Several recently released fashion and style books might make wonderful holiday gifts -- or a treat for yourself.
You probably haven't heard of Ike Ude, a Nigerian-born artist, filmmaker, photographer, writer and editor of aRUDE Magazine.
His work is showcased in the New Yorker's hefty coffee table tome, "Style File: The World's Most Elegantly Dressed"(Collins Design, $65). Inside are brief profiles, including large, captivating color and black-and-white photos and easy-to-read Q&As on 55 folks from around the world whom he considers style arbiters.
It's an impressive list, including fashionably influential but obscure people known only to the most informed. A handful of designers made the cut, among them John Galliano, Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Christian Louboutin, Mary McFadden and London corset king Mr. Pearl (Mark Pullin). There are also models, journalists, celebrities and other creative types, ranging from perfumer Frederic Malle and actress Isabella Ferrari to burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese and Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley.
The profiles alone make the book worth the price, but the 223-page opus provides more. There are annotated albums featuring the work of famed photographers such as Francesco Scavullo, Coreen Simpson, and Maripol. And Ude examines several periods notable for fashion in illustrated essays, including the Motown look and Belle Epoque.
The seriousness of the book is reflected in prestigious contributors who are not known to lend their names to just any piece of work. In the foreword, Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, describes Ude as "the black prince of elegance" who is "exquisitely aware of the performative nature of fashion."
Harold Koda, curator-in-charge of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, explains why the book matters as more than a collection of fashion pictures and personalities.
"The creative possibilities of dress as a personally expressive medium are available to us all," he writes in a five-page introduction. "Because even a gesture suggesting an inattention to fashion -- say, pulling on an unwashed T-shirt with sweat pants and flip-flops to pick up the Sunday morning paper -- is a statement of attitude and identity. Nuanced narratives are articulated through dress and position us in relation to others."
There's been a dramatic growth in the popularity of vintage fashion over the past decade, with more references on runways as designers exhibit a fascination with nostalgia.
But how do you breathe new life into period-dated, era-related pieces? Emerging fashion designer Bridgett Artise's solution is to cut them up and creatively stitch them back together with pieces of other garments for up-to-the-minute style.
With help from Miami-based free-lance writer Jen Karetnick, Artise tells you how in "Born-Again Vintage: 25 Ways to Deconstruct, Reinvent, and Recycle Your Wardrobe" (Potter Craft, $24.95).
"My niche is bringing together the matchless quality of vintage with a dash of trendiness and edge to create a fashion-forward conversation piece," says Artise, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology and creator of the B. Artise Originals fashion brand in 2000.
The 144-page book includes instructions and photos that show how looks can be remade for each season, plus tips on doing vintage accessories right. There's also a handy list of chain craft and used clothing stores, such as Jo-Ann Fabrics, Goodwill and Plato's Closet, as well as a state-by-state directory of vintage outfitters that includes Crimes of Fashion, Hey Betty! And Yesterday's News in Pittsburgh.
If the book's title sounds like a reference to faith, it is.
"The personal challenges I've conquered have given me new faith not only in life but in my own abilities," she says. "Prior to designing, I did very little that associated my passion for fashion with a career, and my path was somewhat foggy and unclear. However, through the pain of losing a loved one, my interest in clothing design came to the fore as a coping mechanism. 'Born-again' for me means being given a second chance at happiness. It is, therefore, no accident that I use old clothing in my designs."
Even the fashion-challenged can benefit from Isaac Mizrahi's latest book, "How to Have Style" (Gotham Books, $30).
Hundreds of instructive, often humorous color and black-and-white photos throughout the 223-page paperback illustrate how real women -- not towering, reed-thin catwalk models -- can turn the page to a new chapter of chic, regardless of how they categorize themselves.
With his trademark wit and extensive knowledge base, Mizrahi addresses 12 specific scenarios, ranging from how to have style when you're on a budget or when you're traveling on business to when you're waking up "from a jeans coma."
Also valuable: Sections that describe and illustrate wardrobe must-haves in footwear, handbags, jewelry, watches and bras.
For women, Mizrahi is to fashion what Richard Simmons is to fitness with his straight-talk, almost-Smurfy approach.
He begins the book by telling women how to be inspired, how to describe and discover their style and how to find their own style team. But before any of that, he stresses, they have to accept themselves as they are.
"I have something to say, girls," he writes in a brief preface. "Before you can think about having style, you have to learn to look in the mirror and like what you see. Too many women are taught to hate the way they look and are encouraged to change everything about themselves from their lips to their bust sizes. I can give you all my style tips and ideas about your hair, makeup, and dress, but none of this is going to do anything for you if you don't learn to accept yourself and love who you are."