Mavericks & Bombshells: Good Reads

From Henry Ford 2nd to Madonna, fall's best reads look back at trendsetters’ early beginnings.

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“Richard Corman: Madonna NYC 83” (Damiani/D.A.P., available Nov. 30), by Richard Corman. Corman photographs a baby-faced Madonna wearing piles of PVC bracelets, torn jeans, petticoats and crucifix earrings during her early years in New York. Her considerable charisma comes across in every shot, even when she’s wearing loads of little fake braids and a hat à la early Boy George or an Eighties’ color-blocked sweater, with her hair bleached blonde with black roots and full of styling product. She has a powerful rapport with the camera.

“Bold, Beautiful and Damned: The World of 1980s Fashion Illustrator Tony Viramontes”
(Laurence King), by Dean Rhys-Morgan, with a foreword by Jean Paul Gaultier and an afterword by Amy Fine Collins. Viramontes died at 31, but his ultradramatic, colorful drawings, influenced by his mentor Antonio Lopez, live again in the pages of this book. His images have a vibrant, kinetic line that is difficult to resist. It’s just right, for instance, for showing what’s special about Stephen Sprouse and his designs.

“Lettering Large: Art and Design of Monumental Typography” (The Monacelli Press), by Steven Heller and Miro Ilic. With their big-is-better ethos, Heller and Ilic set out to showcase all sorts of messages in large type in many kinds of media. Examples range from lettered parapets on an English country house to lettered minarets in Afghanistan and Morocco, to the big 9 in front of a 57th Street building in New York to a statue of the word “ego” in huge letters that went up in flames at the Burning Man Festival.

“Refashioned: Cutting-Edge Clothing From Upcycled Materials” (Laurence King), by Sass Brown. This book examines the work of a variety of fashion companies, from the French OTRA (On the Road Again), which uses bicycle tire inner tubes, to Australian MILCH, which turns men’s wear into women’s clothes, including bags and hats made of men’s pants pockets, and Atelier Awash, which makes vegetable-dyed scarves from materials sourced on a small Ethiopian farm. Meanwhile, Steinwidder’s off-the-shoulder sweater dresses and hoodies began life as damaged factory-made socks.

“Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa”
(The Monacelli Press; available Nov. 12), by Karen E. Milbourne. Milbourne, a curator at the Museum of African Art, shows ceramics and earthworks from Africa here, along with mud-dyed cloth and stone or bronze sculptures. Also considered: artwork in ancient caves, and the patterns in a landscape created by miners panning for gold. This book accompanies a current exhibition at the Museum of African Art.

“Sixties Fashion: From Less Is More to Youthquake” (Thames & Hudson), by Jonathan Walford. With a teenage Twiggy in a yellow dress and flowered tie on the cover, and a first chapter devoted to high fashion in the early Sixties, this is a definitive book. Walford, a founding curator of the Bata Shoe Museum and a founder of the Fashion History Museum, both in Canada, traces the changes that come after fashion comes under the sway of the young, from Mary Quant’s miniskirts to Biba’s disposable fashion to the Sergeant Pepper look and paper dresses. Remember those?

“Pearls” (V&A/Abrams), by Beatriz Chadour-Sampson with Hubert Bari. This book is a tie-in with an exhibition currently at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Chadour-Sampson is a jewelry historian, while Bari is curator at the Qatar Museum Authority. Queen Victoria, the Empress Eugénie, Queen Alexandra…pearls, particularly in the form of necklaces, have long been a hallmark of royalty and aristocracy…or just plain high society. The jewelry ranges from a big pearl earring once worn by Charles I in a Van Dyck portrait — and at his execution — to classic, long pearl strands to a pendant of a ship with Venus and Cupid detailed in pearls. Queen Elizabeth I wore many of them to symbolize purity, chastity and the wealth of her kingdom. And pearls were shaped into an Art Nouveau dog collar called Yarrow, with the herb in question fashioned in enamel, by Maison Vever.

“Amber, Guinevere & Kate Photographed by Craig McDean: 1993-2005” (Rizzoli), with interviews by Glenn O’Brien. The title says it all. Here are some of the most iconic models of our day, early in their careers, photographed by a master. Amber, for instance, appears in everything from face paint to a fur-trimmed coat, while Guinevere is at her most striking in minimalist looks. Kate, for her part, is a pretty schoolgirl in a little camisole, a big white shirt or underwear.

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