The Beautiful Fall
A sophisticated read for anyone interested in fashion history.
The Beautiful Fall is the kind of biography I find fascinating: It reads like fiction, but the story and events chronicled in this book are real. How many times have you said to yourself, “I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall”? Author Alicia Drake, a former contributing editor for British Vogue and W, tells an enthralling tale of competition, creativity and high-society Parisian chic…offering the perfect release for vintage fashion voyeurism.
As a young man, I combed the pages of W and French Vogue…hungry to be part of the larger world of fashion, a realm that seemed otherworldly and out-of-reach. The characters in that world – and their lives – were extraordinary…or so they appeared to me at the time. Designers were alluring and wonderfully talented…larger-than-life. They had the best stuff, lived in the chicest places, attended the most lavish parties, whether in New York, Paris or Milan. Glamour in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s…each decade became more fascinating than the previous one.
All those feelings of stylish exoticism are packed into this book, plus more, as Drake chronicles the careers of two of fashion’s greatest icons: Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld. The book opens with two young couture students placing in an international fashion contest – Saint Laurent winning in two categories and Lagerfeld winning in one. This first competition would mark a lifetime rivalry between the two superstars that would force friends to choose sides, bitterly divide the press and shake the very definition of what high fashion was to be.
When The Beautiful Fall was published, it was said that Karl Lagerfeld bought all the copies in Paris and then sued the author for misrepresenting him. The reader will be left to wonder whether Mr. Lagerfeld might have made some “embellishments” in his story, but I find that point immaterial. His talent and mark on fashion cannot be disputed.
Unlike Saint Laurent (a couture devotee, who at a very young age was to be the heir to the House of Dior), Lagerfeld’s career went in the opposite direction…a gun for hire. He declared haute couture a dying art. At any given time, he was freelance designing for several houses simultaneously. Lagerfeld – so naturally talented and prolific – when asked what a competing designer might offer for the upcoming fall collection…could sketch it up quickly and invariably be right.
Why is this worthy of mention to you and your staff? In my studies of literature, I remember my professors constantly bringing up the concept of the literary allusion – books or references woven into the fabric of another story…that will return through many other stories. Works such as The Beautiful Fall help provide the foundation for understanding fashion, beauty and the creative process.
As we educate and mentor our young stylists, who are designers in their own right, we need to expose them to references of all kinds – visually and in the written form – and to teach them how to feed their creativity. As their knowledge grows, so will their insight and, naturally, their ability.
This book expanded my reading list 10-fold…it inspired me to learn more about fashion and designers. I combed through the bibliography of The Beautiful Fall craving other books to read.
I’m often asked, “Where does one find inspiration?” In some cases, the bibliography section of a candid, gripping book about two fashion giants might be the starting point.
Now, if you read Drake’s book and enjoy it (click here to purchase on Amazon), then I would personally invite you to meet the main characters in the form of these two documentaries:
- Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times. An Empire Pictures release, directed by David Teboul.
- Lagerfeld Confidential. A film directed by Rodolphe Marconi and released by Koch Lorber Films.
As an added bonus, I highly recommend this look into Valentino Garavani’s life and work:
- Valentino: The Last Emperor. A Phase 4 Films release from director Matt Tyrnauer.
Please enjoy with my compliments.