Fashion Book Club: Eva Perón. The Woman with the Whip

Eva Peron Style Board

Eva Perón is definitely an icon of something. Perhaps an icon of a woman who came from nothing and left life having everything. Reading up on her online, I have never seen such black and such white – Argentinians either love her or absolutely despise her. This is exactly what has led me to read her biography, so beautifully, and may I add severely critically, sculpted by Mary Main.

What a political bio review is doing on a fashion blog? Let me elaborate by quoting a very wise person who was kind enough to share a certain truth with me: “I believe“, he said, “that men can write only for men while women can write for both genders.” While the feminist within me was raising her eye brow saying “duh“, the realist thought baloney, everyone can write for everyone. On this occasion the feminist side of me, along with this very wise man, were right. THIS book could have only been written by a woman; as political and allegedly sadistic maneuvers of Eva Perón were described with a typical masculine emotionless distancing from the situation, which gave way to the revealing of even the most brutal details, for instance the fate of a student called Bravo, while the feminine attention to luxurious clothing and details simply coloured the black and white pictures of Evita. That is the reason this biography is reviewed for pret-a-reporter.

I referred to Evita as an icon of something. I could have said she was a style icon, seeing as she wore the most expensive and fashionable clothes in the world in her time. But giving her such a title would probably leave a bad taste in a lot of readers’ mouths very similar to US Vogue’s Asma al-Assad: Rose of the Dessert fiasco. You will have to forgive me for the fact that I will speak about her style but that does not mean the pretty surface will be seen in this review as an eraser to all the ugly that was within Evita, the hero and the villain.

Eva came from a poor family. She had little education, and in fact she had little interest in education. Instead of smarts she chose wits, one of them being manipulating others in order to get what she wanted solely by making use of her arguably greatest asset, her gender. As unorthodox as this may sound, I have respect for that. It takes a tremendous amount of drive, ambition and energy to get where she got in such a limited time frame as, lest we forget, she died at 33.

As many who come from rags to riches, she made sure her attire alone was worth a standing ovation, not to mention her emotional and painfully repetitive speeches. When she was addressing her “beloved shirtless ones” (a term she used which referred to her followers, the working class and people with low income) her lyrical speeches were almost hypnotic because of the never-ending repetition. The evidence of this shameless hypnosis, in this writer’s opinion, is a printed image of her resembling Virgin Mary. One probably can not get closer to God than that in this world.

The author of the biography explained the reason behind her lavish wardrobe and lifestyle really well. Here are some pieces of the puzzle: She had no female friends, she would not be photographed with females, she would give out toys to children which they could look at but could not play, she built strange and luxurious Ciudades de Infantes  (City of Children) where kids would allegedly appear for show rather than really make use of the Señora’s humble generosity. Speaking of being humble, she referred to herself as “the most humble of the shirtless ones” or “a simple Argentinian woman” while donning the latest couture that she didn’t even pay for (or paid just half of the expenses), saying that the designer should have been happy that SHE decided to don his or hers creations. That led an array of fashion houses into bankruptcy, and others who demanded she paid up saw their shops shut down. The paradox was that she was just afraid to show weakness and worked on the notion that she was above competition. Mary Main compared her to a “little girl who had to have the best toys and dresses and would not share these with the rest of the playground.” An observation which I would sign my name under.

The book concentrated a lot on the gems that she wore – not a piece of costume jewellery in sight. Everything had to be encrusted in rubies and diamonds for the “most humble of the shirtless ones“, Evita. Unlike Kate Middleton or Queen Elizabeth, she’d never repeat an outfit – in fact on her visit to Spain (under Franco’s rule at the time), she would change outfits more that thrice a day, for galas, meetings and outings.

As a simple Argentinian woman, Evita stole hearts of many – she had a fanatical following and gave women the right to vote. But what’s not always mentioned is that she gave women the right to vote for her. This is why the “most humble of the shirtless ones” in the eyes of the world has become either a saint and deity, far beyond a mere style icon, or the reincarnation of Lilith – a demon who manipulated men, stole and shamelessly flaunted latest fashions, the money for which arguably came from the poor people that Evita loved so much. Maybe that’s why she loved them so?

Positives: A very well written biography which takes you right into the heart of 40s-50s Argentina and lets you not only  sit besides one of the world’s most influential women but also enter her mind amid the repetitive speeches and emotional declarations of selflessness.

Negatives: This is a strongly-worded anti-Peronista book which does not portray Eva in positive lights at all. Not that it’s total anti-Perón propaganda, but chances are that it will make you think less of her. It might be a good idea to read something in favour of Evita and only then draw conclusions about her.

Recommend? Yes. It’s a ride, a deep and exceptionally well written ride. For a book with almost zero dialogue, it reads lightning-quickly and doesn’t spare any detail – be it rumoured political murder cover-ups or descriptions of gala gowns and silk chemises.

Eva Peron style

Last time pret-a-reporter read Fashion Babylon.

Fashion Book Club: Fashion Babylon by Imogen Edwards-Jones

Fashion Babylon

Sometime ago, a co-worker of mine came up to me and said: “You can’t like fashion and not have read this”. Afterwards, she slapped the book on my desk.

So, we decided to do a book exchange. She handed me Fashion Babylon, I gave her Tabloid Girl by Sharon Marshall, and before I start my review, I’d like to say that both books were in the same league as they were full of clichés, but perhaps in retrospect, Tabloid Girl was funnier.

The ugly truth about fashion…

… which you most probably know already. The dirt here, while interesting, will not really be new to you if you are a keen fashion follower. Designers putting high street shirts on their catwalks last minute, models on laxatives and a 100 cigarette per day diet… Well, maybe I did not know that the aforementioned diet also included a pack of Haribo a month. It’s fair to say that while I was aware of a great deal of these “true stories”, they were weaved into the book wonderfully. I enjoyed every bit of the gossip and the humour.

The main character…

… is a designer of an emerging small label. The book starts right after the brand’s show during London Fashion Week, which was open to the style press’ scrutiny and slaughter. I found her feelings similar to those of Isaac Mizrahi’s in a documentary about his job as a designer, Uzipped (1995). Whilst the main character is fictional (or so the author says) I can’t stop wondering who it is based on. I really want to know. Really.

Coke…

… snort here, snort there. Not to snort before 4PM here, to snort at 11AM there. In a nutshell, there’s a lot of snorting going on in the fashion world.

Goddamn designers don’t make clothes in my size…

… and this book explains why. While I will not expose the particular logic behind this, I can tell you that the reason why you will probably not find a default size 18 Chanel dress is much more banal than you think. Just so you know, it’s not because curvaceous figures aren’t welcome in the fashion world. On the contrary, the buyer is always right and as long as he or she has money to have sucked out of her, she will get even a size 60 made especially for her or him.

Those models look like humanoids…

… for a reason. Fashion Babylon will also educate you as to why you don’t remember any models’ faces these days, unlike the age of the supermodel, when Naomi, Linda, Eva and Kate ruled the fashion scene. If you really want to nail the model look and be at your thinnest, you will know how the catwalk queens do it. The author will not spare you the details of how Eastern European girls achieve the level of skinny which is celebrated in style magazines. Only you might not celebrate it.

The designer price tag…

… is not affordable for the mere mortal. Truth to be told, some designers themselves wouldn’t be able to buy the clothes they make. However, in this book you will find exactly why a cashmere sweater by super-awesome-brand-which-I-want-to-wear-right-now costs as much as it does. You’ll be able to judge for yourself if you still want it. To be fair, you probably will, because Sienna Miller wore it.

Celebrity’s designer gear…

… is free to them. Well, not always but often. In fact, some brands pay celebs to parade their pieces – I won’t tell how much and who, but you are probably have a couple of ideas. Yes, it is stupid that fashionistas who would sell their souls to the devil to carry an IT bag can’t afford it, and celebs who quite franky don’t give a rat’s ass about fashion are fed these stylish gems, which they are likely to pass on to their mums, sisters, friends or just dump in the trash.

Edwards-Jones leaves you with an idea about how serious or how plain dumb the industry can get, ending Fashion Babylon with someone simply asking the main character : What are your ideas for next season’s collection?

This made me love the author’s wit as the question symbolised a never ending cycle of the style world, and of course the fact that they all live in their own little bubble.

Positives: The style of writing – it’s to the point, funny and raw. Like any nice and dirty exposé should be. Another positive is he moment when a model is found handcuffed to a heater with two vibrators in her moments before a runway show. Yes, two. In her. Thought I’d repeat that.

Negatives: You won’t learn anything drastically new about the fashion world, most of the information is what you heard from your fashion obsessed friend or from your mum who kept it mean and truthful when you had your “I want to be a model” stage.

Recommend? Drugs, sex and beautiful people. I don’t think I need to say more.

Last time pret-a-reporter read To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? by Lucy Siegle.

Fashion Book Club: To Die For By Lucy Siegle

To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World?

to-die-for-lucy-siegle

Changed me? No.
I have to admit – I am not the greenest fashion wearer. To say that this book completely changed the way I was buying fashion I also can’t.

However, I did see my old self described in the book. You see, I’ve stopped consuming fast fashion at the same time I’ve stopped eating fast food, and I am never coming back.

However, the high street is still king – we love our Zaras, River Islands, H&Ms and New Looks. It’s cheap, convenient and lasts two or three washes, just in time before the new season kicks in. This vicious cycle is described very well in the book.

Business-savvy fashion lovers will really enjoy reading about the logistics of the fashion sector and generally the labour behind a piece of clothing – Siegle paints a very vivid picture.

Fuzzy fury beast
What particularly appealed to me is the part about fur coats, vintage fur coats and of course what has been embraced by fashion houses as well as the high street – faux fur.

I found the research Siegle did about the topic very insightful because:

a) I have been a victim of faux fur myself and I learned on my mistake. I to this day hate that fake fur gilet that I stupidly bought two or so years ago. It stunk, it looked cheap, it was cheap and of course it was far from fabulous.
b) Being close friends with a person who feels deeply for animals and their rights, I was feeling a bit uncomfortable about wearing a priced possession of mine, a gorgeous mink fur coat, in front of her. I wore it anyway but felt that she mentally sprayed me with red paint over and over again.
However, having read that particular section on fur, I now know that sometimes faux fur is far worse than real fur, with the latter being a luxurious and possibly even… here it comes: an environmentally-friendly buy.

Fatima – the “machine” that embroidered your top
If you are particularly emotional, you would find another chapter in the book gruesomely keeping you awake at night, looking at that cheap embroidered top that you bought in Primark. It’s very likely that the sales assistant told you that “a machine” applied all those details onto your garment. Slap, slap, wake up, Scrooge! Here, you can think of Siegle like the Ghost of Christmas Past taking you to India, Bangladesh, or even Jordan among other possible countries where it could have been produced, to see who made it, how much were they paid (if they were paid at all) and under what circumstances. It WILL get ugly.

But darling, it’s Prada!
Also, readers who are interested in luxury fashion will find Siegle’s quick glimpse at the high-end business very interesting. IT bags, IT shoes, IT tops and their glorious copies, also called as items “inspired” by designers. I should know this – I was writing fashion copy for a high street retailer for two years – almost all rip offs were called total and utter “inspiration”.

There will, of course, be dirt on your favourite brands such as Prada or Gucci, but I found the negativity to be quite limited compared to the high street, obviously because these empires are almost houses of God in fashion and can be very secretive, and also for the reason that often customers are splashing out huge amounts of money on pieces of better quality thus buying longevity rather than a passing trend.

Leather not so forever
But arguably the luxury houses bore the hardest slap when Siegle was talking about leather production and dyes – this too won’t be pretty. Yet I found this part a somewhat vital read for absolutely everyone in the world who owns a leather belt, bag or shoes – this will teach you to cherish, take care and value the leather.

The pay off
Siegle finishes the book off with some innovative ideas as to what should we do next to be more ethical and environmentally friendly. Almost like an academic dissertation, some ideas are very realistic and already (though not widely) exist, such as hire-an-IT bag services, others are quite extreme, but I’ll let you discover those yourself.

Could it change you? Yes.
Though it did not change me, as I mentioned before, it is very possible it may change you if you still shop in Primark and treat your clothes like toilet paper after a wear or two. The book discusses a phantom which it refers to as the “Perfect Wardrobe” which is supposed to be made out of super ethical, degradable and environmentally-friendly clothes.

Like most other readers, I am sure, I have rated my wardrobe, looking at how “perfect” it may be. Surprisingly, it made me quite proud – the doors of my wardrobe close pretty well, nothing should be pushed in, I have a few vintage pieces, a selection of designer clothing (loved and taken care of, I must add), a few ethical and organic items, tops I got through some swapping sessions, and admittedly a few high street dresses – but those are the minority. The reason I have been a slightly more “behaving fashion consumer” is because my parents, especially my mother, has taught me to appreciate every item of clothing that I buy – so I just mentally can’t allow myself to buy too much crap.

Lucy Siegle is just telling you what your parents told you in your childhood – be responsible – which is not any ground breaking theory, but indeed common sense. While I didn’t necessarily enjoy some small parts in the book, simply because, as I said before, I am not the biggest go-greener in the world, I overly loved the book because it made me feel that learned so much.

Siegle kindly leaves you with a whole lot of new-found knowledge about how to appreciate what you are wearing and suggests how you can buy better, albeit slower.

Recommend? Yes, to everyone – I like to surround myself with smart people and this book will leave you feeling somewhat learned.
Negatives? Almost none, perhaps some parts could be shortened but that’s all.
Positives? The whole book – read, enjoy and compare your wardrobe to Lucy’s theoretical “perfect” one, you’ll know exactly how good or bad you are.