Currently Reading: Vintage Fashion and Couture

I bought this book in a moment of weakness.  I had sworn off any more books aimed at the vintage market, but after seeing some of the pages from this one, I let my guard down.

First, it has to be said that Kerry Taylor is a professional in the vintage business.  After running the Costume and Textiles division at Sotheby’s, she went on to establish her own auction house that specializes in clothing and textiles.  She’s handled thousands of old garments, and has seen works come through her business that most of us see only in museums.  Kerry Taylor knows vintage clothing.

But that aside, her book is like most other books on collecting vintage clothing.  It tries to be both history and sales guide, and it ends up failing at both.

It was this type of page that made me order the book.  Kerry picked out influential designers from each decade, and then showed typical garments, and even details and labels.   The Delphos dress on the right is quite commonly seen, but the stenciled velvet coat and jacket are not, and it is great having them illustrated in the book.  Had all the pages lived up to this quality, the book would be a real treasure.

In this page on Jeanne Lanvin, we are shown two dresses, including an example of her famous robe de style.  I know you can’t read it, but on each of the pages the last paragraph or two is about the market for that designer.  This information is very valuable, especially for people who can afford to buy at that level of collecting.

And while I’m not a fan of Martin Margiela, I did like the section showing and explaining his work.

Taylor also has sections illustrating style “icons.”  This one is, of course, Audrey Hepburn.  We’d know that dress anywhere, which is a problem.  Many of the photographs in the book are so commonly seen as to be nonessential.  Why show a photo of Hepburn in this dress, when most people have seen it many times?

Another example is this photo of Coco Chanel.  This section was, however, saved by the inclusion of the early Chanel labels.

But my biggest problem with the vintage photos is this particular one showing Dior’s famous Bar suit of 1947.  This photo has become almost synonymous with the suit, even though it was taken in 1957.  There is quite a bit wrong with this photo, as Jonathan Walford has explained.  Seriously, fashion publishers, it is time to retire this photo.

Unfortunately, there are also quite a few factual errors in the book.  The first one I noticed was in the Lanvin information.  Taylor wrote that Antonio Castillo was the designer at Lanvin from 1963, when actually he was there from 1950 through 1963.  In writing about Schiaparelli, Taylor declares that there does not seem to be a surviving example of her skeleton dress of 1938, when in fact, there is one in Taylor’s own city, at the Victoria and Albert.   Taylor also changes history by putting the Woodstock festival in 1968 instead of 69.

After catching the first error, I had to make myself stop looking for others.  The temptation was to sit with a fashion encyclopedia at hand and fact-check the entire book.  Since the book is somewhat UK-centric, I have no idea about so many of the labels she discussed, but I know I’d never quote this book without double-checking elsewhere.  In short, it is pretty much useless as a reference.

It makes me wish that Taylor had just stuck to what she knew, and that is the vintage market.  There was so much potential that just did not materialize.

21 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Currently Reading

21 responses to “Currently Reading: Vintage Fashion and Couture

  1. Oh my! I would have bought it toooo! Lovely purchase even with the errors which I would not have known!

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  2. What a shame that this book was such a missed opportunity for Kerry Taylor.

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  3. Thank you so much for excellent book
    del reviews such as this one!

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  4. What a lovely selection of fashion! Same though about the errors! It always makes me nervous when reading something and then noticing errors. It makes me question the rest of it!

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  5. Agnes

    thank you so much for this review – I still _might_ buy the book but I will print this review out and put in inside the cover to remind me to fact check before using it in a class. Thank You!

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  6. John

    Now look what you made me do! I’m now bedazzled by items in Kerry Taylor Auction sales! Check out on her website. Personally, I love collecting auction catalogues and these could be a whole new reference venue! Thanks you rascal!!

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  7. Liz….being a lay person in the field of fashion, I would never have noticed the errors you pointed out. I enjoyed your article… guess mine is a case of “ignorance is bliss”. (However, I DID know that Woodstock was August of ’69).

    Did you notice the Dior Suit has the “Padded Hips” introduced as “THE NEW LOOK” in the 50’s. (Hope that is the right year…. I had one in ’53.)

    Thanks for another interesting blog article.

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  8. I bought the book AND was given one for Christmas. I still haven’t looked at it and then I read your review! Of course you are going to be a tough reviewer, but that’s why we love you.

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  9. Thanks for the fair-minded but hard-hitting review, Lizzie. It really is tough to write a “new” (and necessary) book for the vintage market at this point, and it sounds like this one waffled too much on its angle. Too bad!

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  10. Wow, placing Woodstock in 1968 is a huge error to make (and one for which her editors should be ashamed too!).

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  11. Jane C

    Just purchased this book but haven’t started it yet. Wish I had read your review first, but will try to enjoy the photos, even those overused.

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