Diana Vreeland, Madeleine Vionnet, Elsa Schiapparelli, Edith Head. Fashion loves its icons, but how much importance does looking back have in an industry so focused on looking forward? Last night, editor Sally Singer and designers Jason Wu and Jonathan Adler joined author Lesley M. M. Blume for a panel in honor of Blume’s latest book, Let’s Bring Back: An Encyclopedia of Forgotten-Yet-Delightful, Chic, Useful, Curious, and Otherwise Commendable Things from Times Gone By — and it was as riveting as that title is long.
Let’s Bring Back is literally an encyclopedia. It’s organized alphabetically, and interspersed between entries like Petticoat Mirrors (p. 178) and Elocution (p. 69), are excerpted recipes, rules, and recommendations from luminaries like Letitia Baldridge, Jaqueline Kennedy’s White House social secretary. In her opening statement, Singer — who moderated the panel — described Let’s Bring Back as a the perfect book to read when you’re feeling lousy, and she’s spot on. It’s whimsical, entertaining, enlightening, and utterly captivating — not only because of its eccentric contents but because of the nostalgia invoked by those things we do remember, like, for example, old-fashioned egg beaters (p. 67).
And the relationship between fashion and nostalgia has never been stronger — spring’s collections were a pastiche of ’90s minimalism and ’70s color and shape — which is why the panel devoted no small amount of time to discussing the difference between an homage and a rip-off. While Blume gave originality the somewhat cheeky definition of “simply being good at masking your sources,” Wu, Singer, and Adler all agreed that good design will always be referential. Perhaps Singer said it best when she defined successful nostalgia as capturing the feeling of the silhouette but making the details your own.
And that’s exactly what Let’s Bring Back has done. While the cover, design, and even typeface of the book evoke the feeling of turn-of-the-century hardcovers, Blume’s details and descriptions are entirely her own. To whit:
One-Piece Swimsuits: Bikinis are grand, but it’s hard to live up to their expectations.
Stegosaurus: These dinosaurs had such bold fashion sense with all of those beautiful, fierce plates. (See also Rabanne, Paco)
Dough: Using this word in lieu of “money” will garner you lots of retro street cred. Equally pleasing synonyms include “bread” and “clams.”
Gold Teeth: So festive. Also: handy assets in recession.
As for what the panelists would love to bring back, Wu championed the exuberance of the ’80s, while Singer (who currently resides in New York City’s infamous Chelsea Hotel ) told us after the panel that hotel living is particularly resonant for her, but not before complimenting Mediaite’s Glynnis MacNicol on her Khaki Vert nail polish by Chanel — an artful juxtaposition which made her the perfect host for last night’s panel.