7 Books Every Designer Should Read
Updated: May 6
No profession is genuinely successful without a spoonful of inspiration and passion. Every working professional, especially the creative ones, needs constant inspiration as fuel to their work. No matter what field you belong to, willingness and drive to work is a necessity. The same applies to the fashion industry, especially if you are a creator – a fashion industry, a fashion illustrator, or anyone else in fashion who creates ideas, dresses, and concepts.
Now, one meaningful way to seek inspiration and, of course, keep expanding your learning curve is to watch, listen, and read such resources. Reading here is a proven tool in not only learning and growing but also in fuelling you with passion, creativity, and inspiration. Books on the subject of fashion are far more exciting and educative than you might think. From documenting the journeys of past designers to suggesting practical ways to think extraordinary and conceptualize better, these books are exactly what you need. Having said this, you need this boost with books every now and then, irrespective of how successful you are or how learned you are.
Why should you read when you've already studied the subject?
Yes, you have most likely already read and studied everything you need to in fashion. So, what role do books play then? Well, think of this. There is a vast difference between traditional education and practical education. The former is what you get from your course, diploma, or graduation. The latter is what you learn from practical and more world-oriented platforms like an internship, jobs, fashion weeks, and other mediums.
Now, books are nothing but a tool that fill the gaps that these two forms of learning may leave. You may learn something at a course and then you learn something else at a fashion job. And, when you read books related to your industry, here in fashion, you probably may learn something that makes you go ‘Eureka!’ Additionally, reading something different that is neither there in your syllabus nor in your practical job, may boost your overall knowledge and expertise in countless directions.
Here are four ways reading books on your subject will help you:
1) Books are generally published by people who have achieved considerable success in their jobs. Reading a book means getting firsthand expert advice from someone who you possibly can't meet in real life.
2) Course syllabus books teach you how to do things – but books written by the experts tell you how they did things. You can learn how they tackled problems, how they got inspired, mistakes they made, and repercussions they had; you get to know everything – it's like 50 years of life and information captured in 500 pages. To quote Sam Levenson, "learn from other people's mistakes, life is too short to make them all yourself."
3) You get introduced to new ideas – reading boosts creativity no matter what your job is, and for something as creatively intensive as designing – reading will help add motivation and fresh ideas when you feel stuck and uninspired.
4) It helps you get in the mind of the author – you will understand how great minds did what they did, created what they created, and will help you get in the same creative mindset necessary for designing.
Given the many benefits of reading – here's a list of seven books that anyone working in the fashion industry or trying to make a career should read.
1. The End of Fashion by Tery Agins
If you ever wish to own your designer brand, then understanding the business side of fashion is just as crucial as understanding fashion. Tery Agnis wonderfully captures the history of fashion and explores all the aspects of the fashion industry, from manufacturing to retailing and licensing to branding and financing. Read this book to understand how the fashion that was once dominated only by the French designers and followed only by the elite became mainstream. The book contains seven superbly researched essays where she explores the past and present of fashion, leaving us wondering what the future will look like.
"Today's `branding' of fashion," she writes, "has taken on a critical role just about every store in the mall is peddling the same style of clothes." Brands, in this context, are the designers themselves--a woman doesn't go shopping for a particular style of dress, but for a "Calvin" or a "Ralph"--a lifestyle distillation that denotes professional and severe urban minimalism. You also get to explore insider vignettes that show – the rivalry between Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, Donna Karan struggling with the financers, and the commitment to haute couture that sent Isaac's business spiralling.
2. The Little Dictionary of Fashion by Christian Dior
Every big industry in this world develops some sort of spoken rules when it comes influenced by the trends in the industry, and fashion is not new to it. You can see a lot of trends becoming fashion rules which people avoid breaking.
As you might already know that Dior is one of the biggest fashion houses to ever exist. Hence in this book by the founder of Dior, i.e., Christian Dior presents to you some of his Fashion tips and advice on how to dress for several occasions, and it also introduces you to his own rules which have helped him define the fashion industry to what it is today. It is one of the best-selling fashion books, and every fashion lover is going to love this book as it is an entertaining read and it reveals a lot of secrets of style by Christian Dior himself.
3. Fashion – Oxford History of Art by Christopher Breward
Cultural domination on fashion cannot be overstated – but fashion has now in itself become a cultural phenomenon. This insightful book (which, by the way, is perfect if you want to start with something small) explores fashion as a cultural phenomenon. It takes you 150 years back in time and explores everything from the evolution of technology to haute couture and high street fashion. Beward explores areas far beyond style and function and makes this book a compelling read.
4. Fashion Designer Survival Guide by Mary Gehlhar
Another must-read if you wish to run your designer brand one day. As the name suggests, this book is literally the bible to survive and thrive in the fashion industry. A must-read for beginners in the fashion industry. It is an easy and practical guide that highlights some of the essential elements that anyone starting a fashion brand should keep in mind. It explores both the operational and psychological aspects of brand building. You will receive some great advice directly from the horse's mouth – I. e people who have already made it big in the industry. The last chapter is filled with helpful resources such as business models, financial models and support, sourcing, association, etc.
5. The Design of Everyday Things
This book teaches you how to design not in the practical and technical way – but explores the mindset needed to design things. This book is for anyone and everyone who creates anything used by humans; it will change the perspective on how we interact with everyday things. It urges the designers to put a user-centric design approach. The case studies and descriptions of flawed designs that are peppered throughout the book illustrate the difficulties of designing things well and make up for funny anecdotes that make it an enjoyable read.
6. The Lives of Fifty Fashion Legends
Learning about the lives of the legends who have made it big in the industry – is not only a source of motivation but also a source of great ideas that can make you the next big thing. Uncover the stories of the world's greatest designers across the decades. Learn about their life choices and their perspective on fashion. See how they adapted to changing trends and managed pitfalls. Understand how the industry has changed over the years (gives you a perspective of what changes you can expect moving forward). It also gives you a sneak peek into the history of brands – this book is a treat for anyone who loves fashion.
7. Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster" by Dana Thomas
Uncover the secrets that Prada, Gucci, and Burberry don't want you to know. With this book, Dana Thomas – an award-winning journalist, explores the dark side of luxury fashion. Discover the realities of today's luxury fashion industry – what was once available only to the world of old money – the experience reeked of tradition, superior quality, and a pampered buying experience has turned into a product manufactured in bulk and sold by multimillion-dollar corporations. Learn how today's luxury fashion is all about brand build, awareness, and generating profits even at the cost of quality.
As a fashion student, understanding the different aspects involved in fashion will give you a border perspective on how to approach things better. You may learn something at a course and then you learn something else at a fashion job. But, when you read books related to your industry, you probably may learn something that makes you go ‘Eureka!’ Additionally, reading something different that is neither there in your syllabus nor in your practical job, may boost your overall knowledge and expertise in countless directions.