Spinach Is Good For You

Spinach

Cover, ‘Fashion is Spinach’, 1938

We are told ‘never to judge a book by its cover’.  However, for those of us with a penchant for all things graphic (including yours truly) there’s a lot to be said for a tasteful typeface and a darling piece of design.  I can’t help but make a (very favourable) judgement call on the artwork adorning designer Elizabeth Hawes’s debut book, the improbably titled Fashion is Spinach.  Published in 1938 by Random House, the book is part autobiography, part political manifesto, part gossip column.  And its eye-catching cover design, the handiwork of Alexey Brodovitch, is as arresting as the narrative that lies within.  Over its three hundred or so pages we traverse Hawes’s first decade in her career as a fashion designer, moving from America to Paris, and back again.  This in itself makes for a compelling story and her detailed account of the behind-the-scenes workings of the contemporary fashion industry is entertaining but also instructive and still has a good deal of relevance today.   Hawes uses her prose as a provocation, exposing what she terms as the fashion ‘racket’.  Her intention is for her American readership to see through the ‘bright cellophane wrapper’ of fashion and ultimately reject it in favour of useful, practical and stylish dressing.

The cover design of Fashion is Spinach may be charming and whimsical.  The tone in which it is written may be witty and impish.  Yet this was, and remains, a book of substance that in 1938 exposed and questioned the very essence of the fashion system, how it operated and the balance of power within it.  Few people in 2013, fashion scholars included, have heard of Spinach (few, for that matter, are familiar with the life and work of Elizabeth Hawes).  Time, then, for this book to become a good-looking addition to the style student’s shelf.

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