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Time to curl up with a good – and chic – book? Nathalie Atkinson picks fall’s must-reads for brainy beauties, graphics geeks, design wonks and fashion plates

(Dadu Shin for The Globe and Mail)

Face time

Before she embarked on a career as a celebrity makeup artist (and now YouTube tutorial superstar), Brit Lisa Eldridge started collecting vintage cosmetics when she was 13. A museum’s worth of these antique salve tins, compacts and artifacts from her extensive personal collection fill the luscious new Face Paint: The Story of Makeup ($35.95, Abrams). Alongside them, Eldridge offers a galloping brainy journey through the history and evolution of her beloved medium, and how it changed from experimental natural pigments and minerals 125,000 years ago into the multi-billion dollar, hightech industry of today.

Eldridge’s interest is as much in the how-to as the why and she emphasizes the social history of slicking it on, but there are also appreciative asides about favourite muses including Marie Antoinette and Lauren Hutton. One takeaway is that ritual beautification practices have changed as much as they haven’t (in the Edo period, for example, cochineal carmine red figured prominently in the geisha arsenal and, worldwide, remains the top lipstick seller). She also explores the original use of powder and rouge, which was employed by both sexes but became less socially acceptable after the French Revolution. And she surveys how mascara evolved from centuries of folksy make-do lampblack, burnt cork and soot solutions into the first professional formulation produced by Rimmel (sold as “spit-and-brush” pigment cakes) and through the ongoing mascara wars between international brands.

Any book about makeup is, by nature, also about the marketing of desirability. Revlon’s groundbreaking 1952 Fire & Ice campaign, for example, put beauty on par with worldly allure (using a personality quiz in the ad copy) and offered aspirational imagery to match that message. Created by female copywriter Kay Daly and photographed by Richard Avedon, it altered the tenor – some might say, the hyperbole – of beauty campaigns forever. Face Paint’s insider savvy keeps Eldridge and even the most ardent makeup lover’s feet firmly on the ground; for more outlandish aspiration and inspiration, there’s award-winning makeup artist Lan Nguyen-Grealis’s Art & Makeup ($35, Laurence King), a showcase of her elaborate editorial work.

Talk to the hand

With every incursion of the automated and digital environment, there is a romantic return to seemingly bygone styles and methods. First came the tactile charm of letterpress. Next, twee calligraphy classes. Now, in Outside the Box ($54, Princeton Architectural Press), award-winning designer Gail Anderson considers the mechanics and emotional effect of hand-drawn packaging.

After reading the book, it’s clearly less a trend than a sly movement. The subtle power of elegant but imperfect cursive to make big companies feel personal is the reason for Mexican-food chain Chipotle’s Sharpiedrawn bags, cups and walls. Topshop’s cosmetics line opts for a similar low-fi look with a hand-lettered font by artist Sarah Thorne, who tells Anderson that she came up with the approach by experimenting with eyeliner.

Anderson’s generously illustrated survey looks at recent examples of packaging from around the world, each accompanied by original concept drawings and interviews with the artists (including Canada’s Gary Taxali). Pearlfisher’s lifestyle concept work for the Jamie Oliver brand is inspired by the hasty script of labels found on the DIY jam jars and produce signs at farmers’ markets – elements “that were once appealingly quaint and are now professionally appealing,” says one design pro. Because, another is quick to add, the technique required is controlled, logical and meticulous but must still look, “spontaneous, emotional, and energetic.”

Drawing on history

Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella features a scene where her wicked stepsisters pin a print of a gowned woman in a towering, beribboned hairstyle to their bedroom wall. In that vaguely 18th century setting, wardrobe inspo came from illustrations like these: aristocratic French street style, if you will. Fashion news is now instant via click or swipe, but before the rise of photography (let alone the Internet), styles, crazes and the vagaries of hemlines were captured in fine drawings on fashion plates, each then individually hand-tinted. The term “fashion plate” has since come to mean anyone stylish – women, but also the men it depicted (think brocade breeches and velvet doublets) – so-called because of the early production method of using copper or steel engraving plates to make images then published in deluxe periodicals like Gazette du Bon Ton, and the landmark Le Journal des Dames et des Modes.

In Fashion Plates: 150 Years of Style ($178, Yale University Press), author and historian April Calahan argues, as others have before her, that fashion as we know it really begins in the fashion-mad pre– Revolutionary French court and its trendsetting fashion plates. She reproduces exquisite examples dating back to 1778 and, with them, analysis of how trends (like the Archery dress, born of English patriotism and fervour for military defence) arose from and reflected cultural circumstance. Some of the earliest plates are sourced from the 17th-century journal Mercure Galant, where a canny mix of social gossip and articles on music flanked detailed fashion plates annotated with breathless praise and, crucially, the where-to-buy information still familiar to contemporary fashionspread readers. Same shtick, different day.

Haus and effect

The hashtag conceit of The Bauhaus: #itsalldesign’s ($105, Vitra Design Museum) name and chapter titles at first seems glibly at odds with the design movement’s earnest attitude and purpose. But the of-the-moment colloquialism highlights how present-day preoccupations were already being explored nearly a century ago: discussions of design beyond industrial products to digital surfaces, design of social participation, aesthetic codes, bodies and lifestyles. Our present discourses on authorship, authenticity and data security and the relationship between design and art, or craft and industry, may now apply to 3-D printing and smart materials, but the debates are strikingly similar to those that originated with the Bauhaus.

Vitra’s The Bauhaus: #itsalldesign includes contemporary photographer Adrian Sauer’s full-colour reconstruction of the Gropius Director’s House.

By the book’s own admission, no other 20th-century movement has been as thoroughly researched. But, in what seems like a first, editors Mateo Kries and Jolanthe Kugler document how individual aspects of its textile art, ceramics and furniture design have been brought together in illuminating, collaborative and comprehensive ways under the aegis of the Vitra Design Museum’s current major exhibition on the subject, assembling many disparate Bauhaus elements ranging from small objects to stagecraft to architecture.

This book is a companion that’s just as comprehensive – dizzyingly so, even for a true design wonk. To give you an idea of its breadth, before proceeding to the catalogue items and scholarly essays, there is a lengthy and playfully rainbowcoloured glossary of terms (“Abstraction” to “Zeitgeist”). Better to bite off manageable chapters to appreciate the array of ephemera and archival material (not only production sketches, pamphlets and photographs but patent applications and copyright proofs) and properly digest it all. And with it, how the Bauhaus’s revolutionary functionalist thinking about design may pose answers, and more questions, to design today.

Round out your reading stack

Tortured soul

Andrew Wilson’s biography Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath the Skin ($39.99, Scribner) delves into the late designer’s tempestuous personal life via candid interviews with his inner circle (and the full participation of his family). By illuminating the influence of his demons on his breathtaking work, McQueen becomes as knowable as he will ever be.

Fashion fable

From a small independent Canadian publisher, Rumi & the Red Handbag by Shawna Lemay ($19.95, Palimpsest Press) is a lovely and lyrical novel about a mysterious young woman who works in a subterranean second-hand clothing boutique. At its heart though, it’s really about vintage clothes as repositories of memory, hope and enchantment.

Food for thought

Through his own sobering experiences with global apparel industry brands, Michael Lavergne, the author of Fixing Fashion ($18.95, New Society Publishers) and a Canadian supply-chain professional, explores why rethinking ethical, humane and sustainable business models and responsible industry development for apparel production is essential.

Iron lady

Working behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany, photographer Sibylle Bergemann’s 1970s and 1980s fashion images doubled as reportage. Sibylle Bergemann by Richard Buckley, Lynne Tillman, et al. ($90, Osmos) reflects on how her naturalistic style captured the melancholy beauty and flashes of happiness of East Berlin life.

Men’s-wear master

Gaetano Savini: The Man Who Was Brioni by Fernando Morelli and Michelle Finamore ($85, Assouline) profiles the co-founder of the Italian label that jump-started the Florentine tailoring scene by staging the first men’s fashion show at Palazzo Pitti in 1952. He put Italy on the map, not just as a supplier of textiles but of cut, drape and dashing tailoring.

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