At ELLE we follow a simple rule — Life is too short to wear boring clothes and read boring books. Whether you want to upgrade your wardrobe or read about a fiery rivalry between two designers, pick a book from this curated list where fashion is the main character. Fair warning: Reading any of these books will induce a great desire to go shopping for some clothes
1. The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham
When Tilly Dunnage returns to her hometown in rural Australia, twenty years after she was banished from it, as a successful Paris couturier, she didn’t expect to stay after checking in on her invalid mother. Now, she runs a successful fashion venture, supplying exquisite haute couture dresses to the ladies, her romance, with the town’s other notorious resident is heating up, and her only friend is the local policeman with a penchant for crossdressing. But, resentment and envy of her perfect life, stir up scandals of the past, and it becomes clear that Tilly’s stitched up the perfect revenge on those who wronged her in the past. Set in 1950s Australia, this satirical and gothic take on provincial life is as dark as it is humorous.
2. The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin
When the recently widowed Lilly Sutter visits her brother Charlie in Paris, she doesn’t know that she is about to caught in the middle of a rivalry between Paris’s most famous designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli. Lily’s preference for a bold, surreal and whimsical Schiaparelli dress over Chanel’s classic dresses catches the former’s attention and she soon hires Lily in an artist position in her store. The professional rivalry between the two designers reaches acrimonious levels, seemingly inspired by real events, and Lily finds herself increasingly involved in their personal war, while the looming threat of World War II dawns over Paris.
Inspired by the legendary rivalry between Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli in Paris of 1930, the book with its descriptions of the design of clothing and accessories that the two designers actually did design and the machinations of running a fashion house will keep the fashion lovers hooked.
3. The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby
Two talented teens — Charlie Deen, who is obsessed with fashion, and John-Thomas Smith who forges metal sculptures, are applying for a fashion-design competition to win the scholarship to the art school of their dreams. Only one can win and enrol in “the best fashion program of any high school in the country”. As part of their scholarship application they have to keep a voice journal, which nimbly reveals that our two antagonists, are actually parallel protagonists, each fighting their own battles without treading on each other’s toes – a relief from the usual tropes. Entertaining, innocent with that perfect dose of escapism, this YA book is perfect for Project Runway fans.
4. Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L Rosen
Can a dress change a life or nine of them? In this heartwarming debut, Rosen weaves an inter-connected story of nine women whose lives are irrevocably transformed by the presence of a Little Black Dress. There is the dressmaker and his son, a movie star, Bloomingdale’s employees who take the lives of their customers into their own hands, an attorney, his girlfriend, his executive assistant, a private detective and the husband she spies on, a young Muslim girl who finds the dress and more. Each character is richly portrayed, their relationship with the dress explored sentimentally, driven by passion and desire to seize the very moment their heart has long yearned for. Delightful, and one for the ages, just like your LBD.
5. A Vintage Affair by Isabel Wolff
Every dress tells a story. Phoebe Swift has given up her high-paying job at Sotheby’s to open up a vintage clothes store, Village Vintage much to shock of her friends and colleagues. But, to their chagrin, Phoebe’s store is a success, with customers queuing up to buy her fairytale finds in vintage clothes. Then one day, an elderly French woman named Therese visits her to sell her her collection of clothes, but refuses to part with a blue coat that Phoebe covets. As Therese tells her the story behind the blue coat — she let down her best friend, a Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied France, Phoebe revisits a profound connection in her past that will help her heal and love again.