Book Review: Edith Head-The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer by Michael Chierichetti

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When you think of Hollywood’s golden age you probably think of the movies, stars, and directors of that glittering era. I know I do. But I also think of Edith Head, costume designer extrodinaire.

Edith Head’s career began in the silent era and ended in the early 1980s.

Some of the movies she worked in include All About Eve, A Place in the Sun, Roman Holiday, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and several films by Alfred Hitchcock.

One of the most Oscar nominated people in show business, she won eight of those golden boys.

Head also designed for television productions, often working with Bob Mackie and Nolan Miller. She even designed costumes for the Muppets!

Head had one heck of a career, which deserves one heck of a biography. Is Michael Chierichetti’s book Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer up to such a daunting task? I should think so considering Chierichetti is a film historian, costumer, and was a confidant of the legendary Head.

After an opening chapter recalling Head’s early life, Chierichetti quickly moves onto Head’s lengthy and impressive career, starting out as a lowly apprenticeship, her commitment to getting costumes just right, her strong work ethic, her talented design staff, and the relationships she had with the stars she fitted with her costumes.

But Chierichetti isn’t shy about revealing low moments in Head’s life and career. He also gossips about some of her unsavory personality quirks.

Head made sure her costume were true to the time period the movies’ reflected. She had a gift for highlighting a star’s figure assets while hiding his or her faults. And like many of the stars she outfitted, Head was often a media sensation.

As a fan of film and fashion, I thought I knew a lot about Head. But my knowledge wouldn’t fill up a thimble. Fortunately Chierichetti’s research and commitment to telling Head’s life story as thoroughly as possible helped me sew up some loose threads. I have to admit I was overwhelmed by the names of film, dates, studios, colleagues, and movie stars named in this book.

Interspersed throughout Edith Head are pictures of her actual sketches, film stills, screen tests, professional and candid photos, and glossies that do a wonderful job illustrating Head’s exemplary career. Chierichetti also divulges some secrets about her creative process.

Edith Head: The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer sews things up for film lovers and fashionistas alike.

 

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Retro Review: The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes

When I look back at the books I loved as a child I think of the books by Judy Blume, Dr. Seuss, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the poetry of Shel Silverstein. I think of the classics and think of getting lost in a world of fairy tales, myths, legends, and folklore.

And then there is the Newberry Medal Winner The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.

Even as a little girl I was a bit of a fashionista. I played dress up and adored my Barbies. I even made clothes for my paper dolls.

The Hundred Dresses is about two classmates and besties, Maddie and Peggy. Wanda Petronski is their classmate.

Wanda has a funny last name, lives in a scary place called Boggins Heights, and her family is very poor, not exactly a recipe for popularity.

Wanda also wears the same raggedy dresseveryday, which her leads her classmates to tease her, including Maddie and Peggy.

Wanda tells her classmates she has a hundred dresses at home. She has to be lying. If this is true why does she wear she wear the same dress? The girls continue to tease Wanda. They are total bullies.

Then one day Wanda isn’t in class. It turns out she won’t be back. The Petronski family are moving.

Soon after the class learns about Wanda’s hundred dresses, conveyed by her creative and artistic talents.

Though released in 1944, The Hundred Dresses is very important book. Bullying still exists and people deemed as different are still demonized.

But on a positive note, The Hundred Dresses is an inspirational tale of how art and creative expression can be an act of healing and human connection.

I loved this book as a child, truly appreciate it as an adult. Estes’s writing is warm and heartfelt. And Louis Slobodkin’s impressionistic illustrations are lovely.

The Hundred Dresses is a tale that endures.

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Book Review: The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson

Every once in a while I really need to escape to the fun and fluff of what might be called chick lit.. But sadly, a majority of these books leave me less than sated. The plots are wafer thin and characters are one dimensional.

So thank the twinkly stars above for Teri Wilson’s gem of a novel The Accidental Beauty Queen.

Charlotte Gorman is a bookish lass who adores her job as a elementary school librarian. Her identical twin sister, Ginny, is a stunning beauty and Instagram star.

As The Accidental Beauty Queen begins, Ginny is hell bent on winning the Miss American Treasure pageant. However, her hopes are nearly dashed when she has an allergic reaction and her looks are severely compromised. She convinces Charlotte to go as her replacement, which Charlotte begrudgingly agrees to do even though it compromises her sense of right and wrong. In The Accidental Beauty Queen the Gorman sisters travel a twist and turn journey that opens both their minds and their hearts about the very different worlds they live in.

The premise interested me and thank goodness the novel did not  disappoint. Both Charlotte and Ginny, along with the stable of supporting characters, are multi-dimensional and Gorman girls convey the complexities of sisterhood in a way that is very relatable. They are more than they seem.

Speaking of sisterhood, the contestants are not bimbos or bitches, but funny, bright, accomplished and fully supportive of each other.

And then there is a certain mystery gentleman, Gray, who enters Charlotte’s life. Is he a Prince Charming who will sweep Charlotte off her platform stilletoed feet or a callow playboy who will break her heart into a million little shards? Like I mentioned, I really adored The Accidental Beauty Queen. Wilson can actually write and she keeps you guessing as a reader. She doesn’t rely on tired old clichés that lazy writers often do. She has a clever way with dialogue that is contemporary but wouldn’t seem out of place in a 1930s’ screwball motion picture.

The plot is funny and vibrant, but at times heartbreaking and profound. And her sexscenes are actually sexy, not sleazy.

In other words, Wilson writes chick lit for those who aren’t into chick lit. I can’t recommend The Accidental Beauty Queen enough.

 

Book Report: The Fashion Intruder by Roma E Black

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The Fashion Intruder by Roma E. Black should be an ideal book for me. It involved elements I adore-high fashion, culture and art, the silliness of celebrity worship, strong female characters (like our main character Sophia, an attorney who takes a job at a fashion start up) who band together and take no bull, a European setting and lots of twists and turns.

However, The Fashion Intruder turned out to be less than satisfying. Black ignored filling us in on the issues of launching a startup, especially in the rough world of fashion and I found it odd that Sophia rarely used her experience and knowledge as an attorney to advance the plot. In the end, I didn’t end up caring about Sofia, her gal pals or pretty much anything they did when it came to solving the mysteries of fashion, high art and the people who make up these intriguing words.

The Fashion Intruder should have been the September issue of Vogue magazine of fashion fiction. Sadly, it’s more of a moldy Sear’s catalog  circa 1980.

Grade C

I Read It So You Don’t Have To: How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell

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Whenever I write a book review I remind myself an actual human being wrote this book-remember to be empathetic in your review, be fair, be firm.

But when it comes to Cat Marnell’s memoir How To Murder Your Life…well, screw being nice. As the kids say, “I can’t even.”

Now I’m a pretty caring and compassionate person, especially when it comes to someone in a cruel grip of addiction and mental health issues. I’ve read countless books about people dealing with these issues and I know people in real life who have dealt with these issues. And have offered an open-mind and a shoulder to cry on to them.

Knowing a smidge about Marnell due to my interest and experience in both fashion and media I picked up How to Murder Your Life thinking it would be a book about a young woman’s harrowing journey through addiction while trying to make a living in two very challenging industries while also dealing with personal issues like family, education, friends, love and various mundane tasks like paying the bills and making sure the fridge is full.

I thought How To Murder Your Life would convey how Marnell finally realized she had a problem and had a someone or several someones intervene and tell her she needs to get help. I thought it would be a tale of Marnell agreeing to get help, go to rehab and at turns deal with breakthroughs and breakdowns finally arriving on some type of sobriety and doing everything in her power to stay that way. I expected wisdom, clarity, vulnerability and redemption. I was at the very least, hoping for a well-written book.

I got none of these things.

Marnell grew up posh and privileged in the DC area. Her family is both loving and at times infuriating. Marnell, as a child, seems to be silly, fun, creative and like any kid, a bit of a handful. Well, aren’t we all? From a very young age Marnell is interested in the fashion/beauty industry and develops a passion for magazines, going to the point of creating her own ‘zine.

When she reaches her teens she decides to attend boarding school and soon after goes into a tailspin, some of it where she is truly a victim (she loses her virginity to what seems to be date rape), but most of it where she is a willing and enthusiastic participant. Lazy, obnoxious, and fully entitled, Marnell barely graduates high school, can’t quite get into a proper college and gets addicted to various substances thinking it makes her dangerous, edgy and glamorous like she’s the Edie Sedgwick of the modern age.

But despite her lack of education, talent and mastery of anything other than taking an alphabet of any drug she comes across, Marnell gets an enviable gig working for Lucky magazine. Much of her easy entry is due to being privileged, white, thin and spoiled and well-connected. Granted, this isn’t exactly rare in the world of media and fashion.

Thus, Marnell continues to be a complete trainwreck, professionally, personally and romantically. From her early days with Lucky to later on where Marnell is working for the website xoJane under the “legendary” Jane Pratt.

Drugged out her gourd, Marnell’s life is a collection of missed deadlines and missed periods. But instead of being horrified by her life, she seems almost proud. And sadly, she is coddled by nearly everyone in her realm and as How to Murder Your Life reaches its conclusion, Marnell is still a fucking junkie!

Well, isn’t that a trip? Is How to Murder Your Life well-written? No. Marnell’s writing is distraught, callow, unenlightened and so purple Prince would probably say, “Okay, that’s enough.” And the name dropping of celebs, high priced cosmetics and designer duds just made me roll my eyes. Your not only one to apply MAC to your lips, Marnell. It doesn’t make your special (As I type this I’m wearing Chanel no. 5. Yes, you may touch the hem of my ancient Limited sweater).

Fortunately, there are countless on books about drug addiction that are worthy of your time. How to Murder Your Life is clearly not one of them.