“Be-Spoke: Revelations from the World’s Most Important Fashion Designers”

Marylou Luther Portrait Illustrated by Ruben Toledo
All illustrations © Ruben Toledo

During Marylou Luther’s illustrious 70-year career, she forged friendships with and interviewed many of the world’s most revered, highly influential designers beginning with Christian Dior in 1957, just months before his death. About 3 years ago, Marylou reviewed some files she had labeled “Designer Comments.”

After taking a closer look, Luther realized she had a collection of notable quotes and thought they would make a great book. Marylou asked Ruben Toledo if he was interested in working with her, and he said, “Yes!”

“Marylou Luther has been able to gracefully infiltrate East Coast/West Coast sophistication with her own sense of style. The longevity of her career and its connection to the past has been possible because she remains a force in the present. This book attests to that.”

Stan Herman.

Marylou told her good friend Stan Herman about the proposed project, and he relayed the information to Jeffrey Banks, who had published five books by Rizzoli. Banks, in turn, introduced Luther to Rizzoli, and the result is “Be-Spoke: Revelations from the World’s Most Important Fashion Designers” by Marylou Luther © Rizzoli New York, 2023. The foreword is by Stan Herman and an afterword by Rick Owens. Ruben Toledo’s vibrant watercolor fashion illustrations bring designers’ quotes to life.

The hardcover 9” X 12”, 192-page tome is available for pre-order with a scheduled release date of February 14. Perfect, since this is Luther’s “love letter” to the fashion world. I received an advance copy earlier this month. The book is informative, endlessly amusing, visually arresting, and highly entertaining. It’s a perfect way to start the New Year and a new fashion cycle.

“Be-Spoke” is an excellent read whether you are a fashion novice or a seasoned fashion insider. If you don’t know anything about fashion, almost everything you need to know (the names of important designers, their philosophies, their work) is included in this book. If you are a seasoned fashion pro it is a joyful reaffirmation of why you gravitated to fashion in the first place.

The illustrated collection of quotes from 72 designers spans generations, dating from Coco Chanel, born in 1883, to Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss, born in 1986, and includes virtually everyone who is anyone. The quotes are from Marylou’s interviews as a fashion journalist for the Des Moines Register, the Chicago Tribune, McCall’s Fashion News, the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, the International Fashion Syndicate, and Fashion Group International.

In a few cases, they were pulled from personal exchanges Luther had with the designer or taken from designers’ fashion show program notes. FYI, Marylou says Michael Kors has the best show program notes. I agree.

“I realized the book would not be good and would be too obvious if I used a designer quote and a designer sketch. I thought it would be more interesting if Ruben interpreted that quote in his wonderful artistic way” .

Marylou Luther

I am lucky to call Luther and Toledo dear friends; I had a chance to speak with them about their sensational collaboration. One of Marylou’s motivations for the book is her unwavering desire to educate the young generation and get them interested in learning more about fashion history. Another was Marylou’s desire to give designers a voice; they are mostly judged by their clothes and not by what they say.

As a writer, I appreciate the power of a great quote. While I was familiar with a few of the more well-known quotes in Marylou’s book, most are complete revelations. Some are pretty surprising and revealing, while others are even eerily prescient. “Fashion needs to shut up and look at itself – it needs a minute of silence to adjust after the pandemic” – Demna Gvasalia.

Marylou’s favorite quote is the one by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, which appeared in an article she wrote for the Los Angeles Times: “Fashion fades. Only style remains the same. Only those with no memory insist on their originality. Yves Saint Laurent has excellent taste. The more he copies me, the better taste he displays.” “The audacity of accusing someone of copying her is just amazing,” observes Luther.

“My specialty is getting to someone’s secret sauce or their essence. When I draw a designer, I know their love, passion, and expertise, and I appreciate all the minuteness of the details they adore.”

Ruben Toledo

Ruben wanted the book to have the same “sense of discovery” that Marylou brings to her interviews. His task was to channel Marylou’s quotes and capture the designer’s essence, DNA, and mood. Marylou gave Ruben free creative reign and allowed him to do what he wanted.

Marylou, known for her witty word plays, came up with several titles. Her choice would have been, “They Said What?” The picture on the back of the book is what she feels the book is all about. Every time they picked a new title, Ruben drew another cover.

Ruben loves all the portraits, but if he had to pick one for the cover, it would be his portrait of Marylou, which I agree is sensational. In the end, the Rizzoli art director selected Ruben’s interpretation of Ralph Rucci’s quote, and it’s fabulous of course.

I adore all the portraits, especially Coco Chanel with YSL peering through a telescope over her shoulder, Saint Laurent’s tuxedo-clad army, Geoffrey Beene’s witty polka dots (“the most glamorous ladybugs” says Toledo), Rick Owens’ glam rockers falling through the sky, big shoulders and giant platforms in tow, Thom Browne’s signature uniforms, and Yohji Yamamoto’s black clad beauties, which illustrate his quote about an ongoing “addiction to black”, which many of us fashion folk are ‘guilty’ of!

And it’s impossible to not be moved by the portrait of Isabel Toledo, who passed away in 2019. I asked Ruben what it was like for him to do his late wife Isabel’s portrait. “It was difficult, but it flowed right out of my brush,” he stated. Ruben feels Isabel’s presence constantly; in fact, Ruben says the book channels Isabel’s infectious love of fashion.

In 1953 Frank Eyerly, Managing Editor of The Des Moines Register, told the young Marylou Luther that she was to be the new fashion editor. Luther, who had been at the paper for only 6 weeks, told him she couldn’t, as she knew nothing about fashion. He said, “you’ll learn.” Boy did she ever, and at the age of 92, still is!

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Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

1 Comment
  1. As a couture designer and fashion illustrator of more than 40 years, I know I’ll be amused and delighted by Marylou Luther’s
    book! She never interviewed me, but I had the pleasure of interviewing her last February. What we have in common is our passion for fashion and being from Nebraska!

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