From entertaining tips courtesy of the emperor of fashion, Valentino, to an exploration of how celebrities are stealing the spotlight from designers, here's a selection of the fall season's most stylish reads:
"Horst: Photographer of Style" by Philippe Garner, Claire Wilcox and Robin Muir (Skira Rizzoli: $75, October)
Horst's 1939 "Mainbocher Corset," depicting a back-laced undergarment of pink satin, is one of the most famous fashion photographs of all time, as erotically charged and as classically sculptural as a Venus. Now, Horst P. Horst is the subject of a new, comprehensive book.
"Horst: Photographer of Style" is a richly illustrated survey of the single-monikered image maker whose work graced the pages of Vogue for six decades. Essays follow the photographer from the beginning, when he started documenting French and British couture in the 1930s and avant-garde figures such as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, whom he socialized with and photographed. Published to accompany a retrospective of the photographer's work at London's Victoria and Albert Museum, the book is a rich history of a life spent chronicling the intersecting worlds of art, fashion, design, theater, Hollywood and high society.
"Horst was the Mario Testino of his day," Vogue editor Anna Wintour writes in the book's foreword. "If you were faintly royal, or had social connections, having your photograph taken by Horst really meant something. He made everyone look beautiful and flawless and alluring."
"Valentino: At the Emperor's Table" by Valentino Garavani and André Leon Talley; photography by Oberto Gili (Assouline: $150, November)
Valentino is not only the emperor of fashion but also the emperor of la dolce vita. "Valentino: At the Emperor's Table" is an inside look at the legendary couturier's entertaining at his homes in Gstaad, Switzerland, London, New York and Paris, where every detail is exquisitely specific.
Organized by residence, the book takes readers into his opulent world, its table settings and objets d'art, including his Orientalist London dining room, with blue and white porcelain vases in mirrored niches — a decorating tribute to James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. — and the slope-side terrace in Gstaad, which is rustic by comparison (fur throws aside).
Readers will learn about Valentino's passion for decorating a table with Meissen porcelain swans and service sets or silver-mounted crystal bowls filled with dark grapes and pomegranates cut open to show the seeds, as well as his preference for serving meals à la française by placing food in decorative terrines and on platters arranged in groupings. There are recipes specific to each home too, including the Mediterranean-inspired fresh vegetable and fish tempura he enjoys while sailing on his yacht T.M. Blue One, and the sorbet served at Château de Wideville outside Paris, where Valentino recently hosted a pre-wedding lunch for Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.
"Tiki Pop: America Imagines Its Own Polynesian Paradise" by Sven Kirsten (Taschen, $59.99, August)
Although America's fascination with all things Polynesian pop culture has been well documented, it hasn't been well explained — until now. In "Tiki Pop," Sven Kirsten, the grand poobah of the movement with two previous Taschen tiki titles to his credit, doesn't just generously document and lavishly illustrate how — from Broadway musicals and Hollywood movies to tiki-themed apartment buildings and tiki-shaped Amway soaps — he also offers a compelling argument for why the lure of the tropical islands took root in the American mind-set in the early '60s.
Kirsten makes his case in a hefty 383-page bilingual (English and French) coffee table book published in connection with an exhibition of the same name at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. Divided into three broad sections (Pre-Tiki, the Tiki Enters and Tiki Expansion — Peak and Implosion), it charts a course from James Cook's exploration of the Pacific islands in the late 1700s through the tiki revival of 2000, illustrating in detail how the lure of the island lifestyle helped propel tiki into pop-culture prominence that included architecture (tiki-themed bowling alleys and apartment buildings), television ("Gilligan's Island"), personalities (Don the Beachcomber and actress Frances Langford, who was nicknamed "the Bamboo Blond") and, of course, tiki's considerable contributions to the world of food and drink, complete with chapters on tiki mugs, tiki cocktails and famed restaurants of old such as the Mai-Kai and the Kahiki.
Both hard-core tikiphiles and those with merely a passing appreciation of the aloha shirt will find something of interest popping out of the pages of "Tiki Pop," from the photo of Ava Gardner in a Christian Dior grass skirt created for the movie "The Little Hut" to a 1920 photo of the very first palm tree in Los Angeles. By the time Kirsten comes to his conclusion — that the movement is "simply our culture's way of reminding ourselves of the ancient and sacred roots that connect all of mankind" — you've almost forgotten why that's important. You will be happily lost among the tiki torches of the literary luau.
"Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities Are Stealing the Spotlight From Fashion Designers" by Teri Agins (Gotham Books: $28, October)
The place where the worlds of fashion and celebrity intersect is a land of smoke, mirrors and blurry lines. Who gets paid to sit in the front row at a fashion show — and how much? Who is an actual designer and who isn't? And what, exactly, is the benefit of hitching your new brand to well-known celebrity? So it's some measure of comfort that "Hijacking the Runway: How Celebrities Are Stealing the Spotlight From Fashion Designers" comes from the pen of Teri Agins, who has spent nearly three decades on the fashion beat for the Wall Street Journal. Although the book doesn't definitively answer all those questions, it manages to raise them again and again, and points out along the way just how much money is up for grabs when it comes to fascination with the fashions of the famous.
To pull back the curtain on the celebrity fashion-brand phenomenon, Agins starts in 1858 with Empress Eugénie of France (whom Agins calls "the world's first supermodel") and runs right up to almost present day with Kanye West trying his hand at launching a line in Paris. Along the way, Agins delves into the hits, including tennis player René Lacoste, who parlayed on-court fame and a nickname into a preppy staple, and Jessica Simpson, whose eponymous brand saw $1 billion in retail revenue in 2012, and the misses (Lindsay Lohan's ill-fated 2009 stint as "artistic adviser" to the Emmanuel Ungaro label). Agins looks at the lure of the celebrity fragrance, discusses how Macy's decided to double-down on star wattage and tackles the elephant in the room — the Kardashians. The book manages to name-check an inordinate number of star-meets-style projects, including Air Jordan (from basketball great Michael Jordan) and the Row (from Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen), and includes an ambitious 13-page "select list of celebrity fashion lines" at the back of the book for good measure.