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December 14, 2011

Fashionable Fireside Reading

The best coffee table books to get and give this holiday

By Nancy Staab

  • Images courtesy of the book publishers

Wrap up these gorgeous books for your fashion, foodie and style-phile friends and deck your own coffee tables with these lavishly illustrated and bound beauties.



Dior Couture (by Patrick Demarchelier, Rizzoli, $115)

Dior. The word itself conjures up images of rarefied ateliers and Parisian couture at the apogee of elegance. This 100-dress, primarily visual tribute to the couture house, includes the works of Dior himself, who ushered in the New Look with his wasp waist garbs post-WWII, and his none-to-shabby successors Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Gohan, and, until recently, the theatric flamboyance of John Galliano. Galliano may have experienced a fall from grace, but his gowns remain as exquisite creations and testaments to his undeniable talent. An unexpected foreword by pop artist Jeff Koons and intelligent text by Interview editor-in-chief Ingrid Sischy just add to the delight of this gorgeous book. Here’s another D-word to describe this tome: dreamy.


True British: Alice Temperley [by Alice Temperley, Rizzoli, $65]

There has been many a monograph printed on many a fashion designer, but this has to be one of the most successful at capturing a designer’s ethos and aesthetic. Maybe it helps that the free-spirited Temperley is the author of the book. Either way, anyone that loves Temperley’s bohemian-romantic fashions should fetch this charming book, documenting her gypset lifestyle as much as her fashions—from summer parties with exotic tents on the lawn to colorful caravans to London’s Glastonbury rock festival. Likewise, Temperley's designs range from wispy romantic dresses to military regalia and slightly Goth gowns. As the VP of Fashion for Neiman Marcus Ken Downing states, “An English rose with a rock and roll spirit, Alice Temperley weaves a web of modern romance, bohemian dreams and a Brit eccentricity for the collection that bears her name.” Other admirers include Annie Lenox, Christy Turlington, Sienna Miller and model Jodie Kidd. The book is laid out like a dreamy scrapbook with fashion shots and sketches, parties, costumes, photos of her family and friends that have become part of the company’s iconography as the “Temperley Universe, “ fabric swatches and visual inspirations. As for her fashions, Temperley has draw upon such disparate sources as Alice in Wonderland, tattoos (as in the her famous tattoo dress), Mata Hari, Spanish matador culture and The Great Gatsby for her various collections. You will want to snag this book and hope a little bit of Temperley’s romantic-bohemian-eccentric vibe rubs off on you too!


Harper’s Bazaar Greatest Hits: A Decade of Style [by Glenda Bailey, Abrams Books, $65]

Part of the fun of this book is that fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar only mined the past ten years for material for this book, rather than digging into dusty archives. The result is a visual treasure trove of the shockingly recent past, that nevertheless surprises and delights. It’s been a wild ten years. Did we mention that these indelible images were shot by some of today’s top lensmen: Peter Lindbergh, Terry Richardson, Patrick Demarchelier, Mario Sorrenti and fashion designer- turned-photographer Karl Lagerfeld? And the fashions represent the top practioners: Lanvin, Prada, Chanel, Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen and so on. Some of the standout shots: Valentino surrounded by his six pugs as Linda Evangelista kisses his hand (by John-Paul Goude); Natalia Vodianova like a washed up mermaid on the beach in a McQueen gown (by Lindbergh); Naomi out-pacing a cheetah (by Jean-Paul Goude); a Peggy Guggenheim-inspired fashion spread shot in decadent Venice (by Karl Lagerfeld); a Tim Burton guest edited fashion spread, with a quirky-Goth slant, no surprise, (by Tim Walker); Rachel Zoe as a fashion victim, quite literally, and an all-black-clad Michael Kors as her chic undertaker (by Douglas Friedman) and a cover shot of SJP strolling across the Brooklyn Bridge in high couture Chanel (by Peter Lindbergh). This collection of images is a must for any sunny lover of fashion.


100 Unforgettable Dresses  [by Hal Rubenstine, Harper Design, $35]

InStyle editor and author Hal Rubenstine is so clever to come up with this book concept-- fishing through recent fashion history for the iconic 100 best dresses on the style richter. Not only are the dresses presented, but made rich through the many anecdotes about the famous woman who wore them and the designers who crafted them. This is the kind of book that is fun to open on a random page and just start reading. Who made the cut? Among the haute 100: the famously daring safety pin dress by Versace that marked Elizabeth Hurley’s debut on the public stage (eclipsing her then more-famous boyfriend Hugh Grant), the “take-this” black cocktail “revenge dress” worn by Princess Diana the night that news of Charles’ infidelities aired on TV; a vintage canary yellow gown worn by Renee Zellweger to The Academy Awards; Carolyn Bessette’s bias-cut wedding gown by Narciso Rodriguez, a pink feathered confection by Karl Lagerfeld from a recent runway, and of course there had to be a few little numbers donned by Norma Jean, aka Marilyn Monroe. Grace Kelly also makes the cut, but no fashion snob, Rubenstine also includes the more outré fashion wear of risk-takers like Cher in the book, which makes this book so jolly to read with its unexpected fashion juxtapositions.


Ralph Lauren [a new portable edition, by Ralph Lauren, Rizzoli, $50]

Technically, this book represents a re-issue of a more mammoth monograph on Ralph Lauren produced in 2007 with 512 pages and a $400 price tag. However the new, more streamlined and updated version still weighs in at a substantial 496 pages, so there’s no sense the tome is skimping on Lauren’s  tremendous fashion and style legacy. Perhaps no other fashion designer has created such a complete mythology around his work as Lauren. Whether you reference his of-the-English-manor born fashions, his romantic safari campaign, his American preppies yachting and playing polo, his take on rugged life out West, or his recent Asian-Deco collection, Lauren has not just dreamed up timeless clothes, but entire lifestyles, manners and values to aspire to. Likewise, his advertising campaigns play like fine cinema and his impeccably designed and furnished stores and personal homes are just like Hollywood movie sets. And let’s not forget about the designer’s museum-quality collection of vintage automobiles. In fact this updated version of the monograph includes Lauren’s latest New York flagship store, housed in the landmark Rhinelander mansion; his all-the-rage new boutique and restaurant in Paris, and the recent show of his prize autos at the Louvre’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 2011. Lastly, don’t skip the book’s foreword by none other than Audrey Hepburn. She likens the “studied nonchalance” of Lauren’s fashions to Fred Astaire and points out that so thoroughly has his mythology seeped into American culture that “Ralph Lauren” has become a general adjective in its own right.




My Last Supper: The Next Course (by Melanie Dunea, Rodale Books, $39.99]

Standard chef-y cocktail conversation is the premise of this, Dunea’s second book on the subject, in which she asks 50 accomplished chefs (Joel Robuchon, Grant Achatz, John Besh, David Chang, Marco Pierre White) or just plain famous chefs (Rachel Roy, Bobby Flay) what their Last Supper would consist of. The setting, music, drinks, guest list and chef are also considered. As revealing as their answers is photographer Dunea’s dramatic, large-format, sometimes conceptual images of these top toques. It’s hard to surpass the naked, but for a strategically placed slab of beef, image of Anthony Bourdain from her first volume, but Dunea’s raw (literally) shot of a suit-and-tie Paul Liebrandt in a meat locker in this second volume comes close. Answers are equally revealing. It turns out that Albert Adría’s last repast has a strong liquid component with cold beer, Negroni, one glass of sherry, Rosé champagne and a gin and tonic (in that order) on the menu—washed down with French fries and pizza margherita. Tom Colicchio wants lobster and a clam bake on the beach with a good Reisling (yes, Reisling).  Some chefs lust after the usual rarities like truffles and foie gras but then there’s others like Michael Symon who wants suckling pig and chicken with fries and salsa verde cooked by fellow chef Jonathan Waxman or Heston Blumenthal, who just hankers for a classic English Sunday roast. Contemplating death has never been so delicious. Note to Dunea: we want to see an Atlanta chef in the next volume: what, are Anne Quattrano, Hugh Acheson, Kevin Rathbun,  Richard Blais, Linton Hopkins, etc.—chopped liver?

Post Script: Actually, Richard Blais just completed a film component of My Last Supper with Melanie Dunea, in which he imagaines a holiday dinner on a snowy mountain top with family and friends, and, oh yeah, Yo Yo Ma playing his cello. On Blais' Last Supper menu: a festive goose ( brined and cooked slowly via sous vide method to buy Blais more time) then basted with butter and mayo (!!!), some cannned (yes canned) cranberry sauce and a pear cider "mocktail." See video here:


 A Gourmet Tour of France: Legendary Restaurants from Paris to the Côte d’Azur  [ By Gilles Pudlowski, Flammarion, $45]

Imagine 39 top French dining palaces explicated by respected French restaurant critic Gilles Pudlowski and  exquisitely photographed by Maurice Rougemont. The restaurants were chosen for their food, décor and history, and include famed establishments by Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse, Perre Gagnaire, and Guy Savoy, to name a few top toques. As the press release blurbs: from “Michel Bra’s ultra-modern restaurant on a hilltop in Laguiole to the elegant chateau of les Crayéres in Champagne” and Paris’ impeccable Taillevent, this book is nothing less than a “bible of French gastronomy.” Feast visually on grand meals of wild game at Auberge des Templiers on the edge of the Orléans forest or ”the poetic, baroque” cuisine of chef Marc Meneau at L’Espérance. (He created sweets for Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette movie and his lobster with arugula jus is pictured on this book’s cover.) Did we mention that each toque provided a signature recipe for this tome? However a warning to the reader:  it’s almost easier to plot your next trip to France (and more fun) than attempt these elaborate recipes for everything from Duck Tour d’Argent to Violet Asparagus with Foie-Gras “Ice-Cream” and Truffle Coulis!


Daniel Boulud Cocktails & Amuse-Bouches, For Her and For Him  [by Daniel Boulud, Assouline, $50]

This book is perfect for the foodie couple on your list. In fact, it’s two separate volumes, one for him and one for her, paired in one slipcase. Each volume consists of  20 cocktail and 10 amuse-bouche recipes designed to specifically appeal to the two sexes with chic photos that lend the food and drinks a sexy come-hither appeal. The female volume might proffer up a White Cosmopolitan with a delicate orchid garnish, while in the male volume you’ll find the masculine The Duke, billed as a “modern take on the Negroni” and served not with ice but in a hollowed-out ball of ice (instructions included). Famed French chef Daniel Boulud oversees the amuse-bouches, while his ace mixologist, Xavier Herit concocts the drinks. The cutting-edge cocktails are inspired by everything from seasonal produce to molecular techniques. The Parisian-born Herit is also known for incorporating unusual ingredients such as teas, spices and herbs in his libations. Cheers to this fun take on the cocktail hour that acknowledges the different aesthetics and taste profiles of men and women, though we won’t tell if you steal a recipe from your partner’s volume!


Ritz-Paris Haute Cuisine [by Michael Roth and Jean-Francois Mespiéde, Flammarion, $60]

The restaurant at The Ritz-Paris has been legendary practically since its founders César Ritz and Auguste Escoffier opened the doors to L’Espadon in 1898. The  Place Vendome dining room with trompe l’oeil ceilings was an elevated setting for equally simple but elevated food under Escoffier’s exacting standards. The history of the storied dining room under the two founders and its current status under celebrated chef Michel Roth, is the subject of this tasteful tome. The book is also filled with  gorgeous photography and sumptuous recipes from the Michelin-star establishment, such as chicken ballotines filled with foie gras and sweet-and-sour Mirabelle plums. Don't miss desserts like a Ritz-style vanilla mille-feuille.




Diana Vreeland:  The Eye Has to Travel[by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Abrams Books, $55]

Called “the High Priestess of Fashion,” Diana Vreeland dictated the fashion trends for decades as fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar and later editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine. During her magazine tenure she covered everyone from models (Lauren Bacall, Twiggy, Verushka, Marisa Berenson) and socialites (Jackie Kennedy, Gloria Vanderbilt, Mrs. Wallace Simpson) to artists (The Beatles, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keefe, Rudolph Nureyev) and starlets (Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow). She brought models out of the studio and into natural light and whisked them away to exotic locations for elaborate fantasy shoots. Think: Imperial China, Tsarist Russia, Cleopatra’s Egypt or the court life of Marie Antoinette! And she worked with legendary photographers like Irving Penn, Richard Avedon and David Bailey—all of whose works are presented in this picture-heavy book.  Later, Vreeland enthusiastically tapped into the ‘60s “youth-quake,” embracing mini skirts, The Rolling Stones, Warhol, the Jet Age and bikinis ( she declared the latter “the most important thing since the atom bomb.”). Known for her dramatic fashion proclamations such as  “Elegance is refusal” and “Pink is the navy blue of India,” Vreeland also cultivated a unique style for herself. Her kabuki jet-black hair, trademark bright red lips, ever-present cigarette holder and equally vivid red walls all contributed to her persona. A perfectionist , she even ironed her dollar bills! In 1972 she re-invented herself again by becoming the creative vision for the Costume Institute and was immortalized in the musical Funny Face, but no stage character could upstage the real Vreeland. Read all about her and see the results of her lynx-eye for fashion in this fascinating book.


The Art Museum [Phaidon, $200]

Illustrating over 2,500 works of art, spanning nearly 3 feet across when opened, and weighing in at more than 17 lbs, this book is not for light-weights, so to speak. This “virtual” museum collection curated by a panel of Phaidon editors and art experts, aims to create the ideal, comprehensive collection of art-- were money or space no obstacle. The 900-page tome is divided into thematic “rooms,” covering the history and movements of world art from Byzantine mosaics to Brice Marden abstracts. A great conversation piece for the coffee table, provided it’s sturdy enough, viewers can browse casually from Chinese Ming Vases to Cy Twombly or draw connections between African masks and The Cubist movement. We predict this colossal, smarty-pants book will be a status symbol for the art crowd in the same way the gigantic Helmut Newton book became totemic for the fashion set.


Maxim’s, Mirror of Parisian Life [by Jean-Pascal Hesse, Assouline, $85

First off, we love the red velvet cover of this hardback book, which connotes just the right air of lushness and decadence. This history of the Belle Epoque restaurant Maxim’s, located in Paris, represents a fascinating bit of cultural anthropology. Archival photos and old menus re-create this celebrated eatery/salon that has hosted British royalty, Russian Czars, countless celebrities and even some pampered, turn-of-the-century courtesans. As a blogger for FashionIndie states, “Think of Maxim’s as the Studio 54 of the 1890s. But instead of Halston, Liza and coke, there’s Frederick Worth, famously infamous courtesan Liane de Pougy and Opium.” Nobles, diplomats, celebs (Maria Callas, Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross, Brangelina, Lady Gaga) and even Mick Jagger in (gasp) sneakers have traipsed through this buzzy restaurant. And it’s still going strong, currently owned by fashion icon Pierre Cardin. But if you can’t hope a plane to Paris, this book is a small consolation.


Gary Cooper: Enduring Style [by G. Bruce Boyer and Maria Cooper Janis, Powerhouse Books, $60]

This books comes laden with some pretty heavy style props from designer Ralph Lauren, who wrote the foreword, and The Sartorialist, who raves: “I’m telling you, you guys are going to love it! Great for men looking for old school style inspiration, great for fans of vintage photography and Old Hollywood glamour and great for women looking for a gift for their man.” We might add one more category to that checklist: great for a woman who appreciates classic masculine beauty and style at its best.  Was there ever a more gorgeous male specimen than Cooper? Rugged and dashing, he puts all the stringy-haired, indie Brad Pitt wanna-bes to shame. Even our own George Clooney looks like a pale facsimile, though he’s the modern actor who comes closest to Cooper’s masculine dash. Legendary film actor Gary Cooper certainly knew how to burn up a film screen and also how to wear a suit. Never did it wear him. From his dapper three-pieces and tuxedos, to his more casual sporting and sailing wear, to his rugged Western duds, this man knew how to attire himself and it’s all on display in this style-centric book, peppered with vintage photos and co-authored by his beloved daughter Maria Cooper Janis. As this book makes clear, there’s a reason Cooper’s name was used in Irving Berlin’s 1928 Puttin’ on the Ritz lyrics to sum up sartorial perfection.


Home Sweet Home: Sumptuous and Bohemian Interiors [by Oberto Gili and Susanna Salk, Rizzoli, $85]

Famed photographer Oberto Gili, whose works have graced the pages of glossies such as Town & Country, House and Garden and Vogue, has compiled a collection of 35 of his most arresting home décor shoots. The styles of the spaces vary from rustic or romantic to modern-minimalism, with personal style and idiosyncrasy being the common threads. As the book blurb states: “Oberto Gili’s interior photographs are never of austere, perfect, super-styled rooms. Rather, they reflect the artistically rich lives of the inhabitants and bear the imprint of personal taste and the ineffable quality of a home well-lived in—whether it is a spare loft filled with important art, an ancient castello decorated with generations of antiques, or an urban apartment lined with books and family treasures.” The domestic spaces of several bold-facers make the book, including Isabella Rosellini, artist Anish Kapoor, architect Richard Meier and designer Muriel Brandolini, plus Gili’s own artist lair in the Piedmont region of Italy.


Preston Bailey Flowers: Centerpieces, Place Settings, Ceremonies, and Parties[by Preston Bailey, Rizzoli, $39.95]

Who better to learn the art of entertaining from than NYC-based flower and events impresario Preston Bailey? Bailey counts Donna Karan, Uma Thurman, Ivanka Trump and Oprah Winfrey as his couture clients. Less pedestrian event planner, than art-installation master, Bailey puts on a show and his set pieces and table toppers can be over-the-top and fantasy-ridden. Case in point the real ostrich eggs fashioned into soup bowls and topped with a pearl finial! But this book is also full of take-away entertaining and floral ideas that you can execute on a more intimate level and more limited budget, such as simply tucking an orchid into a napkin or creating a grid of twinkling lights over your outdoor dining area like a mini sky dusted with constellations. Lastly, the book also acts as voyeuristic pleasure, allowing the reader to be privy to over-the-top galas we would never actually get to attend: from the to-die-for, all-white wedding in Indonesia, including a full-scale floral-covered carousel, to a bespoke dinner in a Stanford White Beaux Arts bank building beneath a canopy of purple blooms.