One of our merchant neighbours (and good customers), Diann from the fabulous frock shop Waughs, lent me a book just before Christmas that she said I’d find fascinating. We had been chatting about the new Grace Coddington autobiography and various other fashion-y books we had enjoyed and so she gave me The Beautiful Fall: Fashion, Genius and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris by Alicia Drake (Bloomsbury) which she had bought from us back in 2006 – what goes around comes around, much like in fashion…Alicia Drake is a fashion journalist based in Paris. She writes regularly for major publications such as W , International Herald Tribune and Vogue. She became really interested in the two design titans, Saint Laurent and Lagerfeld, that bestrode Paris in the 1970s and still dominate the ethereal, capricious but very much a business, world of fashion.
In 1950s Paris, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld were friends, the rising stars of the fashion world. But by the late sixties, the city was invaded by a new mood of liberation and hedonism, and dominated by intrigue, infidelities, addiction and parties. Each designer created his own mesmerizing world, so vivid and seductive that people were drawn to the power, charisma and fame, and it was to make them bitter rivals. Drake, with access to all the main players, really captures the heady abandon and spectacular characters of the time (although the focus is on the 1970s the book includes events several decades on either side of the golden age). The swirl around these two enchanting, enthralling egos is often glorious but also often oddly 13-year-old-mean-girl-cliquey: one moment I found myself wishing I ‘d been there and then profoundly glad I wasn’t. And Diann was right – I was utterly fascinated.
Drake makes clear why these two designers were so important, when not madly socialising and being fabulous (activities which she also makes clear fed and nurtured their astounding creativity), in creating themselves and the modern business and design juggernaut that is Fashion. Drake writes so well, the book is insightful, clever, a dynamic social history with just the right amount of gossip and some great photos…I was by turns fascinated, intrigued, slightly repelled and vastly amused: what a good book, what amazing, startling lives.