Malcolm's Reviews > Fashion

Fashion by Christopher Breward
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Aug 11, 11

bookshelves: cultural-studies, sociology, fashion
Read from August 04 to 11, 2011

Christopher Breward's historical studies of fashion has justly earned him plaudits, so a combination of his care and sceptical insights longside the very high production values of Oxford UP's excellent History of Art series was imply too much to pass up, and I wasn't disappointed.

Breward's grasp of the literature and ability to get beyond the hagiographic writing that pervades much of the fashion literature in its obsession with the 'genius' designer is welcome. Naturally, it is the nature of the field and the character of art history discourses that significant parts of the story are old through key designers - Coco Chanel, Charles Frederick Worth, Paul Poiret, Galliano, Donna Karan, Vinenne Westwood, Gaultier et al make the expected appearances but in the context of a book with a significant section looking critically at fashion promotion, and thankfully including an (all too brief) chapter on making clothes. The book has three substantive sections - dealing with producing, promoting and wearing. Not surprisingly the final section is the longest, and it is the place where Breward gets to tease out the relationship between identities-from-wearing and fashion production in its capitals - Paris, London, New York, Milan. I would have liked more on making clothes, but this is an art history series and Breward has done well to assert the essential role of the networks that produce clothing from 'glamour' designer to sweatshop labourer, and also included many of the key texts in the supplementary reading list.

The book is beautifully produced - good quality paper, high quality images - 144 of them in 239 pages of text: a pretty good ratio and here are few double pages without an image, good binding. There is an extremely good reading list (and it is telling that I am reading this 8 years after publication and there is not much of quality to add), and all for a remarkably cheap price. This is an exceptionally good introduction to the field of study as a whole.
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