Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fashionable Reads

I feel quite book-ish today and thought it would be time to share with you some of the books which satisfied my craving for literary fashion and nourished my creative soul. These books were carefully selected according to their subject matter. I specifically look for novels which feature designers, dressmakers, seamstresses or the like as main characters and which would revolve around making clothes in one way or another. So here they are:

The Collection: A Novel by Gioia Diliberto

Even if you could not care less about dressmaking but do enjoy historical novels this read may intereste you. It tells a story of a young seamstress who gets a rare opportunity to come to Paris and work for Gabrielle Coco Chanel. Shy and inexperienced she is drawn into the world of competitive fashion designers, arrogant higher-class clients and dazzling glamour of Paris. However, the dizzying fashion capitol of the world is not as attractive to me in this book as Diliberto's depictions of Isabelle's hard work on couture garments in designer's fashion houses. I love to listen to the sound of fabric rustling in between the pages of my books. The juicy descriptions of garments and minute details of clothes making are my favourite features of this novel. A close look at Chanel's personality is another good reason to pick up this book.

Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky by Chris Greenhalgh

This is another historical novel that feature Coco Chanel as its main heroine. This novel focuses on the tumultuous relationship she has with Igor Stravinsky after his family was exiled from Russia and she hosts them at her summer cottage. I cannot but accentuate the beauty and the poetic quality of Greenhalgh's language which kept me glued to this novel until the end. The novel presents an even more intimate portrait of the revolutionary designer than The Collection. While her biographical episodes are of interested to me, it is the descriptions of the process of creation - both of Chanel's designs and Stravinsky's music - that grabbed me the most. My Russian roots augmented my interest in this novel. I also happen to have visited Stravinsky's grave in Venice, where he is buried next to Sergei Diaghilev (who also figures in the novel).

Duaghilev's Tombstone in Venice
Igor Stravinsky's tombstone  in Venice

The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickney

Yet another historical novel. (Mind you, I did not realize until now that I was into historical novels!) This time, however, the main character is an Austrian painter - Gustav Klimt. The narrator of the novel is Emilie Floge - his student and occasional model with whom he develops a friendship of unclear boundaries. I like the portrayal of the-turn-of-the-century Vienna and its culture scene. There is no shortage of art salons and bohemian artists, Klimt including. But I do find Emilie's character quite unsatisfactory! Either she purposely does not reveal enough of her inner workings or she just lacks personality. Yet, I have to forgive her. After all, it is because of her that I started reading this novel. She becomes a fashion designer and opens her fashion house. (You knew that was coming!) The depiction of her creative endeavours are not as rich as in The Collection but they are there and, combined with Gustav's artistry, make up for quite a delicious, albeit a tragic, read.

Thought of the day: Reading is always in fashion!

P.S. If you happen to have read other books similar to these, you will make me happy if you suggest them in  the comments below.

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