Seattle's hunger for style

A review of two new books on fashion from Gotham Books, both hard to get if you're waiting to borrow them from the library.
Crosscut archive image.

A compendium of iconic styles.

A review of two new books on fashion from Gotham Books, both hard to get if you're waiting to borrow them from the library.
  • How to Have Style, by Isaac Mizrahi, Gotham Books, 2008, 221 pages
  • The Lucky Guide to Mastering Any Style, by Kim France and Andrea Linett, Gotham Books, 2008, 306 pages

Seattle's library set has effectively voted for two must-have fashion books from 2008, both by Gotham Books: one by designer Isaac Mizrahi and another by two fashionistas on the masthead of Lucky magazine. Kim France and Andrea Linett's The Lucky Guide to Mastering Any Style is currently at 67 active holds on 16 copies in the Seattle Public Library database. Mizrahi's How to Have Style beats that in popular demand with 79 active holds on 19 copies.

Both books favor "style" over mere fashion, opting for the long view rather than the trend of the moment. That both books are in high demand suggests a hunger, at least in Seattle, for a timeless, highly individualistic approach to dressing well.

That's exactly what readers get from Isaac Mizrahi, a 20-year veteran designer who's as comfortable directing creative for Liz Claiborne as he is creating a line of clothes for Target. How to Have Style is nothing short of a godsend to jaded readers who crave fashion but feel far removed from the standards dictated by the catwalk.

Mizrahi helps 12 women define their styles, working from "inspiration boards" they've put together, boards filled with scrapbook-like items that express who they are and what colors, looks, and cultural elements inspire them. For example, there's 30-year-old Keri Keane, who likes funny women Sarah Silverman and America Ferrara. Keane is often mistaken as an intern at work. Instead of making her over in corporate power clothes, Mizrahi plays up her youthfulness and sense of humor while working to bring her sexiness out of disguise. "Keri, why on earth are you hiding your curves under loose-fitting tops and sweaters?" he asks, putting her into a burgundy cocktail dress. It works.

Never judgmental or condescending, Mizrahi isn't blowing smoke, either. A woman whose closet is a department store all its own gets taken to task: "No one needs to go shopping every day. Susan has to start looking at her clothes as an investment, not as a game where she bids on pieces at the lowest price." Each woman is assessed head-to-toe on Mizrahi's design sheet, including notes such as "Her clothes are too big!" or asking, "Does Mary Kate like heels?" Yet these aren't makeovers; rather than a dreary series of before-and-after shots, the women still look like themselves, maybe even more like themselves.

Mizrahi's prose is fun to read, his personality both quirky and respectful. Of Mary Kate Gaudet, with whom he showcases "How to have style ... when you're not a size 12," he writes

There's something I need to get off my chest. Every girl I've ever met, skinny, large, or average, thinks she's fat. I have rarely met a girl whose appearance matches her self-perception. No one is comfortable in her own skin. Ironically, to me, most of the time she looks just right. Of course, losing five pounds always makes us feel better, and it's probably healthier, but that doesn't really answer the style question. The question shouldn't be 'How can I look skinny when I'm really not?' The question should be, 'How can I be stylish with my large figure?'

It's just like plastic surgery. It might make you feel a little better to have a face-lift, but it doesn't make you look younger. You're not fooling anyone.

The thing that drew me and my team to Mary Kate was that she didn't ask us to make her look thinner; she asked us to make her feel sexier.

Still, Mizrahi says "it took self-control" for him not to recommend that Gaudet lose weight. Notably, for the cover image, Gotham went with the thinnest woman of the 12.

Whereas How to Have Style features a diverse range of women from their 20s to their 50s, from petite to tall, size 6 to plus size, France and Linett present a fairly narrow range, using young, slender "Lucky Girls" to demonstrate each of 10 different iconic styles, from California Casual to Rock and Roll.

Each chapter of The Lucky Guide to Mastering Any Style opens with a montage of celebrities who made that particular style their own: Bianca Jagger as Euro Chic, Katharine Hepburn as American Classic, and Twiggy as Mod. Following are photos of essential pieces, then accessories, and instructions on "How to get the look." The Lucky Girls are real women (not models) who exemplify that particular style, with items from their own closets used as examples and a couple of different looks demonstrated. Other sub-sections show how to pull the separate items together, how to wear one item of clothing two different ways, and how to carry the style through all four seasons.

It's fun to speculate on one's favored or best style, but the book becomes tedious halfway through, some of the looks blurring together (such as California Casual and Bohemian), without any practical tips for how to bring any of these styles into your repertoire if you're not hanging out at clam bakes or heading out to Studio 54. The "Lucky Breaks" at the back offer no real break, either, with earrings for $1,162.50 and a handbag that will set you back more than $400. Like the magazine itself, there's not much in the way of meaty discussion, but at least the book places certain iconic looks in context.

Judging by their active hold votes, Seattleites were right about these books on style, as Mizrahi's is the better buy off Gotham's list. Beats waiting in the hold queue.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors