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In Age of Online Inspiration, Fashion Creatives Still Love Beautiful Books

BoF talks to specialist book dealers and their fashion-world clientele about the special role that physical books still play in the creative process.
Giles Deacon at Claire de Rouen Books | Photo: Jane Stockdale for Riposte magazine
By
  • Hettie Judah

LONDON, United Kingdom — "I'm always on the lookout for interesting books," says designer Giles Deacon. "It's a continual hunt – from looking through the stock in a Marie Curie charity shop to junk shops to a specialist shop like Claire de Rouen. I adore the physical thing of having a book collection — even as a broke student I'd spend money on books." The volumes on Deacon's desk today range from a monograph on the Victorian illustrator George Cruikshank to photo books on film star David Niven and director John Waters to a Surrealist publication and a catalogue for artist duo Fischli & Weiss.

Deacon is a self-confessed magpie. “When you find more obscure and interesting books, they might not seem relevant at the time – but for example, a special issue Gary Panter did of RAW magazine that you found will suddenly connect with something that you’re doing a few years later.” The designer buys, on average, two books a weeks, some online, but most from physical shops, though he only gets three days of pure “research time” between collections. For Deacon, his books are less literal sources of aesthetic inspiration and more tools of stimulation. And it is perhaps for this reason that the books he buys are on almost any subject but fashion itself.

Within the fashion world, Deacon is by no means alone in his hunger for print. The makeup artist Pat McGrath famously travels with vast duffel bags stuffed with art books. In Paris, the 7L bookstore on Rue de Lille is the commercial face of Karl Lagerfeld's studio complex — which itself is lined with books from the designer's personal collection, currently running in excess of 300,000 volumes. And two of the participating stores in London's new art book fair, Room&Book at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, are likewise direct offshoots of fashion houses: the Maison Librairie Louis Vuitton and Bookmarc.

"Marc [Jacobs], Robert Duffy and everyone in the company have been passionate about books. For years we carried a selection of books in the Marc by Marc shops," explains Jennifer Baker, director of the brand's Bookmarc stores. Then, in 2010, "a beloved West Village bookstore was moving and we decided to take over the old space, expanding the variety of titles we offered and thus creating a new division with a broader curated selection reflecting and expressing the brand." Today, there are five Bookmarc stores — in New York, Los Angeles, London, Tokyo and Paris — drawing a mixture of loyal Marc Jacobs customers, a fresh creative crowd and collectors attracted to the rare and out-of-print volumes that complement the witty, visually-literate stock.

While Bookmarc may also sell holiday reading, memoirs and (particularly in LA) cookery books, the stores have become a resource for design studios. “A designer might be seeking a Motherwell monograph or Urban Landscape book for inspiration,” explains Baker. “These clients need to be around printed matter; it’s tactile and often directs the designer to new discoveries, providing them with a chance to take away something which has a deep personal resonance.”

Rare book dealer Arthur Fournier specialises in publications connected to cultural movements, disruptive technologies and societies in conflict, and is currently chasing down runs of 'zines and underground periodicals: his stock for Room&Book will include a complete 18-edition run of the quintessential 1980s New England hardcore magazine Forced Exposure and 30 issues of the LA punk tabloid Slash. He sells to college libraries as well as to private collectors and those on the hunt for inspiration. "One of my goals in the coming year is to begin building extraordinary working reference libraries for creative professionals across a variety of fields, from design and architecture to fashion and jewelry design," explains Fournier. "I definitely see the rarity and discovery aspect of archival digging in print collections to be of huge appeal for creative professionals in fashion and design fields, since it does give an edge over those who simply dip in and out of the digital daily torrent, which begins to look very homogeneous over time."

Punk 'zines Forced Exposure and Slash | Source: Arthur Fournier

Fournier describes the relationship between book dealer and client as a personal one. His role is not so much to search out specific publications, more to intuit what materials might spark the imagination; anything from a book on the Belle Époque to portfolios of fabric samples. "Some books and magazines just have a powerful vibe. I just have to know it when I see it and I try to put it in front of the right person. If I know what a designer is interested in I'm always on the lookout."

LA-based designer and Resurrection Vintage co-founder Katy Rodriguez was particularly inspired by Fournier's finds when styling her new collection, titled Porno. "Arthur is always sending me things like the Erotoscope book and Suck: First European Sexpapers — all really helpful with my Porno collection lookbook pictures. He is often able to show me the origin of my aesthetics that I'm not even aware of… I'll be working on something and he's like 'Have you seen this from 1969?' Arthur's books allow me to retrace my visual roots. It's a great experience for a creative person."

Like Deacon, Rodriguez makes a strong distinction between the relationship to a book of images and the relationship to images found online: the essayistic and edited nature of books allows for a deeper relationship, while the physical object itself – in all aspects of its sensory appeal – helps to build a mood.

Lucy Moore, director of London's Claire de Rouen bookshop, sees "the book as a world," a complete entity ready to be plunged into "like time travel, with no science required. I have the feeling of being able to access any part of the world or any era or emotion from this tiny space, and that's really powerful." As well as London-based designers, including Deacon and Richard Nicoll, the Claire de Rouen shop (a hidden gem tucked up a staircase on the Charing Cross Road) also receives regular visits from the design teams of Mulberry, Christian Dior and Alexander McQueen, among others.

Claire de Rouen are co-hosts of Room&Book and the fair reflects the well-judged eclecticism of the shop. “One of the things that I love about fashion is its insatiable curiosity — designers and researchers will look at everything, they don’t privilege one sort of book. I stock older, shabby books and new glossy ones. I have an anti-hierarchical approach which mirrors the designers.” While Moore occasionally fields calls from European fashion houses searching for a specific publication, for the most part her clients come to browse and occasionally ask her advice. “I think they enjoy it,” she says, adding that books have a singular point of view and that the process of looking for and through books is a more immersive form of research. “Books provide something clear to respond to — whether positive or negative — which is really useful. They have an important clarity that you don't get from the Internet."

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