20 Chic Nonfiction Reads

Fabulous fashion and beauty memoirs, biographies, histories and more.

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'It's All About the Dress' by Vicky Tiel

In this glamorous, gossipy memoir, the fashion designer—she popularized the miniskirt—and former 60s It-girl dishes on opening her chic boutique in Paris, marrying MGM's head makeup artist and befriending Elizabeth Taylor.

'Autobiography of a Wardrobe' by Elizabeth Kendall

"I am B.'s wardrobe, her ever-evolving second skin. She is My inhabitant, My partner, My body—My B," declares the narratar, a collection of clothing, in Kendall's delightfully illustrated memoir meets fashion history.

'Bad Girls Go Everywhere' by Jennifer Scanlon

Helen Gurly Brown, the subject of Scanlon's fascinating, well-researched biography, is best known for editing Cosmopolitan for 32 years. But she was also a pioneering "lipstick feminist," a girlie girl at the height of the second wave "who was always irreverent and daring, always celebratory of feminity and of any and all sexual practices enjoyed by women."

'Bespoke' by Richard Anderson

At 17, Anderson became an apprentice for one of the best tailors on storied Savile Row. In this smart, salient memoir, he rips through the ranks at Huntsman's, becoming the youngest cutter in the shop's 150-year-history before opening his own store, which is frequented by politicians and stars such as George Michael and Ian McKellan.

'Bringing Home the Birkin' by Michael Tonello

Stylist to the stars Tonello tells of his adventures from Cape Cod to Capri, in hot pursuit of the ever-elusive Hermés "it" bag.

'Christian Lacroix and the Tale of Sleeping Beauty' by Camilla Morton

Wildly illustrated by Lacroix, this enchanting twist on the traditional memoir blends the real-life story of the French designer with the tale of Sleeping Beauty. The result: a chic fashion fairy tale. Preorder it here.

'Deluxe' by Dana Thomas

If you've ever lusted after a Birkin bag or gone gaga for the latest Gucci, pick up this absorbing investigation of the multibillion-dollar luxury industry.

'Essence and Alchemy' by Mandy Aftel

"Perfume—the heady and elusive marriage of the essences of herbs and spices, wild grasses and flowers, bark and animal and trees—is an engine of the universe," writes Aftel, herself a perfumer, in this charming history of scents.

'Going Gray' by Anne Kreamer

After a seeing a photo of herself with her daughter, Kreamer, the former creative director for Nickelodeon, deemed herself a "forty-nine-year-old mother with a much too darkly shellacked helmet of hair." Determined to "embrace authenticity," she decided to breakup with her colorist and let her locks go gray. The resulting memoir is a funny, thoughtful look at our obsession with aging.

'The House of Gucci' by Sara G. Forden

This gripping account of the Gucci dynasty reads like a mystery novel. In 1995, Maurizio Gucci, the former head of the fashion house, was murdered by a hired hit man. His ex-wife Patrizia Reggiani was later convicted of arranging the killing. Why did she do it?  Forden goes inside the family, the business and the trial to reveal the story behind the famous brand.

'Isabella Blow' by Lauren Goldstein Crowe

She was an artist, an eccentric, a muse. And when she committed suicide at 48, the fashion world mourned. In this revealing, entertaining biography Goldstein Crowe shines a bright light on the msyterious fashion figure and the world of fantasy and beauty she inhabited.

'Ugly Beauty' by Ruth Brandon

In this unbelievable story of beauty and politics, Brandon reveals the unexpected history of L'Oreal, a makeup company founded by Helena Rubinstein, a European Jew, and Eugene Schueller, a fascist collaborator during the German Occupation.

'The Towering World of Jimmy Choo' by Lauren Goldstein Crowe and Sagra Maceira de Rosen

In this sexy story of the shoe empire that Tamara Mellon built, Goldstein Crowe and de Rosen examine the success of Jimmy Choo and the new era of luxury brands.

'Kabul Beauty School' by Deborah Rodriguez

When Rodriguez traveled to Afghanistan in 2001 after the fall of the Taliban, she worried her skills wouldn't be as useful as those of the doctors and nurses in her humanitarian aid group. But as she began to befriend the Afghani people, she realized her career as a hairdresser was of great use to the Afghan women, who have a proud tradition of running salons. In this inspiring memoir, Rodriguez chronicles how, with the help of corporate and international sponsors, she opened a Kabul Beauty School.

'Queen of Fashion' by Caroline Weber

When she took the throne, Marie Antoinette shaped not only the future of France, but also the future of fashion, experimenting with bold styles such as ballroom disguises, hunting gear and unstructured chemise dresses. She popularized the "pouf" long before Snooki did and dismissed the doudy sartorial choices favored by the court. Weber has written a richly detailed history of fashion and politics as well as a revealing character study of the infamous queen.

'The Secret of Chanel No. 5' by Tilar J. Mazzeo

From jasmine fields to laboratories to the boardroom, Mazzeo takes readers insde the story of the bestselling scent.

'Slim' by Cynthia Rowley

In this unique collection of illustrated stories, Cynthia Rowley pens an imaginative, deliciously embellished fantasy memoir about her early days as a fashion designer.

'Spa Wars: The Ugly Truth About the Beauty Industry' by Lora Condon

Condon, an esthetician, dishes on day spas, cosmetic counters, and what your waxer is really thinking while she's ripping out your hair.

'Upper Cut' by Carrie White

In the 60s, 70s and 80s, White was one of the hottest hairdressers in Hollywood with celebrity clients like Sharon Tate, Elizabeth Taylor and Goldie Hawn. But she was also an unstable addict who lost her home and most of her five children because of her dependency on champagne, cocaine and heroin. In this shocking memoir, she reveals how she battled back from addiciton and rebuilt her career.

'War Paint' by Lindy Woodhead

You can thank Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden for your daily beauty routine: both women were pioneers of the cosmetics business. They grew their companies at the same time, in the same city, but they never met. This absorbing biography examines the women, their revolutionary businesses and their rivalry.


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For a slideshow of beautiful coffee table books click here.

First Published August 23, 2011

Share Your Thoughts!


Susan Avery09.15.2011

Thanks, Ginna, we corrected the typos. We appreciate the eagle eyes.

Ginna Hall09.14.2011

A fun list, thanks, but you need to get a new proofreader. Slides 6 and 20 at least have typos.

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