The Colette Book Club is an online book club that explores the meaning and making of clothing.
On May 12, we’ll discuss our next book, The Asylum by Simon Doonan. Depending on which edition you buy and what country you’re in, this book might be called “The Asylum: A Collage Of Couture Reminiscences…and Hysteria” or “The Asylum: True Tales Of Madness From A Life In Fashion.”
Doonan is a delightful eccentric and possibly world’s only famous window dresser. This rollicking book looks back at his life in high fashion, which he describes as “a place where unemployable crazy people are always welcome.”
The Asylum contains some cursing, non-PC language, and male strippers.
How it works
1) Find a copy of The Asylum in bookstores or at your local library. It’s also available for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and as an Overdrive library ebook (in some regions). Some people have had a hard time finding the Kindle edition, but it’s there. (Just search for The Asylum, not the full title).
2) Read the book. If you want to chat about it while you’re reading, use the hashtag #colettebookclub on Twitter or Instagram.
3) Come back to the Colette blog on May 12 to talk about the book and learn which books are next.
If you can’t find The Asylum, grab Doonan’s other book Eccentric Glamour instead. Some parts are a little dated (like when he rails against the fashion trends of the early 2000s). But the rest of the book is an eternally relevant and life-affirming treatise on personal style.
I find Simon Doonan’s books deliciously entertaining. They’re part of my personal Happiness Canon: the media I consume when I need to be jolted out of a mood. The Happiness Canon also contains the TV show 30 Rock and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. Let us know in the comments below — what’s in your Happiness Canon?
Thank you to everyone who participated in our March 31 discussion of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline. It was a great discussion that went all over the place, from minimalism and shopping habits to the challenge of dressing growing children who need new wardrobes every year.
Katie Emma spoke for many of us when she said, “I really enjoyed the book (although at some points I found it kind of a bummer and didn’t exactly look forward to reading it before I went to bed).”
While lots of us felt overwhelmed by this complex, global issue, Susan brought some much-needed optimism: “On one hand, the issues Cline talks about make me sad and angry. But on the other, I am optimistic. Fashion is a sector of the economy where consumers can exercise a lot of power to bring about change, if they’re willing to change their own habits and demand better products. The challenge is educating people and getting them to care about how their bargains affect others, including their own economy and job market.”
Sugarduck noted, “I did find myself feeling a little exasperated at the end of the book, when the author suddenly decides to start making her own clothes…I love that she presents sewing as part of a possible solution to the fast-fashion problem, but I just wish she had been a bit more open about the time, effort, and monetary investment required in making, compared to buying.”
In the afterword to the paperback edition of Overdressed, Cline admits, “Looking back, I probably overemphasized the sew-your-own clothes approach to ethical fashion. Learning to sew was important for me to reconnect with the value and craftsmanship of clothing, but it’s not for everybody and too time intensive for many.”
Other Book Club readers pointed out that home sewing also creates waste, and that textile manufacture isn’t great for the environment either. JEN asked, “Is it wasteful to have an extensive wardrobe, even if it’s “me-made”?” A few people shared an excellent essay by Emily Matchar, Sorry, Etsy. That Handmade Scarf Won’t Save the World.
Jen also shared a very recent podcast where Cline discusses a related issue: textile waste in the fashion industry.
Finally, Kristi made my day with this comment: “I found the discussion on fast-fashion entirely useful to my dissertation in transportation engineering.”