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The last two books I’ve read have both been fashion based, one was fiction and one was non-fiction. One was highly enjoyable, the other was as unpleasant as its prominent characters.

The Hundred Dresses: The Most Iconic Styles of our Time by Erin McKean

Hundred Dresses“ Inspired by the Eleanor Estes’ children’s classic The Hundred Dresses, Erin McKean’s classic-to-be by the same title, with chic illustrations by Donna Mehalko, is a definitive look at the dresses, vintage and modern, that make an inarguable statement about the woman who wears them. Each evocatively illustrated entry identifies one of a hundred different dresses accompanied by a witty and informative look at the history of that particular style, famous wearers (if applicable), and what message, subtle or overt, is conveyed by the dress. Notes on where such a style could be observed and accessories of the wearer are also included. Featured are The Wench; The Sari; The Vreeland; The Wrap; The Austen; The Beckham; The Siren (any style, as long as it’s red); The Chanel Ingenue; The Caftan; The Guinivere; The Jackie; The Slip Dress; The Biohazard (any dress dangerous to bystanders or the wearer: think Lady Gaga); and scores more. Part style commentary, part fashion blueprint, part clever field guide, The Hundred Dresses will ensure that no woman (or man) ever underestimates the power of the dress”.

This little book was absolutely delightful. I have browsed Erin’s blog before and read her previous novel, ‘The Secret Lives of Dresses’, so I already knew that I enjoyed her writing style, which is friendly and enthusiastic with an in-depth knowledge of fashion.

For a non-fiction book this was lot of fun as Erin walks through a hundred striking dresses, ranging from the staple of any wardrobe shirt-dress to the wonderfully ridiculous dresses of Cher and Gaga. This wasn’t a book listing ‘do’s and don’ts’ or a check list of the dresses we all must own, it is simply an exploration of the all the many possibilities of the versatile dress! There are no fussy rules or judgements just warm appreciation of creativity, bravery and style.

Oh and the illustrations by Donna Mehalko are beautiful, they capture not only the style of each chosen dress but also the spirit of the woman who would wear them.

Heaven, Hell and Mademoiselle by Harold Carlton

heavenhell“Four young fashion hopefuls arrive in Paris, 1968, determined to claw their way to the top of the ruthless world of the haute couture. Monique, a seamstress destined to become so much more, watches Chanel’s staff spray No 5 perfume in the street outside the famous maison de couture. Can her dreams of success and love come true in this magical place? Christopher, London born and bred, a handsome new designer, determined to make it in a world where sex-appeal and success go hand in hand – and heterosexual men are rare and prized. Samantha, an ultra-spoiled Daddy’s girl who always gets her way, has the gift of selling French perfume and fashion with sex, sex and yet more sex. But can a loud, brash American ever conquer the sophisticated ladies of Paris? And hauntingly beautiful Sophie, the top model who becomes Chanel’s ‘Face’ on a million billboards and magazine covers, yet has a terrible secret in her past that refuses to stay buried. Four young lives collide and entangle in the secretive world of French fashion as Harold Carlton weaves a spellbinding tale of passionate love, ambitious rivalry and exquisite clothes.”

I am really not sure how I made it through this book, I began to struggle with it early on and somehow just kept plodding on over the next couple of weeks but looking back I am not sure if it was worth it. The premise was interesting and the setting is a convincing time capsule examining the changing high fashion society in Paris in the late 1960s. But the interesting background could not compensate for the vapid characters, each one was relentlessly selfish and shallow, which after a while left an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

It does have a redeeming feature that kept me turning the pages. The story is closely intertwined with the last couple of years of Coco Chanel’s life. The idea of this legendary larger-than-life character trying to maintain her drive and power whilst facing an inevitable decline was utterly fascinating and heart-wrenching. It was here in the heart of Chanel that the real power of the story lies. Unfortunately the book’s main focus was on the other characters who just appear as grotesque caricatures in Chanel indomitable shadow.

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