Ego and Excess: Lives In Fashion

Can't get enough of New York Fashion Week? If you’ve been eagerly refreshing online slideshows, squinting to identify the starlets in the front row, and mentally assembling the perfect outfit to get snapped by the street-style bloggers outside Lincoln Center, we’ve rounded up the best biographies and memoirs to feed your fashion frenzy. Whether you’re looking for coffee-table-worthy galleries of gorgeous gowns, or dirt-dishing memoirs best enjoyed with a martini in hand, these books let you peek behind the scenes of this back-scratching, back-stabbing industry, guided by the designers, models, and muses who have witnessed its excesses firsthand.

"Stylemakers" by Marcia Sherrill and Carey Adina Karmel, is a collection of interviews with nearly 100 fashion insiders and influencers, many of whom -- like trend forecaster Li Edelkoort, stylist L’Wren Scott, and LVMH mogul Bernard Arnault -- will be unknown to all but the most avid followers of fashion. The result is an illuminating tour of the multitude of roles that make up the billion-dollar production of high style. The authors categorize their subjects in worshipful terms: “Prophets” includes creative directors and trend forecasters, those visionaries who are able to predict what colors and shapes we’ll be clamoring for a year from now; “Gurus” are those who communicate those visions by photographing and writing about new looks; while the business leaders, marketers and deal-makers in “Players” grease the wheels and get things done. Enriched by striking photography and inventive design, this impressive hardcover is both an insider’s tour and a visual treat.

Even the most forward-looking trend-tracker in fashion has to know her history and pay due respect to the industry’s icons. The legendary Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel has been the subject of several biographies; among these, Isabelle Fiemeyer’s "Intimate Chanelstands out for the author’s unique access to Chanel’s surviving family. Fiemeyer worked with Gabrielle Palasse-Labrunie, the designer’s goddaughter and great-niece, who gives a personal recollection of her “Auntie Coco” and reveals the secrets of the people and possessions Chanel loved. The book is a trove of previously unpublished photographs of both the designer and of the jewelry, clothes, and personal effects that hint at her inner life -- such as a private chapbook of spiritual quotations given to her by her longtime love, Arthur Edward “Boy” Capel. Offering a less lavish and celebratory version of Chanel’s life, but one filled with historical intrigue, Hal Vaughan’s sensational "Sleeping with the Enemy" delves into military archives to uncover the dark history of Chanel’s collaboration with the occupying Nazis and her postwar escape from prosecution in France. He creates a complex and often shocking picture, of a tough-minded survivor that will challenge any hero-worship.

A different kind of shock value is on display in Elsa Schiaparelli’s autobiography, in which the designer known for her Surrealist influences looks back at a life lived in the forefront of visual experiment and fashion ferment in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. Schiaparelli, known as “Schiap,” worked with artists such as Salvador Dalì and Alberto Giacometti to rethink the possibilities of fashion design, and among other innovations is credited with the invention of the shoulder pad and the color that adorns her book, “shocking pink.” Schiaparelli’s "Shocking Life," first published in 1954, is a colorful, racy, and self-mythologizing account of her stubborn rise from poor beginnings in Rome to the pinnacle of the fashion world.

Designers, of course, are not the only ones with fashion stories to tell, and it may be the models and muses, who see outrageous creative egos up close, who can dish up the best ones. In fashion’s hedonistic heyday, the 1980s and 1990s era of Calvin Klein and Cindy Crawford, Bruce Hulse was a superstar male model. Boosted into the stratosphere by an early collaboration with legendary photographer Bruce Weber, and riding high on sculpted abs and chiseled cheekbones, Hulse was both a spectator and a player in a game of excess. In "Sex, Love, and Fashion," he tells his life story in a voice that’s simple and disarming, making no pretension to great literature but sharing some great gossip.

In four decades, 60s It-Girl Vicky Tiel has lived more fashion lives than most of her rivals, from starting her own line, running a boutique in Paris, making friends with Liz Taylor, and marrying a top Hollywood make-up artist. Her book "It’s All About the Dress" is an entertaining scrapbook of those experiences, with chapters including “Hanging with Miles Davis,” “Dinner with Coco Chanel,” and “The Art of Survival.” There are lessons in seduction from Warren Beatty and style tips from the author, who continues to dress Hollywood stars. It’s a thrilling and exhausting ride, enough to make you content with an ordinary, unfashionable life -- at least until next season.