Art

In Search of Lost Fashion: A Dispatch from Antiquarian Book Fair

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Considering it’s lousy with near-priceless first editions and ancient tomes, the Antiquarian Book Fair is hardly the typical destination for a fashion enthusiast. Pickings on this front were slim, but hardly worthless, and the best place to be was booth E21, belonging to New York collector David Bergman.

On his front table, gorgeous illustrations danced off the two-dozen or so pages of a fall/winter 1947 catalogue from the French designer Idees ($125), their nipped waists and intricate pleating carrying across a full wardrobe designed for the well-traveled woman. Next to this paean to glamour sat a hefty 1939 trade catalogue from No Mend Stockings ($325) with a plush cover. It wasn’t selling hosiery, though — page spreads featured an illustration on the left side of a majestic woman and, on the right, inset fabric swatches (rayon, wool, grosgrain, even fur) of suggested materials to make an outfit inspired by the adjacent sylph. Hosiery hounds disatissfied with that fakeout, though, would be elated at the shelf above, which displayed a circa-1940 accordion of single stocking samples from the Spanish manufacturer Rossell S.A. ($175). If all that’s too modern, the other end of the table held a stack of 1910 catalogues for both women and men; one for the ladies ($125) was fully photographed, each stern-looking model wrapped in what must have been an astronomically expensive fur, often including multiple tails and full heads.

That booth earned a visit on the recommendation of White Fox Rare Books & Antiques, which boasted not one but two No Mend catalogues of the same era, in better condition and requiring the better part of a grand to take home: S/S 1940 went for $800, and A/W of the same year demanded $900. The bookseller there told me as he leafed slowly through the A/W catalogue’s pages that he’d nabbed a third in even better condition but, as it was missing a leaf, he hadn’t brought it — although a buyer interested in both could take the third home gratis (“It only seems right,” he remarked as he put his wares back in their case). Asked if he had any more, he said (more than a bit grudgingly) that Bergman had snagged his ‘39 around the same time White Fox nabbed its ‘40s.

The last find of note was nestled in the back of a case a few booths down at Eric Chaim Kline, and what a find it was: five pristine 1921 editions of a French fashion periodical called La mode dessinée par fried (rougly, Fashion Illustrated by Fried, again, very roughly), each in the form of a beautifully illustrated folder holding ten full-color plates. Sad-eyed waifs slouched on each page in painfully elegant bubble coats and sheath dresses, their necks dripping with pearls and fur — styles the contemporary “Gatsby”-themed partygoer would do well to emulate instead of another ahistorical fringe dress. At $3750 for the set, anyone but the best-financed would do just as well to fly to Paris and visit the Palais Galliera, which (according to a cursory google search) has the same run of plates in its collection. But then again, who comes to this book fair for a bargain? Perhaps a hopeful fool, like this humble reporter.

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