Vintage Dresses: Everything You Need To Know In One Book

The signature style of the 20th century's most iconic designers - from Christian Dior to Coco Chanel - and how they've influenced every look on the catwalk today in one brilliant book, 25 Dresses, by WilliamVintage owner William Banks-Blaney

Super-stylist and vintage addict Rachel Zoe calls him her ‘vintage soulmate’ and celebrities including Rihanna and Tilda Swinton call him when they want a piece of wearable fashion history for the red carpet. And now William Banks-Blaney – owner of the WilliamVintage boutique – has produced pretty much the perfect vintage fashion book. 

If you can tell your early Balmain from your archive Lanvin at 100 paces, snap up ’25 Dresses’ to marvel at the rare 1940s and 1950s fashion pictures and indulge in lots of yummy fashion-nerd details. I mean, did you know that Christian Dior called his most newsworthy dresses ‘Robes de Trafalgar’ and had a section of them in every collection? (We didn’t either).

However, if you love the idea of vintage but you’re not really sure which label is famous for what, you’ll have your knowledge gaps filled in no time…

With a foreword by Zoe, the book devotes a chapter to each of the most influential designers of the 20th century, from the pleat pioneer Mariano Fortuny and the all-time master of cut, Cristobal Balenciaga, to wunderkind Yves Saint Laurent and modern genius Alexander McQueen. Banks-Blaney looks at their inspirations – from Classical sculptures to 16-century paintings – and dissects their signature style, via an up-close look at one of their dresses (all from his own archive, naturally).

He mixes in some gorgeous archive fashion pictures – from Guy Bourdin’s 1970s images to Fifties debutantes modelling Paris couture – and a sprinkling of modern-day celebrities for good measure. But the genius part is the way each designer’s style is then traced all the way through to the current catwalks, showing how they’ve influenced modern-day designers of every stripe (and sequin).

Who knew the black latex looks with supersized mirrored shoulders on Gareth Pugh’s runway could trace their roots back to two-piece suits designed for Cristobal Balenciaga’s couture ladies in the 1950s? Or that the aggressive shapes and ‘winged’ corsets made famous by Thierry Mugler in the 1980s (as sported by supermodels including Linda Evangelista in George Michael’s ‘Too Funky’ vid) have found their way into the red-carpet-ready creations of Marchesa and Zac Posen?

Here are some trend-tracing highlights to get your vintage juices flowing…

‘Balenciaga: The Master of Us All’

The illustration on the left shows a Cristobal Balenciaga full-skirted creation from 1957 and on the right – a modern-day incarnation featuring the same skirt shape, on the Spring/Summer 2014 Oscar de la Renta catwalk


‘Balmain and the Jewellers of Paris’

A dress with a beaded bodice, embroidered by Lesage for Balmain in 1954 on the left, and a John Galliano for Dior ballgown embroidered with gold cirlicues from the Spring/Summer 2009 couture collection on the right


‘Lanvin: The Ages of Woman’

A flower-strewn Lanvin dress shot by Man Ray in 1925 on the left, and a modern fairytale dress with flower corsages on the Delpozo catwalk for Spring/Summer 2014 on the right


‘Desses and the Egyptian Influence’

A Desses couture dress with knife-pleated bodice photographed in 1952 on the left, and a draped, pleated couture dress by Elie Saab from Spring/Summer 2014 on the right

’25 Dresses: Iconic Moments in Twentieth-Century Fashion’ by William Banks-Blaney, with foreword by Rachel Zoe, is published on Thursday by Quadrille, £30

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