Tobin Levy's
Fashion Book Reviews...

 The Japanese Box, Edited by Christoph Schifferli Essay by Akihito Yasumi; Published by Edition 7L, $225 (order direct from Amazon for $157.50) If the best gifts are those you want to keep for yourself then The Japanese Box is the ultimate largess. The latest and most ambitious title from Karl Lagerfeld’s imprint, Editions 7L, is a glorious collection of reprints of six rare Japanese photography publications from the 1960s and 1970s. In 1968, the photographer and writer Takuma Nakahira along with a select group of artists and writers living in Tokyo published a magazine entitled Provoke.

Investigating the relationship between photography and text, and suggesting new ways for photography to depict Japanese society, the magazine was an artistic and philosophical communiqué. Responding to the social and cultural upheavals of the late sixties and early seventies, the participating photographers, among them Daido Moriyama, searched for a radically new photographic language. "Visual images cannot represent the totality of an idea, nor are they interchangeable like words," exclaims the manifesto in the first issue of the magazine. "However, their irreversible materiality — reality cut out by the camera — belongs to the reverse side of the world of language."

As is reflected in the titles of their books, titles like Moriyama’s Farewell to Photography, and Nakahira’s For a Language to Come, the artists explored the power of their medium to express that which remained unspoken. The publications were turning points in postwar Japanese photography but, with a print run of only 1,000 copies, they remained virtually unknown in the West. The Japanese Box — a sleek wooden case containing the first three issues of Provoke, three books that were inspired by it, and an editor’s book that includes translations of the texts — makes these heretofore impossible to find publications available to the public. It is a treasure chest filled with powerful black and white images that are as gritty and subversive as they are poetic and informative. Among the photographers included are Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Takuma Nakahira, Yutaka Takanashi, and Koji Taki. It is a must have for photography lovers.

Diane Vreeland: "Why Don
  Diana Vreeland: Bazaar Years, By John Esten with Introduction by Katherine Betts; Published by Universe, $25
(order direct from Amazon for $17.50) For more than fifty years Diana Vreeland served as a mentor to almost everyone who created, made, or wore clothes. The socialite began her now legendary career at Harper’s Bazaar magazine writing a monthly column of audacious advice, or "Why Don’t Yous?" for leading a more fashionable life. In Diana Vreeland: Bazaar Years, former Bazaar art director John Esten has compiled 100 of the fashion iconoclast's infamous recommendations. "Why don’t you…wear violet mittens with everything" or "have a white monkey-fur bedcover mounted on yellow?" Or, my personal favorite, "why don’t you put all your dogs in bright yellow collars and leads like all the dogs in Paris?" While hilarious, if not seemingly absurd, Vreeland ideas and advice redefined American women. The column "contained flights from the humdrum existence of a country in the depths of a Great Depression." It also engendered the doyenne’s lifelong quest "for the suggestion of something I've never seen," a quest that ultimately revolutionized women's fashion and the magazine industry.

In the book, Vreeland’s columns are accompanied by classic images taken by many of the photographers she championed during her tenure at the publication, renowned photographers such as Munkacsi, Dahl-Wolfe, Horst, and Avedon. Their work further captures the dazzling legacy of elegance and style of Mrs. Vreeland’s 25 Bazaar years. So, what should you buy people for Christmas this year? You could do as Vreeland suggests in her December 1936 column, and "give [them] a satin-finished platinum box with all the diamonds, rubies, and sapphires in the world scooped together and smeared in a lovely design on the lid?" Or, you could just buy them a copy of Diane Vreeland: Bazaar Years.

Richard Avedon: Made in France
 Richard Avedon: Made in France Essay by Judith Thurman; Published by Fraenkel Gallery, $75 (order direct from Amazon for $52.50 ) There are coffee table books, and then there are books you want to frame and mount on your wall. Richard Avedon: Made in France hangs confidently in the latter category. This collection of a small but central body of work in the career of fashion photographer Richard Avedon is as visually arresting as it is capable of transporting the viewer overseas and across decades, making it the perfect gift for wayfaring art lovers.

The large-format book comprises 40 classic images — including Dorian Leigh dressed in Lanvin-Castillo, Audrey Hepburn wearing Dior, and Avedon’s iconographic Dovima with Elephants, Cirque d’Hiver — made in 1950s Paris for Harper’s Bazaar. The 8 x 10inch photos are printed with tritone plates and reproduced uncropped, on their original mounts, with all of the artist’s notations on both front and back. "A picture in a magazine is a view without a window," explains Avedon. "Here you have the window — the context of production." The images, along with the eloquent introduction by New Yorker writer Judith Thurman, not only provide a remarkable portrait of the photographer’s working methods, but also offer entrance into a "madcap Paree" [with] its high and low life, its monde and demimonde." It is a city much like the images presented, defined and refined by contradiction. The elegance and romance of Avedon’s models and their dress are heightened by the juxtaposition of light and dark, simple and ornate, and beg return trips.

 Halston, Edited by Steven Bluttal with Essays by Patricia Mears; Published by Phaidon, $39.95 560 pgs/200 color/300 b&w; (order direct from Amazon for $27.96)For your fashionista friends and those perennially nostalgic for Liza Minnelli’s glory days, Cheryl Tiegs, and the original shirtwaist dress, slinky halter, and knitted cape-stole, buy a copy of Steven Bluttal’s Halston. The titanic visual anthology of the life and legacy of the man who "dominated the sexy seventies by wrapping it in cashmere, upholstering it in Ultrasuede, and perfuming it with his signature fragrance," is also, perhaps unwittingly, a picture led history of 1970s celebrity culture. Paparazzi shots of the maestro with the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Bianca Jagger, mingle with catwalk photographs, behind-the-scenes images of fashion shows and parties, magazine clippings and photographs of Halston’s coll ections. The images are interspersed with essays by Patricia Mears on the varied periods of Halston’s career along with quotes by the infamous milliner and his A-list clients, friends and associates. While the book's essays offer few new insights into the mind behind the pillbox hat and ready-to-wear fashion, the myriad pictures offer an unprecedented account of Iowa-born Roy Halston Frowick’s self-transformation into Halston of New York: a fashion icon and one-name superstar.
  Question or Comments? E-mail Tobin. About Tobin Levy: Originally from Austin, Texas, our contributing book editor comes to us from Talk magazine. She has also contributed to Elle, American Health, and Philadelphia Magazine. She is currently a freelance writer in New York City where she lives with Xena Warrior Princess...her cat.

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