Recommended fashion- and style-related summer beach reads

With summer in full swing, the beach is beckoning, the hammock is hovering and the lawn chair looks like the long-lost lap of luxury. If downtime means picking up a good book, we’ve compiled a list of some recent fashion-focused books and breezy reads to help you kick back in style.

“A Grand Complication: The Race to Build the World’s Most Legendary Watch,” by Stacy Perman (Atria Books, February 2013, $26)

To the hardcore horological enthusiast, a 352-page book about an early 20th century competition between wealthy watch collectors already sounds like a scintillating read. But for the rest of the book-reading world? Not so much. That Perman has crafted a compelling tale that tells several stories at once and will appeal equally to readers inside and outside of the insular watch-collecting community is a testament to her considerable skills.

The basic story arc of the book is that of the 1900 to 1928 battle between wealthy financier Henry Graves Jr. and entrepreneur James Ward Packard (perhaps best known as the co-founder of the Packard Motor Car Co.) to commission the most advanced and “complicated” watch ever created. (In watch-speak, a “complication” is any feature beyond the display of hours, minutes and seconds. The Graves Supercomplication timepiece that’s at the heart of the book had 24).

But the horological arms race is but a springboard to painting a wider picture of the period — especially as it pertained to the luxuries afforded the monied class. Along the way the book delves into status, class and the peculiarities of conspicuous consumption that laid the groundwork for the price-is-no-object attitude of the modern-day watch aficionado who wears not his heart on his sleeve, but his entire personal identity on his wrist.


At times, Perman’s pacing makes the tale feel downright suspenseful, and some of her descriptions are as complicated — and beautiful — as the watches themselves. For example, she describes the Patek Philippe timepiece this way: “It was as if Merlin captured Galileo, Shakespeare, Newton, and Beethoven, encased their essence in gold, and then slipped the mechanism inside a man’s waistcoat, where their collective genius might tick through eternity.”

“Artist / Rebel / Dandy: Men of Fashion,” edited by Kate Irvin and Laurie Anne Brewer (Yale University Press, May 2013, $50)

This collection of essays and photographs was compiled to accompany an exhibition of the same name at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art (on view through Aug. 18) which has the stated aim of “reconsider[ing], and celebrat[ing] the dandy.”

Edited by RISD Museum Costume and Textiles curators Irvin and Brewer, it manages to do so right from the preface, with menswear designer Thom Browne offering this take on the rake: “I see the dandy’s place in today’s fashion culture as one who promotes simplicity and uniformity in men’s fashion.”

That may sound counterintuitive, but most of the essays that follow do underscore that point, accompanied by the kind of glossy detail shots of monogrammed shirts, bespoke waistcoats, detachable collars, frilled collars, handkerchiefs, riding jackets, cutaway tailcoats and top hats that make even the most hard-hearted dandy drool with delight.

The 15 essays that celebrate the dandy include musings on some of the patron saints of dandyism — such as Glenn O’Brien on Beau Brummell, Patti Smith on Baudelaire and Merlin Holland on his grandfather Oscar Wilde. Also examined are some more contemporary (and perhaps less obvious) men of the dandy persuasion, such as Andy Warhol, Malcolm McLaren and Waris Ahluwalia. The compilation also includes an extensive piece by Monica L. Miller on the topic of “Black Dandyism and Hip-Hop” (think Andre Benjamin of Outkast, Fonzworth Bentley and Nat King Cole).

“Kawaii! Japan’s Culture of Cute” by Manami Okazaki and Geoff Johnson (Prestel, April 2013, $24.95)

This photo-driven, soft-cover book does two things. First, it tries to trace the Japanese pop-culture preoccupation with all things cute (the word “kawaii”,” the book says, roughly translates as “cute”) back to its roots, a primordial petri dish that includes influences from Japan’s Taisho era, post World War II manga, and1970s-era schoolgirls from which the likes of Hello Kitty, Sailor Moon, Gloomy Bear and their brightly colored compatriots would eventually emerge.

From there, the book takes a rainbow-hued, saccharine-sweet fun run through myriad modern manifestations of kawaii in the categories of foodstuffs, fashion, handicrafts and the visual arts.

The book’s short Q-and-A pieces with manga artists of old (Eico Hanamura, whose career dates to 1959, and Macoto Takahashi, who began in 1957) and new (Simone Legno of Tokidoki) help put the movement in context. But it’s the latter pages that manage to convey the sheer joy of endless childhood – the fever dream swirl of SpongeBob Squarepants bento boxes, smiling Elmo rice balls, maid cafes, smiling kitten manicures and Harajuku fashion.

“Liberace Extravaganza!” by Connie Furr Soloman and Jan Jewett (Harper Design, April 2013, $29.99)

Thanks to a renewed curiosity surrounding all things Liberace in the wake of HBO’s recent “Behind the Candelabra” bio-pic, this lavishly illustrated, incredibly detailed look at Mr. Showmanship’s famously flamboyant stage costumes couldn’t have come at a better time. And, thanks to the authors’ complete access to the Liberace Museum holdings — not to mention the producers, costume designers and furriers who helped put the plumage on the peacock — it ends up being as in-depth as its subject was over-the-top.

Arranged chronologically by chapter (“The Beginning” through “Liberace’s Legacy”) the book charts the evolution of Liberace’s look, studded with mini-profiles of those who helped bring that look to life along the way. They include Frank Acuna, Frank Ortiz, Anna Nateece and Michael Travis, the latter of whom was responsible for some of Liberace’s most memorable outfits of the ‘70s and ‘80s, such as the white ostrich cape, the gold geometric beaded tailcoat and jumpsuit ensemble and the Faberge cape from 1985. Details include the fact that the cape measured nine feet long and 26 feet wide, used three shades of pink turkey feather boas and was lined in shiny pink lame.

Too big and glossy for a beach read, this book is more suited to take up residency on the corner of a coffee table or atop a rhinestone-studded piano.

“Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns” by Lauren Weisberger (Simon & Schuster, June 2013, $25.99).

Picking up a decade after the last pointy heeled shoe dropped in “The Devil Wears Prada,” its full-on sequel “Revenge” revests the characters you loved and loved to hate. Yes, the story does involve working at a magazine — though this time out it’s a high fashion bridal magazine called The Plunge and former bottom feeders Andy Sachs and Emily Charlton have moved to the top of the food chain.

It’s probably not giving too much away — what with the subtitle “The Devil Returns” — to confirm that Miranda Priestly is more than a passing presence on the pages of “Revenge.”

Even though there’s a new love interest for Andy (media scion Maxwell Harrison), assorted couplings and uncouplings, plenty of workplace crossings and double-crossings, the crew is definitely 10 years down the line and there’s a noticeable shift into a thirty-something mind set. There’s also a lot of pop culture catching up to do. That means name-dropping the likes of Sofia Vergara and President Obama, referencing reality TV shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras” and “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and having characters Google-stalk each other.

For fans of the original book (or the 2006 film that followed) reading “Revenge” will probably feel a little like going to a high school reunion — everyone’s moved on and things are slightly different, but the same dynamics are still in play. And that’s what makes it the kind of book you’ll want to toss into your Yacht Life tote bag when you’re in need of a fun beach read.