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The Beautiful Fall: Fashion, Genius, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris Paperback – September 6, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This smart book stitches together the lives, loves, personalities and obsessions of two iconic designers, Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, into a work as finely detailed as any outfit they ever sent down a runway. Through interviews with dozens of the designers' friends and colleagues, fashion journalist Drake offers revealing inside anecdotes and perspectives from those who were there for the Paris "fashion revolution." Drake interprets the rarefied and decadent 1970s French fashion scene Saint Laurent and Lagerfeld helped create with insight and vigor, as well as germane commentary on the collections and the trends they set. A period when couture was faltering and ready-to-wear rising, Drake crafts clear yin and yang portraits of the introverted, passive and magnetic Saint Laurent, and the exhibitionistic Lagerfeld, known for wearing high heels, sporting monocles or wielding a fan. With a large entourage of colorful supporting characters-from fashion muses like Loulou de la Falaise to socialites like Talitha Getty-and exotic locales-from Paris to Marrakech to the Blenheim Palace and back-the story of the competing and capricious fashionistos becomes the account of one glittering party after the next, interrupted occasionally by fashion shows, and sprinkled with celebrities such as Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol. The two tastemakers' homosexuality is dealt with frankly and the storied roots of their aesthetic senses and public personas is nicely detailed. De rigeur for the fashion crowd and those interested in the pop or gay culture of the era.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The relationship between hedonism and decay and the understanding of excess as creative consumption are themes central to this glittering exegesis. Drake conducted more than 100 interviews in her scrupulous chronicle of fashion's most illustrious rivalry. Yves Saint Laurent, the charmed genius of effortless success, and Karl Lagerfeld, the patrician workhorse, engaged in a decades-long competition for hyperbolic headlines and jet-set celebrity, pitting their cliques against each other in bitch-slap feuds of sartorial splendor. Theirs is a world of glorious, hideous self-involvement, where heroin is an accessory, violent political unrest is an evening's amusement, and a close friend's suicide is, foremost, a contemptible blemish on an orchestrated image. Drake's subjects made their livings and their names dedicating themselves to the pursuit of surface perfection, and her comprehensive examination of their barbed, parallel arcs is appropriately superficial. These titanic designers crafted their personas as carefully as they put together their luxurious collections, and we come to know them as reflections in the mirror houses they built. Although their individual aesthetics and personal recriminations are unique, they are united in the opulent glory of their narcissistic myopia. Ultimately, Drake makes a good case for the extraordinary nature of their individual achievements and the revolutionary effect of their competitive energy on the fashion industry. And yet we're left with a portrait defined more by the careful craft of its brushstrokes than by the substance of the sitters. Thomas Barthelmess
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (September 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316001856
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316001854
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #404,366 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The Beautiful Fall is a fascinating view into the Paris fashion scene during the intensely creative and revolutionary period of the 60's and 70's (and beyond). The book concentrates on fashion as lived by the rival camps of Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, but its scope is much broader. Throughout a narrative that reads as compellingly as fiction, the author analyzes the socio-cultural events that shaped the Paris fashion world. Drake astutely pays homage to the symbiotic realtionship fashion has always had with society. She also taps into the fashion world's neuroses in all their terrifying glory: Saint Laurent's and Lagerfeld's ongoing fear of being outdone by the other; YSL's battles with his own creative demons; the manic way in which Lagerfeld surrounds himself with an everchanging fashion coterie that fuels his own creativity.

Drake's writing style is fluid, with her prose as rich and elegant as the world she depicts. Turning the pages of the book, one can see, taste and feel the luxe accoutrements that are the lot of fashion royalty: the sumptuous residences, the sit-down dinners for a hundred, the plush privelige of a chauffered limousine. Yet Drake also opens a door to the down side of fashion--the wounded egos as entourage members are cut loose, the heinous drug hangovers after all night parties at Le Palace, or the letdown of a fashion season fallen flat, when an anticipated collection is panned or ignored.

Class, too, is an overriding theme. The weight of the aristocracy is evoked, with its crushing confines of hierarchy and tradition.
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Format: Hardcover
I have been a fashion writer for about 10 years and this is absolutely one of the best fashion biographies I've read since perhaps DV by Mrs. Vreeland. The Beautiful Fall is beautifully written--a richly detailed account of Paris in the 50's through 80's packed with fashion and Parisian history, insight, and delicious gossip and scandal. You'll feel like you're there at the party and front row at shows that took place long before the televised mania over fashion began in America in the early '90s. Fabulous photos, as well.
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Format: Hardcover
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Like Alicia Drake, I write on fashion, but the comparisons end there, as Drake, who is superlatively gifted author, truly exists in a league all her own. Her treatment of this gripping topic--fashion-world excesses and catfights in 1970s Paris--is nothing short of excellent: astonishingly well researched, fascinatingly detailed, and wonderfully readable. THE BEAUTIFUL FALL is a must-have for anyone who cares about clothing, or Paris, or just plain terrific writing.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is a great read, and is an intensely intriguing tale of social history and personality in the context of the fashion world. The reportage is very credible and well documented. The approach and the narrative in just the right tone so that one reads for twenty pages and is totally engrossed before lifting one's head for a cup of tea. Too bad that the French have exercised censorship in a most undemocratic maneuver and banned it from being sold there. There is a lot of ugliness in the fashion world as emodied in several characters and events in this true story. Yet the narrative of a time with different cross currents interacting in fashion, style, industry & culture is intriguing and educational.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Alicia Drake's "The Beautiful Fall" was the most fascinating and informative book about the last fifty years of the world of haute couture I have read to date. In essence it was the joint biography of Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, but it also created a vivid picture of the Parisian fashion scene during the period.
The book was meticulously researched and filled with marvellous anecdotes and characters, including Antonio Lopez, Paloma Picasso, and Loulou de la Falaise, to name just a few.
Especially interesting was the inimitable Pierre Berge, the business brain behind Yves Saint Laurent.
I originally found out about this book in a newspaper article about the court case in France over its contents. Karl Lagerfeld sued the author, but in my opinion, it was Yves Saint Laurent whose image was tarnished. Saint Laurent was portrayed as a self-centred, immature man who became increasingly reclusive with time. Lagerfeld, on the other hand, was portrayed as a survivor thanks to his own creativity, hard work and business acumen.
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Format: Hardcover
"The Beautiful Fall" (which is a somewhat literal translation of the word `decadence' in French, and nothing to do with its English meaning of the word) is a superbly researched account of the influential generation of young men and women who, in the aftermath of the gilded age of post-IIWW fashion and the revolution of 1968, refused to lead their lives in a less than young, beautiful and shocking modern lifestyle.

Instead, they cultivated, all their lives, alternative ways of being perceived as nothing less than innovative and influential, which then became for a time still resonating today, the dominant cultural style of much of the fashion world.

Alicia Drake traces the fate of the gifted and glamorous generations of the Paris in the 1970's through the lives of two of its central figures, Yves Saint-Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, and their members and accomplices, most of whom attained considerable importance in the shape and character of Paris life, such as Pierre Bergé, Betty Catroux, Loulou de la Falaise, Jacques de Bascher, Kenzo, Pat Cleveland, Antonio, Paloma Picasso, Anna Piaggi, among others.

Their story takes us from Germany, Morocco and Paris from the thirties to today, through the revolutions of the sixties, the arrival of new money, the dinner parties and balls, the impossible intake of drugs and alcohol, the disco area and the AIDS epidemic, into allusive womanhood, the opulence and decay of beauty, the importance of living the day, in glamour, as if it were the last.

The volume includes an enormous amount of first personal accounts and quotations and a good selection of photographs, many from private sources, of the fascinating personalities whose lives and careers Alicia Drake has woven into a provocative, richly textured social and intellectual history of fashion.
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