If there’s a fashion insider who could conjure up imaginary conversations with the great couturiers of the last century, it would have to be historian and author Pamela Golbin. The chief curator of 20th-century fashion and textiles at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, Golbin is a front-row regular and an authority on her subject, responsible for some of the most well received fashion exhibitions of the last decade, such as Dries Van Noten: Inspirations and Valentino, Retrospective: Past/Present/Future.
Her latest book, Couture Confessions: Fashion Legends in Their Own Words, features “conversations” with some of fashion’s greatest, from Paul Poiret to Gabrielle Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent to Christian Dior. Based on existing interviews with the designers or their own written words, these conversations give great insight into the creative process.
It’s obviously hard to pick a favourite among such an array of names, but in a (real) conversation between the author and US Vogue’s Hamish Bowles, which prefaces the book, Golbin says, “The most eloquent is Christian Dior because he did author several books. Chanel was the most intense and hard hitting. Paul Poiret was captivating and prolix. McQueen had a rather black sense of humour and was the most accessible and forthright. Lanvin was of an older generation, but she was a landmark in her own right. Vionnet was a true purist in her approach and precise in her answers; Balenciaga’s silence was remarkable, yet he clearly left an indelible mark. Balmain was particularly refined in his interviews and in the many conferences on architecture he gave over the years. Whether in French or in English, he spoke persuasively about fashion. Madame Grès was more reserved in the way that she expressed herself. Yves Saint Laurent’s melancholy is palpable and so are his piercing and perceptive comments on haute couture, ready-to-wear and being a couturier.”
The book is a delight for fashion lovers who are curious about the lives and works of the most influential designers of the last century. To accompany their witty remarks, Golbin commissioned illustrator Yann Legendre to draw striking black-and-white portraits of these timeless geniuses.