Justine Picardie My Mother's Wedding Dress: The Life and Afterlife of Clothes (2005)
Confession 1: I nearly didn't review this. I probably shouldn't have.
Confession 2: I am an avid Vogue reader. I should have liked this book. (That sounds syllogistic, but it ain't necessarily so).
Why didn't I like it? I suspect that I was after a more theoretical take on the topic, albeit presented in a beguilingly accessible form (a form which this book indeed presents). Maybe something a little more like Linda Grant's The Thoughtful Dresser?
I knew we weren't going to be buddies when I read this: "I keep starting and stopping, and deleting and rewriting; uncomfortably aware that the semiotics of the little black dress can seem grotesque in its irrelevance." My take is that the semiotics of clothing are in no way in need of apology nor should be considered too frivolous for serious analysis.
Obviously it is extremely churlish to criticize a writing exercise which has assisted the author to achieve a measure of peace following the death of her sister. And it certainly doesn't sound very empathetic/sympathetic of a reviewer to label this exercise 'self-indulgent'. Yet I found it difficult to relate to the intensely personal substance of the sharing and I didn't think that the chapters - many previously published elsewhere - hung together that well. Too much of the subjective "I" for me - "All I know, really, is that it belonged to a girl I never met, who died before I was born, whose picture I cannot find in Vogue" - when it should have been the subjects (and objects) who were allowed to speak.
The most interesting pieces did indeed allow their subjects to speak, as in Picardie's interview with Karl Lagerfeld where he discusses his mother:
"No, no, she was perfect for me," he said, "and she was always right. It was a good thing for me to try to speak like a grown-up person. She would tell me, 'You are six, but I am not, so make an effort.'"
Rating: eek... 5/10.
If you liked this... I have Picardie's Daphne on my TBR, but I am a bit freaked out now.