The best books about fashion in Paris

The Books I Picked & Why

D.V.

By Diana Vreeland

D.V.

Why this book?

Vreeland begins by telling readers: “The first thing to do is to arrange to be born in Paris. After that, everything follows quite naturally.” And that declaration sets the tone for this delightful, witty monologue, as told to Paris Review editor George Plimpton and originally published in 1984. D.V. makes you laugh out loud, and long for Paris, beauty, and really, really good lingerie.


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In My Fashion

By Bettina Ballard

In My Fashion

Why this book?

Ballard was the Paris editor for American Vogue between the wars, before returning to New York to help run the glossy. In 1960, she published her memoir, In My Fashion, a wonderful snapshot not only of the fashion industry during the European Modernist era, but also of life as a young single American woman in Paris at its most Paris-y. You don’t have to be a fashion lover to love this book.


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

By Alicia Drake

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

Why this book?

British fashion journalist Drake tackles two of fashion’s giants—Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld—and shows how their lives and careers ran parallel, intersected, intermingled, then split decisively, giving birth to a fervent competition between the two men that upped creativity throughout Paris culture. It’s dishy, decadent, and divine.


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Fashion Climbing: A Memoir

By Bill Cunningham

Fashion Climbing: A Memoir

Why this book?

Photographer Bill Cunningham, who died in 2016 at the age of 87, is best known as the New York Times’ street fashion and party photographer. But he got his start in fashion, at the age of 19, as a milliner in New York. His career was briefly interrupted when he was drafted in the Army in the early 1950s and stationed in France—or so he thought. Cunningham started making hats for the officers’ wives, which allowed him to travel to Paris for materials. His tales of Paris are glorious—oh, how he was charmed by the city, and the French—and the diva moments he observes at fashion shows he attended are simply délicieux. The book proves that Cunningham was as gifted a writer as he was photographer.


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Paris in the Fifties

By Stanley Karnow

Paris in the Fifties

Why this book?

While not strictly a book on fashion in Paris, it is a wonderful exploration of all things French after World War II, and one of those things was the Christian Dior couture house. Karnow arrived in Paris in 1947 to study, and soon landed a gig writing for Time magazine. One of his assignments was a cover story on Christian Dior, whose company, in less than a decade, had become so successful it was known as the General Motors of Fashion. In the Dior chapter, Karnow beautifully evokes the mechanisms and machinations of a French couture house, and shows how fashion and Paris were deeply intertwined at the time. The rest of the book is a rollicking good read, too.


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