What to know about Fashion Week 2023

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 24, 2023
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Welcome to This Week, Those Books, your rundown on books new and old that resonate with the week’s big news story.

The few minutes it takes to read this newsletter will make you smarter, faster…guaranteed. If you’d rather listen, click on the audio button above for a human, not AI, voiceover. These book suggestions – complete with summary, quotes and a visceral response rating – could point you to your next read or sort out watercooler convo and supper small talk. Please share. Find me on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.


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The Big Story:

It’s fashion month.

  • New York Fashion Week ends September 13.
  • London starts September 15.
  • Milan becomes one big catwalk from September 19.
  • Paris starts September 25, finishing off the sashay into spring/summer 2024.

Odd to be thinking of what to wear next spring as the northern hemisphere prepares for winter, but fashion is a world apart – beautiful and brutal; dreams and nightmares.

Highlights this season:

  • Vietnamese-American designer Peter Do is the ‘new Helmut Lang’.
  • British-Indian Supriya Lele wowed NYC before heading to London.

Please spread the word

The Backstory:

Fashion is big business, literally.

  • NYC employs 180,000 people in the fashion industry and generates some $11 billion just in wages.
  • London plays an outsize role in the nearly 30-billion-pound UK fashion industry.
  • Fashion has been so central to Milan for centuries, its name spawned the English word ‘millaner’, meaning fine clothes and wares, with ‘milliner’ eventually referring to someone who made or sold hats.
  • Paris? We’ll get to that.

The Big Four hold fashion weeks twice a year. It may feel like an ancient ritual but it’s not.

  • The first fashion week was held in 1943 when New York organised a ‘Press Week’ to give buyers alternatives to French fashion during World War II.
  • Milan Fashion Week was born in 1958.
  • Paris had its first organised fashion week in 1973 though showings had been held since the 1700s.
  • London Fashion Week was first held in 1984.

This Week, Those Books:

  • A gripping exposé of the rarefied universe of high-end fashion.
  • A tender new novel based on the life of America’s first Black dressmaker to the great and the good, not least Jackie Kennedy.
  • An academic explains why fashion matters.***
    • • The Most Beautiful Job in the World: Lifting the Veil on the Fashion IndustryBy: Giulia Mensitieri

      Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic and Melbourne University Press

      Year: 2020

    • The author, an anthropologist, wrote this after painstaking fieldwork at the creative end of the fashion industry. Giulia Mensitieri found that the lives of “dream creators” – stylists, photographers, models, make-up artists – intersects with “financial and job instability, exploitation, domination and the quest for power”.

      Mensitieri’s PhD thesis was originally published in French. It investigates the fantasy world of high fashion rather than factory workers in sweatshops. At a glossy photo shoot in Paris, for instance, the unpaid studio assistant digs into his own pocket to buy the salads ordered by the models because the lunch agreement with the nearby bakery only covered sandwiches and pastries. “Mia”, the anonymised Italian stylist who kicks off the book, wears Chanel and Prada but eats McDonald’s and is forced to rent a bed behind a screen in the kitchen-living room of a shared Paris apartment. She is often paid in vouchers that can only be spent in the boutique of a luxury brand.

      Choice quote:

      “The fashion world is the woman who models for Chanel and is paid in lipstick.”

      • By Her Own Design: A Novel of Ann Lowe, Fashion Designer to the Social RegisterBy: Piper Huguley Publisher: WmMorrowPB

        Year: 2022

      Historical fiction by a literature professor, it tells the little known story of Ann Lowe, granddaughter of slaves. Lowe overcame racial prejudice to become dressmaker to high society – the Rockefellers, Du Ponts, Roosevelts and Hollywood actresses – from the 1920s to the 1960s. She created Jackie Kennedy’s famous wedding dress in 1953 and is now thought to have set the trend that changed American bridal fashion.

      The wedding dress Ann Lowe made for Jackie Kennedy 70 years ago. Photo: Toni Frissell. Public domain

      This month – the 70th anniversary year of Jackie and future president John F Kennedy’s wedding – the largest exhibition of Lowe’s creations opened in Delaware. ‘Ann Lowe, American Couturier’, which runs till January, has dresses with her signature 3D budding roses, layered lace, appliqué and beading.

      Choice quote:

      “I’m gone draw dresses and make ladies look like flowers.”

      • Why Fashion MattersBy: Frances CornerPublisher: Thames & Hudson

        Year: 2014

        Frances Corner, former head of the London College of Fashion, offers 101 “bite-sized reflections” on the multi-billion dollar industry. It has its dark side, she notes, not least “eating disorders, a lack of ethnic representation, water and resource depletion and the exploitation of vulnerable garment workers…(but) fashion has been and always will be a constant part of our existence”. She explains the role of bespoke fashion in France. The Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, a trade organisation with roots in the 19th century, sets strict rules for fashion houses. They must have a Paris workshop, employ at least 15 full-time workers and show two Paris collections a year with at least 35 outfits each!

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