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Originally published Thursday, December 19, 2013 at 5:05 AM

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Gift list: 5 chic books about fashion and style

A list of some of 2013’s most elegant coffee-table books about fashion, style and design, including a compendium of art deco posters and a slim volume on Coco Chanel.


Seattle Times movie critic

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Looking for something stylish for a loved one’s chic coffee table? Here are five of the most elegant books to cross my desk this season.

1. “The Art Deco Poster,” by William W. Crouse (The Vendome Press, $65). Crouse, cited on the book jacket as having a collection of art deco cocktail shakers “considered to be among the best in the world” (now where’s that book?), assembles here a handsome, hefty collection of art deco posters, all printed between World War I and World War II. The travel posters stand out, with ominously dark trains and elegantly angular ocean liners seeming to slice the images in two, but some of the arts posters are wonderfully fanciful, such as one for dancer Lisa Duncan in which her body merges into the shape of a grand piano.

2. “The Fashion Book,” unnamed editors (Phaidon Press, $59.95). Did you know that Laura Ashley’s designs precipitated a fashion movement called “milkmaidism,” that the Beatles’ 1962 collarless gray jackets were inspired by Pierre Cardin, that New York Times street photographer Bill Cunningham once photographed Greta Garbo’s coat before recognizing its owner, or that Karl Lagerfeld claims to have 300 iPods? Organized as an encyclopedia, from A (early 20th century photographer James Abbe) to Z (Serbian-born designer Zoran), “The Fashion Book” is great fun to flip through — whether or not you already know Erté (Jazz Age illustrator) from Etro (Italian textile designer).

3. “Luxe Fashion: A Tribute to the World’s Most Enduring Labels,” by Caroline Cox (Running Press, $50). Another handsome coffee-table tome, “Luxe Fashion” salutes not trends but history. Organized chronologically, it begins with James Locke and Co., a London hat shop founded in 1676 and still busily covering the heads of men like the Prince of Wales (who has his Turnberry caps made in the same tweed as his suits), and ends with the iconic Italian knitwear brand Missoni, in business since 1953. In between, brands you know (handbag giant Coach, established in 1941), and some you don’t but wish you did (Italian firm Ombrellificio Maglia Francesco, makers of bella umbrellas since 1854).

4. “The Allure of Chanel,” by Paul Morand (Pushkin Press, $50). You may shudder, as I did, at $50 for a smallish paperback, but this elegant little book is a pleasure for anyone fascinated by the ever-quotable Coco Chanel. First published in 1976 and now featuring 73 drawings by Karl Lagerfeld (his Coco has a chin that looks like it could cut glass), it’s based on a series of conversations between Morand and the designer, and is peppered with Chanel-isms. Such as: “I don’t like eccentricity except in others,” “Beauty endures, prettiness passes” and “Nothing looks more like artificial jewelry than a very beautiful gem.”

5. “Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait,” by Kendra Bean (Running Press, $30). This book isn’t so much a biography (though the life story, in all its brief sadness, is there), but a collection of dazzling photographs of one of cinema’s most hauntingly beautiful stars. Most are black-and-white; many have not been previously published — such as one taken in 1946, for the cover of LIFE magazine, of a pensive Leigh in a black lace veil. She disliked the photograph and tore up the prints — now, more than 60 years later, it’s hard to pull your eyes away from it; she seems, gazing away from the photographer with an expression that suggests both serenity and storm, like an artist’s uncanny creation.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com



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