A picture tells 1000 words but frequently it is the written word that inspires the imagination. Viva fashion writer Zoe Walker explores how characters described in fiction have influenced her - and fashion trends - through the years.
"But my mind is wandering. It is a question of clothes. This is what humiliates me - talking of compliments - to walk in Regent St, Bond St, etc and be notably less well-dressed than other people." - The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume 3
Film and art may continue to be the most common cultural influences on fashion, but it is the impact of literature that has always intrigued me.
The idea of a genuine interpretation of a writer's portrayal rather than a straight literal homage of art or film appeals most - and there have been many memorable fashionable literary interpretations.
Kate Sylvester's winter 2005 collection, Love in a Cold Climate, looked to Nancy Mitford and her endlessly stylish sisters; Prabal Gurung's autumn 2011 line drew inspiration from Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, while Marc Jacobs considers Daisy Buchanan to be his ultimate literary muse and has referenced her several times throughout his career - his perfume Daisy the most obvious, and his spring 2012 ready-to-wear collection, described by one magazine as "Daisy goes to the disco", the most recent.
Literature is rife with sartorial inspiration, with the illustrations and prose of childhood classics sparking that initial interest in costume and awareness of the power of clothing - the black robes of a villain, the beautiful gowns of a princess.
Zoe the Doll by Michele Danon-Marcho, given to me as a young child for obvious reasons, was surely the root of my ongoing obsession with Peter Pan collars; Zoe's wardrobe of pretty dresses could pass now for something from Luella or Twenty-seven Names.
Then there was Ludwig Bemelman's Madeline, still a favourite after all these years - oh, how I longed to be her with her red hair, wide-brimmed hat and bright blue coat (and again, a Peter Pan collar). And, like most bookish little girls entering Louisa May Alcott's world for the first time, I fell for the tomboyish charm of Little Women's Jo and still think of her "scribbling suit" when I sit down to write. ("Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and 'fall into a vortex', as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for, till that was finished, she could find no peace. Her 'scribbling suit' consisted of a black woollen pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action.")
There was another, somewhat less classic, bookish literary character that provided some childhood inspiration too: Sweet Valley High's Elizabeth Wakefield.
Pascal's infamous description of Elizabeth and her twin Jessica, repeated in every single book - the same shoulder-length, sun-streaked blond hair, the same sparkling, blue-green eyes, the same perfect skin, spectacular, all-American good looks, identical lavaliers they wore on gold chains around their necks - is forever ingrained into my psyche and reads rather hilariously like a modern-day celebrity profile.
Although, admittedly, it is probably artist James Mathewuse's pastel-hued cover illustrations with perfect late-80s outfits of suburbia (denim jackets, polo shirts, scrunchies) that continue to inspire, rather than the questionable writing inside.
Other literary sartorial heroes include Sal Paradise and his plaid shirt, Daisy Buchanan, Anna Karenina, Holly Golightly (who could have had a fantastic career as a fashion writer: "Diamonds, yes. But it's tacky to wear diamonds before you're 40, and even that's risky. They only look right on the really old girls ... wrinkles and bone; white hair and diamonds: I can't wait").
Then, of course, there's Virginia Woolf's Orlando (cited by Karl Lagerfeld as his favourite hero of literature) - who couldn't be inspired by Woolf's spot on takes on fashion throughout?
"Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have the same, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world's view of us."
Add to that list the wacky suburban stylings of Claudia Kishi of The Baby-Sitters Club, possibly the original hipster. What tween with a budding interest in fashion could resist outfits like this, featuring a vegetable print that sounds like it came from Dolce and Gabbana's most recent collection: "An oversized white shirt with a green vegetable print all over it - cabbages and squashes and turnips and stuff. Under the blouse was a very short jean skirt, white stockings, green anklets over the stockings, and lavender sneakers, the kind boys usually wear, with a lot of rubber and big laces and the name of the manufacturer in huge letters on the sides. Claudia had pulled the hair on one side of her head back with a yellow clip that looked like a poodle. The hair on the other side of her head was hanging in her face. Attached to the one ear you could see was a plastic earring about the size of a jar lid."
Then there are those sartorially inspiring stories that beg the question: what came first, the book or the film?
Did I fall for sassy Jenny Cavilleri's heavenly winter wardrobe of heavy coats, knitwear, polo necks after reading Erich Segal's Love Story, or watching the film? Is Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls more stylish than the 1967 film? ("The receptionist was wearing a tight new plaid. The junior secretary's pompadour was two inches higher. Even Miss Steinberg had broken out last spring's navy suit.")
And did I read Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides before or after watching Sofia Coppola's dreamy lensed film adaptation?
The two are equally inspirational, with Eugenides' prose scattered with takes on the Lisbon sisters' style: doomed Cecila's vintage 1920s wedding dress, Mary's bell-bottomed blue jeans with a heart embroidered on the seat, the girls' prom dresses that sound like something that might appear now in a Lula magazine editorial.
"The girls are lined up in their party dresses, shoulder to square shoulder, like pioneer women. Their stiff hair-dos ("hairdon'ts," Teesie Nepi, the beautician, said) have the stoic, presumptuous quality of European fashions enduring the wilderness. The dresses, too, look frontierish, with lace-trimmed bibs and high necklines."
My interest in this whimsical, buttoned-up prettiness went further after reading Joan Lindsay's Picnic at Hanging Rock. It's a common fashion reference - Australian label Lover often name-drop it - and admittedly I was probably influenced first by the film stills of the girls wearing their simple muslin dresses before I read the book, but Lindsay's descriptions of what the private boarding school girls wear have a romance to them that the film adaptation simply can't match: "Insulated from natural contacts with earth, air and sunlight, by corsets pressing on the solar plexus, by volumninous petticoats, cotton stockings and kid boots, the drowsy, well-fed girls lounging in the shade were no more a part of their environment than figures in a photograph album, arbitrarily posed against a backcloth of cork rocks and cardboard trees."
As a budding young writer with an interest in fashion and magazines, there were various tomes that shaped my interest and approach, all of them rather varied, and some a bit cliched.
Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth blew my naive 17-year-old mind the first time I read it, instilling a healthy questioning of women's magazines and how fashion and beauty pages work; whereas Stacy Gregg's Undressed, featuring profiles of various local designers, planted a more positive seed of excitement about New Zealand fashion (Gregg would later become my editor).
Then there is my current ultimate fashion book, one I dip into constantly and still find nuggets of style and written inspiration - D.V by Diana Vreeland.
The iconic fashion editor was the master of fashion hyperbole, setting the tone for many fashion writers still with her famous announcements on things such as the colour red: "Red is the great clarifier - bright, cleansing, and revealing. It makes all other colours beautiful. I can't imagine becoming bored with red - it would be like becoming bored with the person you love."
But it's Vreeland's observation of a fashion show that continues to stand out to me; summing up that newness and excitement that every fashion writer hopes to experience at least once in their career: "One never knew what one was going to see at a Balenciaga opening. One fainted. It was possible to blow up and die. I remember at one show in the early 60s - one put on for clients rather than for commercial buyers - Audrey Hepburn turned to me and asked why I wasn't frothing at the mouth at what I was seeing. I told her I was trying to act calm and detached because, after all, I was a member of the press. Across the way Gloria Guinness was sliding out of her chair on to the floor. Everyone was going up in foam and thunder. We didn't know what we were doing, it was so glorious."
The fashion pages
Not just pretty pictures: add these stylish tomes to your summer reading list.
* The Beautiful Fall by Alicia Drake: A favourite of many fashion insiders, this book follows the evolution and rivalry between designers Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld during the hedonistic 1970s French fashion scene.
* Glamorama by Bret Easton Ellis: Said by some to be the inspiration for the film Zoolander, this strictly R18 story follows brainwashed models-turned-terrorists, and a main character whose mantra is, "The better you look, the more you see."
* To Die For: is fashion wearing out the world? by Lucy Siegle: An interesting read that looks at the Western world's current fascination with cheap fashion and wild consumption, this book puts forward the idea of being an "ethical fashionista". Siegle uses actual examples of recent fashion items, explaining the fashion miles that each has travelled and looking at the humanitarian and economical issues behind them.
* Front Row: Anna Wintour by Jerry Oppenheimer: The unofficial "story" of US Vogue's powerful editor Anna Wintour, from her childhood to her teen years during Swinging 60s London to her first years as editor-in-chief. Whether you believe everything that's in here or not, it's quite amusing to think of "Nuclear Wintour" having an affair with Bob Marley, as this book insinuates.
* Chanel: An Intimate Life by Lisa Chaney: There are many books on the life of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, with this being the most recent - and possibly darkest, looking at rumours of drugs, lesbian affairs and a Nazi spy German lover. But it's not all scandal: Chaney celebrates the life and influential talents of of Chanel, whom she describes as "a misread woman".By Zoe Walker Email Zoe