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Fashion’s Best Kept Secret – Books

By Guan Tan



In My Fashion

Authored by American Vogue's editor Bettina Ballard, who was dispatched to Paris. She tells of how she worked from the Parisian Vogue office writing and sending drafts back to American Vogue via telegram. Here, she divulges her intimate relationships with Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Cristobal Balenciaga and Hubert de Givenchy – also the state of fashion in wartime, and how the industry scrapped a near extinguish. The book is now out of print, and the prices of second-hand editions have been exorbitant on Amazon and eBay for the past couple of years.

Dior by Dior

You’ll be surprised at Dior's easy pen and flair for story-telling. The man examines a dichotomy between his real reticent and reclusive self against his public, fashion designer self. But what is most striking, memorable, and formative is his philosophy of fashion, and Haute Couture alike. "Fashion has a life and laws of its own which are difficult for the ordinary intelligence to grasp," he wrote. And we'll leave it as that.


Before Anna Wintour helmed American Vogue, there was Grace Mirabella, and even more esteemed was Diana Vreeland. In here, Vreeland muses about fashion in the most unapologetic, flamboyant way. Watch her documentary, "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel" on M2M.tv before reading this book, and you could literally hear her yelling at you through the pages, saying, "Harper's Bazaar is for the well-dressed woman with a well-dressed mind!"

Grace: A Memoir

This hardback, 416-page book is surprisingly lightweight. Grace Coddington reveals her modelling days, a tragic car accident that halted her career, and subsequently her entrance to American Vogue. Parallel to her career trajectory is an amusing and hilarious account of her relationships – romantic, Anna Wintour, and her cats. An entertaining page-turner.

 Shocking Life

Penned by Elsa Schiaparelli, a name you might not be familiar with, but she's Coco Chanel contemporary and rival – a terse relationship you'll read in here. Schiaparelli's designs were Surrealist – Lobster on breasts and shoe on head, and she was part of the Parisian couturier pack riding fashion through both wars, to which she said, "In difficult times fashion is always outrageous."

 The Glass of Fashion

This 400-page book I've never finished. It's been years past but I'll never forget how my lecturer christened this the fashion bible and told us to "forget about this industry if you haven't read it!" It's a wordy read, characteristic of English literature. In here, Beaton addresses cornerstone principles of seasonal trends versus classicism, "Fashions are ephemeral – but fashion is enduring", and personal style, "You can lead a woman to Dior, but how she will look in it is another matter."


It’s fashion downtime – May is a quiet stretch for the otherwise frantic fashion industry, barely speckled with a handful of Resort fashion shows. This week we saw the industry jet from Paris, Los Angeles, to Kyoto. Onwards, June and July famously denotes summer vacations for most fashion designers and their teams. And while you’re on 18-hour flights with time to spare, or holidaying in a quaint Ryokan in Kyoto, there’s nothing quite like an intelligent fashion book. Not coffee table books, but fashion literature that will give you a good laugh and astute grasp of the industry at large. Here, six recommended fashion classics for the "well-dressed woman with a well-dressed mind." 

In My Fashion, by Bettina Ballard is available on eBay.
Dior by Dior, by Christian Dior is available on Book Depository.
D.V., by Diana Vreeland is available on Amazon.
Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington is available on Book Depository.
Shocking Life by Elsa Schiaparelli is available on V&A.
The Glass of Fashion by Cecil Beaton is available on Amazon.