The best books on fashion to explore the provocative talents of the industry

Emma Baxter-Wright Author Of Chanel Paperscapes: The Book That Transforms Into a Work of Art
By Emma Baxter-Wright

Who am I?

As a failed fashion designer, the history of twentieth-century fashion, represented both visually and in the form of narrative text, make up the bulk of my ever-increasing library of fashion books. In order to write about fashion, either as a biographer of one of the great designers or cutting-edge photographers, it is crucial to acknowledge what was deemed as desirable in a previous generation and a previous context. As Yves Saint Laurent famously said, "Fashion fades, Style is eternal." Fashion in its broader sense has never existed in a vacuum and an understanding of fashion history and fashion imagery, that so clearly evokes a specific era, is the very best way to appreciate the cyclical nature of this creative business.  


I wrote...

Chanel Paperscapes: The Book That Transforms Into a Work of Art

By Emma Baxter-Wright,

Book cover of Chanel Paperscapes: The Book That Transforms Into a Work of Art

What is my book about?

Filled with 55 classic Chanel designs and products, and including six removable prints, Chanel Paperscapes is the ultimate gift for fans of the great fashion house.

From Chanel No5 to the Little Black Dress, each stylish illustration can be pressed out of the page, turning your book into a beautiful object to treasure and display. The gorgeous images are accompanied by the story of Gabrielle Chanel's life, inspiration, and designs.

The books I picked & why

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Jean Paul Gaultier

By Colin McDowell,

Book cover of Jean Paul Gaultier

Why this book?

In his early career, Gaultier was a regular visitor to London and took inspiration from Soho’s indie art school clubs, Billy’s, The Blitz, The Wag. As a fashion student at St. Martins at the time, we were often on the same dance floor together and I identified with his rebellious attitude, which continued to challenge the fashion status quo and never waned. Glossy catwalk pictures of a distinct tribe of models, (not the usual crowd of supermodels) original design sketches, quotes from JPG the "enfant terrible" of Parisian fashion who famously broke all the rules on gender in the 1990s, and an intelligent text by Colin McDowell, a renowned fashion historian, all contribute to a wonderful book that brilliantly captures the truly unique talent of this designer. 

Jean Paul Gaultier

By Colin McDowell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jean Paul Gaultier as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jean-Paul Gaultier is fashion's polymath. His name is a byword for outrageous, witty and even revolutionary fashion. As a designer, a TV star and gay icon he has used his subversive sense of humour to make us question our attitudes towards sex, social values and cultural morality. But it would be wrong to assume that he is merely the court jester of the international fashion world. He has never failed to produce collections of total originality that inspire as much as they shock. He has been designing for twenty years, and never once has he followed the fashion: he has…


Irreverent

By Carine Roitfeld,

Book cover of Irreverent

Why this book?

When I started out working on magazines everybody told me not to look at British Vogue, (which was apparently rubbish at the time) but to save up and buy a copy of Italian or French Vogue, both of which featured stunning photographic spreads and crazily innovative ideas that were too avant-garde for the Brits. Carine Roitfeld, fashion director at French Vogue was responsible for the daring often controversial shoots that appeared in the stylish glossy for a 10-year period. Known for her sense of humour and her desire to constantly investigate new designers and unexplored territory, this massive volume of her work features lavish editorial stories from her tenure at Vogue and the memorable advertising campaigns she shot with Tom Ford at Gucci in the 1990s.

Irreverent

By Carine Roitfeld,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Irreverent as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Carine, and her vision of French Vogue, embodies all that the world likes to think of as Parisian style: a sense of chic that's impeccable and sometimes idiosyncratic and which forever lives on a moonlit street as seen through the lens of Helmut Newton."--Anna Wintour Karl Lagerfeld once said that if you close your eyes and imagine the ideal French woman, it would be Carine Roitfeld. She is a fashion visionary and a muse. Since the start of her career in the early 1990s, through her collaborations with the legendary photographer Mario Testino, Roitfeld has been credited with launching Tom…


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

By Alicia Drake,

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

Why this book?

Meticulously researched by brilliant fashion journalist Alicia Drake, this book charts the bitchy, high octane rivalry of two mega egos of the industry, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. As a journalist working today in an era of horrendous consumerism known as ‘fast fashion’ this detailed account of how both men were instrumental in shifting the established codes of a refined haute couture system into a faster-paced ready-to-wear market in the 1970s is illuminating. It also documents the evolution of couturier as a celebrity, detailing how YSL used an image of himself to promote his aftershave in 1971, a revolutionary idea of self-promotion at the time, and now a very necessary part of the ‘selfie’ obsessed generation of creatives working in fashion.  

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

By Alicia Drake,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Beautiful Fall as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1950s Paris, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld were friends, the rising stars of the fashion world. But by the late sixties, the city was invaded by a new mood of liberation and hedonism, and dominated by intrigue, infidelities, addiction and parties. Each designer created his own mesmerizing world, so vivid and seductive that people were drawn to the power, charisma and fame, and it was to make them bitter rivals. "The Beautiful Fall" is a dazzling expose of an era and the story of the two men who were its essence and who remain its most singular survivors.


Quant by Quant: The Autobiography of Mary Quant

By Mary Quant,

Book cover of Quant by Quant: The Autobiography of Mary Quant

Why this book?

A totally unpretentious, rollicking first-hand account, of the events that spawned the mythology of the Swinging Sixties of which Mary Quant was an integral part. Having grown up with Quant as a fashion hero, I was thrilled to collaborate with her on a retail beauty video in the 1990s and researched her professional background by reading this autobiography. (first published in 1966, and recently re-issued to coincide with the Quant exhibition at the V&A last year). Credited with inventing hot pants and the mini skirt, purple lipstick, and striped underwear, this old-fashioned biography recounts how the music and fashion that exploded from London during this era, culminated in the invention of ‘youth culture’ a shifting phenomenon that England continually excels in. Without formal training, Quant’s naive optimism is hugely uplifting and will encourage any aspiring designer to follow their dreams. 

Quant by Quant: The Autobiography of Mary Quant

By Mary Quant,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Quant by Quant as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The autobiography of Mary Quant-the inventor of the miniskirt-was originally published in 1966 at the height of Swinging London. After opening her groundbreaking boutique Bazaar on London's King's Road in 1955, Quant soared to international fame with her brand of witty style that fitted perfectly with modern city life. She was at the forefront of fashion's democratization-seeking to eliminate snobbery and "make fashionable clothes available to everyone." Her joyful, evocative autobiography captures the world in which she found inspiration-and which she ultimately helped to define and change.


Buffalo

By Ray Petri,

Book cover of Buffalo

Why this book?

Throughout the 1980’s new style magazines like The Face, ID and Arena regularly succeeded in presenting the holy grail of fashion photography, with one man responsible for more iconic imagery than anyone else.  Ray Petri was a genius stylist who invented a ragga, post-punk identity that operated under the banner of Buffalo, a gang of like-minded creatives that included photographers, models, and fashion stylists who produced ground-breaking work together.  The Buffalo collective exuded an attitude that exalted the street and rejected high-status fashion, taking inspiration from the Caribbean rude boys who looked effortlessly cool in teenage gangs. 

His distinct vision that subverted fashion imagery (Nick Kamen in a skirt and Doc Martens) juxtaposed pretty boy masculinity with hard-edged utilitarian workwear. His legacy as a style innovator is immense, his imagery instantly recognisable, and his body of work, much of which is represented in this book, continues to inspire a legion of imitators. 

Buffalo

By Ray Petri,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Buffalo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in fashion, France, and fashion designers?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about fashion, France, and fashion designers.

Fashion Explore 43 books about fashion
France Explore 694 books about France
Fashion Designers Explore 12 books about fashion designers

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Vivienne Westwood, Arsho Baghsarian, and In My Fashion if you like this list.