Book review: History of International Fashion

  • Vinod Nair, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 20, 2014 20:29 IST

For several years, the fashion world has felt the need for a book on fashion written by someone who is revered in the industry and is an authority on the subject. The available ones either were not worthy enough to be read or restricted themselves to the shallow aspects of fashion.

The only remedy for the same was Histoire de la Mode, written in 1993 by the legendary Didier Grumbach, chairman of the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode, and of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture Paris. But it was in French.

History of International Fashion launched in India recently by Lustre Press/Roli Books is an updated version of Didier’s original title Histoire de la Mode. The book is fascinating in many ways and makes for an interesting read with an excellent distribution of rare fashion photographs sourced from various places.

With the distribution of contents in the book – from haute couture to ready to wear and the expansion of business across the world, the good times and bad times for the world fashion industry, the legends who played their roles in fashion designing and the industry as it is today… Grumbach makes a valiant attempt to make his book appeal to all fashion lovers.

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The book gives a detailed glimpse of various facets of fashion from its early stages. Here, you meet Charles Fredric Worth, notably the first couturier and, ironically, an Englishman of humble beginnings, who dressed some of the most revered royals in the 1800s. Then there’s Paul Poiret, who believed that the creative energy of a couturier should not be restricted to dressmaking and pioneered the concept of extending his creative energy to other such aspects of high-end lifestyle as furnishing, furniture, perfumes, interiors and tableware. It is interesting to note that while most fashion designers still struggle to manage diversified businesses, Poiret (1879-1944) managed with panache. This book takes you on a detailed journey through the world of haute couture including the formation of Chambre Syndicale de la Couture and the lives and styles of some of the most famous names in the industry including Lanvin, Chanel, Dior, Balmain, and Schiaparelli.

Didier Grumbach

Grumbach makes an excellent attempt to take the reader through the evolution of ready to wear that stemmed from the art of couture making and also captures the roles of new world stylists such as Sonia Rykiel, Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givench and many more that came in later to the industry.

Along with the revolution of pret-a-porter, comes the elevation of the status of fashion designers that was almost on par with couturiers. The collections launched by Kenzo, Pierre Berge’s idea of launching Yves Saint Laurent’s Rive Gauche, the revolt of fashion designers that came afterwards, and the author’s attempt to bring back stability to the industry with his suggestions and ideas, all make this an interesting book.

In his postscript, Grumbach makes it a point to mention how Parisian runways also accommodate international talents. Here, along with such names as Hussain Chalayan, Gustavo Lins and Chapurin, Indian fashion designer Manish Arora also finds his place.

The most interesting part of the book lies in its mass appeal. While History of International Fashion is a treasury of information for students of the subject, it is also a very interesting read for those who love fashion.

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