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My weekend with Stephen Sprouse

January 25, 2009

I spent two solid hours in bed this weekend reading the new-ish Stephen Sprouse book cover to cover. (That’s it there on the World’s Most Cluttered Night Stand, right next to my copy of the Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts classic, I Feel Lonely When I’m All Alone.) That’s right: a fashion book you actually read. The Padhila brothers and Rizzoli did such an amazing job putting this text together, reading it feels like watching an uncharacteristically intelligent episode of Pop-Up Video from 1996—which is totally fitting of course.

Without getting too in-depth about any one era or area of the designer’s life (he died in 2004 of lung cancer), the book artfully plops pieces of commentary from family and famous friends and neighbors (Debbie Harry, Steven Meisel, Fern Mallis) around Polaroids and snapshots that face full-page runway and advertising photos, and those insanely beautiful fashion sketches for which Sprouse was so well known among industry insiders.

The book uses these quick hits of conversational history to color his teenage years working with Halston,

his Lower East Side, New York City days dressing rock stars but not behaving at all like one,

and the years when his impeccable training and skill in couture tailoring and design merged with his sense of iconography, street culture, subverted messaging, and pop art.

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It’s a rare combination of arresting art and riveting text, and for the rest of the weekend it put me in the mind of softly draping cut-away gowns from the 70s, fine textiles marked with graffiti in the 80s, and the day-glo grunge of the 90s.

Highly, highly recommended reading. Latest check says Elliott Bay Books has one copy left—call to see if they can order you another if it’s gone, or try your neighborhood seller before hitting Amazon’s shelves.

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