Haute Couture

After the Met Gala: 8 books on high fashion


Balenciaga, text by Pierre Arizzoli-Clémentel et al.; photographs by Manuel Outumuro. Thames & Hudson, 2011. 427p ISBN 0500970289, $85.00; ISBN 9780500970287, $85.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2012

Cristóbal Balenciaga Eizaguirre (1895-1972) was one of the most influential haute couture designers. His designs are known for their elegance and exceptional cut, fit, and proportions. Balenciaga’s training as a tailor enabled him to excel at the technical construction of garments even as he experimented with silhouettes and fabrics. This impressive publication, the catalogue of the Cristóbal Balenciaga Museoa, was published by the Fundación Cristóbal Balenciaga, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about this master designer. Written by Arizzoli-Clémentel (formerly, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris), Arzalluz (Fundación Cristóbal Balenciaga), Descalzo (Centro Univ. Vellanueva, Madrid), et al., the catalogue features high quality, full-color images of numerous items from the museum’s collection. The images are organized into seven categories for easy navigation of this substantial volume. Categories include early years, day, cocktail, evening, brides, essential, and accessories. Each item in the catalogue is accompanied by a short description and an explanation of its significance, both to Balenciaga’s professional history and to fashion design. Included are four essays highlighting Balenciaga’s history, training, creative process, and materials. This well-researched and well-designed publication will appeal to readers with an interest in haute couture and fashion history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through professionals/practitioners; general readers. —C. B. Cannon, Savannah College of Art and Design


Berry, Jess. House of fashion: haute couture and the modern interior. Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2018. 213p bibl index ISBN 9781474283397, $94.00; ISBN 9781474283403 pbk, $31.05; ISBN 9781474283380 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE March 2019

Berry (design history, Monash Univ., Australia) provides an in-depth investigation of the connections between interiors and Paris haute couture. The book includes an introduction, eight chapters, and extensive notes; color and black-and-white images are scattered throughout. The chapters cover topics such as the interior design of couture houses, the connections between fashion design and architecture, interior design for couturiers at home, design and image-making of couture house ateliers, displays in associated boutique spaces, and fashion and the interior since 1960. Interwoven throughout are discussions of gender and changing ideas about women as ornaments of such spaces and as owners and creators. As Berry writes in the introduction, heretofore there has been no comprehensive, scholarly treatment of this subject, and in filling that void she sought to offer the definitive work. The book is detailed and thorough, but the academic style of writing is rather formidable. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. —C. E. Berg, Museum of History and Industry


​Bincsik, ​Mónika. Kimono style: Edo traditions to modern design: the John C. Weber collection, by Monika Bincsik with contributions by Karen van Godtsenhoven and Arai Masanao. Yale, 2022. 176p bibl index ISBN 9781588397522 pbk, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2023

The emergence of modern Japan is often ascribed to the mid-19th-century arrival of American Commodore Matthew Perry’s naval fleet opening the isolated “feudal” empire to transformative Western influences. Historians now recognize that the modernization process (as defined by Western experience) was already well underway before Perry’s arrival. From the 17th century onward, Japan experienced urbanization, the growth of a monetary economy, bureaucratization, a growing sense of national identity, and other characteristics of the processes underway simultaneously in the West. Initially, “fashion consciousness” was not included in this assessment. Kimono Style, the catalogue associated with the 2022 Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition by the same title, asserts fashion’s presence unequivocally. Included essays also illustrate Japanese interaction with the West as a mutually influential two-way street. Discussion of examples of Western haute couture from the Costume Institute adds a fascinating cross-cultural perspective. Profusely illustrated, the volume also delves into the technology involved in both fabric production and dying processes, and initiates an inquiry into the production of modern mass-produced kimono. Kimono Style provides an exemplary exploration of cultural interactions and of clothing as representative of mutually influential modernization processes at work both in Japan and the West. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals. —L. A. Makela, emeritus, Cleveland State University


Blum, Dilys E. Roberto Capucci: art into fashion. Philadelphia Museum of Art/Yale, 2011. 202p ISBN 9780300169584, $50.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2011

Roberto Capucci was Johnny-on-the-spot when the “Italian School” of haute couture emerged and took root in Italy. Under impresario Giovanni Battista Giorgini, a series of Italian fashion shows was organized in the early 1950s. Capucci (1930- ) was sidelined during the 1951-52 show owing to his youth but was invited to present his clothes during a private show at Giorgini’s home–“and sold everything.” He never looked back. His highly structural clothes (he had begun his schooling wanting to be an “architect or set designer”) were flattering, imaginative, and a real threat to the primacy of French high fashion. This heavily and beautifully illustrated book by Blum (Philadelphia Museum of Art) is a necessary addition to any fashion or history of fashion collection. It serves as the catalogue for the first survey of Capucci and his work in the US, through the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and traces Capucci’s work up through the present. This volume will be important for technical programs, professionals/practitioners, and collections devoted to fashion, costume, and design. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers. —C. Stevens, Lake Forest College


Contemporary fashion, ed. by Richard Martin. St. James Press, 1995. 575p ISBN 1558621733, $135.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 1996

Focusing on architectural, sculptural, and painterly characteristics of designs, 50 fashion and costume historians bring fashion to fruition as an art form in this monumental scholarly work edited by Martin (Curator, Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute). International in scope, it is in dictionary format and includes designers, design houses, and corporations, 1945 to the present. With a latitude made possible because Martin links art, culture, and fashion, the designs embody the diversity and virtual reality of contemporary fashion, and range from haute couture to fashions inspired by popular culture, high technology, futurism, and folk or ethnic dress. The book follows the format of the “Contemporary Arts Series.” Each entry consists of a biography; bibliographical citations; where possible, statements about styles and design philosophy supplied by design houses and designers themselves, many of whom (e.g., Balmain, Cardin) profess affinities for or training in certain art forms; and a critical essay by a scholar or critic of fashion and costume history. Essays describe principles of design, signature styles, and colors and fabrics used. Inexplicably, the essay on Dior omits mention of his bent for architecture and his penchant for constructing designs like buildings. Illustrations consist of photographs; more would have been welcome. Includes notes on contributors and a geographical list of designers representing 27 countries. The work is a godsend in a field that has had scant attention. Essential for comprehensive fashion and art collections. Summing Up: All levels. —M. F. Morris, East Carolina University


Grumbach, Didier. History of international fashion, photo editor Isabelle d’Hauteville. Interlink Publishing Group, 2014. 462p bibl index ISBN 9781566569767, $45.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2015

Paris may no longer be the style capital it once was, but the influence of French fashion on the rest of the world over the past 100 years is undeniable.  Despite competition from the US, Japan, India, and other emerging markets, the varied components of the luxury apparel industry—including design and designers, technique and manufacturing, branding and advertising, and pricing and clientele—all follow patterns, trends, business models, and organizational structures established in France.  Who better to write a history and overview of the world of international haute couture and ready-to-wear than Grumbach, a figure at the center of Parisian haute couture and ready-to-wear for five decades and until recently the president of the powerful Fédération Française de la Couture?  Translated into English for the first time, and updated with extensive references, this volume was originally available in French as Histoires de la Mode (1993; updated in 2008 and 2014).  Although the inner workings of countless administrative and professional associations and syndicates will be of marginal interest to most readers, the author’s encyclopedic knowledge of his industry, his engaging writing style, extensively documented sources, and handsomely reproduced photographic images make this a readable and comprehensive reference resource. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above; general readers. —L. J. Frederiksen, Washington State University


The House of Worth 1858–1954: the birth of haute couture, by Chantal Trubert-Tollu et al. Thames & Hudson, 2017. 335p bibl index ISBN 9780500519431, $85.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2018

A comprehensive, lavishly illustrated volume about the couture house founded by Charles Frederick Worth in 1858, this book is coauthored by Worth descendant Truebert-Tollu (the great great granddaughter of the founder), costume historian Françoise Tétart-Vittu (curator of the print collection at the Palais Galleria in Paris), Jean-Marie Martin-Hattemberg (an expert on preindustrial perfume), and Fabrice Olivieri (a creator of perfumes). Other authors offer five brief essays, among them “Worth as Viewed by Painters” and “Worth and Film.” The book is organized primarily by eras of couture-house leadership: the lengthiest section looks at Charles Frederick Worth; shorter sections are devoted to subsequent partnerships of Worth descendants. The volume concludes with “Worth Perfumes and Beauty Products.” The text is extensive and detailed, focusing particularly on personal stories of the Worth family and the Worth clientele but also looking at Worth styles and operational practices. The demise of the fashion house in 1954 gets brief treatment. But any textual shortcomings are outweighed by the astounding collection of illustrations and images of surviving garments. This volume is as near definitive as such a work can be. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —C. E. Berg, Museum of History and Industry


Tailored for freedom: the artistic dress around 1900 in fashion, art and society, ed. by Ina Ewers-Schultz and Magdalena Holzhey. Hirmer, 2019. 288p ISBN 9783777431123, $55.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2019

In 1900, the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum (Krefeld, Germany) was a progressive fine and applied arts institution. The social prestige of the institution declined after WW I, and the current museum leaders revitalized the institution with an extravagant new display/exhibition based on a turn-of-the-20th-century exhibition. The present volume, like the 2018–19 exhibition it catalogues, focuses on the importance of women’s dress around 1900 as captured through fashion design and fabrication—artistic renderings expressed via paintings, photographs, and innovative technology reflecting the changes in modern revolutionary European society. The volume is more than a catalogue; it includes, in addition to a profusion of color and black-and-white images, 19 well-documented essays by specialists knowledgeable about in wide-reaching ideas reflected in the 1900 show. Women’s dresses (and accessories) of the day incorporated innovative decorations and ornamented design from widespread sources (folklore costumes, Orientalism, Art Nouveau, the Arts and Crafts movement, African images) and are treated as haute couture works of art. The book’s title alludes to the global suffrage movement and the accompanying expansion of social roles available to women through dance, exercise, and sports. The understanding of female dress as a work of art “tailored for freedom” is furthered by a 2019 haute couture traveling exhibit, Dior, from Paris to the World, first mounted at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. —B. B. Chico, Regis University