus operandi on the catwalk stemmed from his early years studying medicine, “the body was truly his canvass“.
Dolce & Gabbana love to create bespoke shows – in an apartment with a bedsheet curtain and burger-shaped invites to a fast food restaurant venue for instance.
The Fendi sisters decided to ‘inject new blood‘ into their business in 1965 by employing an up and coming German as their head designer. Karl Lagerfeld & Fendi have never looked back!
Missoni changed how we viewed and wore knitwear.
During the 1948 Olympics, the Italian team wore ‘comfortable and stylish‘ knitted uniforms designed by Missoni. Often combining up to 20 different materials & textiles, their ‘signature zigzag pattern‘ became a ‘defining brand of the 1970’s‘.
Their philosophy is that ‘a woman should wear (a piece of clothing) because she loves it, not just because it’s practical.‘
‘You don’t buy Prada; you invest in Prada, because a Prada item will hang in your wardrobe for decades.’ It’s ‘minimalism for maximalists‘.
Miu Miu is the youngest of the Italian designers featured in this book, ‘the label has an air of nonchalance that cannot be imitated.’
Named after Miuccia Prada, it was launched in 1993. ‘Where Prada is restrained, Miu Miu is rebellious…;where Prada is classic, Miu Miu is experimental.’
Gucci created luxurious ‘timeless pieces‘ that embrace all things Italian.
He started work at the Savoy Hotel in London in the early 1900’s where he realised that a ‘suitcase could be more than just a suitcase; it could be a symbol of status.’ Gucci’s first workshop made saddles before moving onto luxury suitcases. WWII leather shortages found him experimenting with hemp fabric bags.
Pucci represented Italy in the 1932 Winter Olympics as a skier – he also designed the teams ski wear.
After WWII he became know for ‘sports chic’ and ‘designed luxury resort wear for women accustomed to the jetsetter lifestyle.’
When he moved to Capri, his designs ‘embraced island life‘.
Throughout the book, Hess also revealed snippets of personal information in most of the bio’s mostly to do with her various jobs within the fashion industry as well as some personal memories of her first prestigious brand name purchases.