A well-designed, timeless jacket is always in style. Chanel built her reputation on it. Armani swears by it.
Trends come and go but the artfully attired book jacket will always bewitch. Anyone who claims they can cast aside the charms of a perky well-appointed paperback is a cold-hearted individual. For despite believing that the beauty lies within, I do judge a book by its cover. Back and front, spine and font, these decisions influence my every book buying experience.
So after much perusing, deliberating, editing, painstaking procrastination, and liaising with world leaders, here it is, pop pickers: The International Best Dressed List For Books.The fashionable fronts that have me reaching for my reading glasses. The shelf art that stops me from from heading for the door, that beckons me to pull up an armchair, light a cigar, and slip on my velvet reading slippers… What, doesn’t everyone own a pair of those?
So work your way through, work yourself up into a state if needs be, then pen your frustrations in the comments section as I would love to know what you would have picked…after I’ve done all the legwork, mind you.
20. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 1953
Describing a dystopian society in which books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any they find, the cover art shows a burning figure dressed in a suit tailored out of the printed word. John Galliano’s Spring 2000 collection for Christian Dior celebrated the printed word. Let’s not only read words, let’s wear them!
19.Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates 1961
A stylish perennial but how can the couple pictured here look so polished and soigné, when everything’s about to go to hell in a hand basket?
18. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, 1847
The dramatic cloak covers up all the secrets of the novel: the scars of Jane’s emotionally abusive childhood, then her lonely, cold existence at Lowood Institution under the charge of the merciless Brocklehurst, and finally the greatest concealment of all: the mad wife languishing in the upper chambers of Thornfield Hall.
17. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, 1813
In the first image, the two girls sit ripe and shiny, ready to be plucked by the nearest landed gentry, the sleeves of their dresses so puffed they resemble helium balloons. In the second image, the delicately demure textiles, the unassuming clasped hands, the structure of the bonnet against the feminine folds everywhere else put me in mind of the head of a flower on a willowy stem.
16. Summer by Edith Wharton, 1917
The colours of this jacket capture the young librarian’s wayward dreaminess that will inevitably land her in strife with the more worldly Harney; the three artfully arranged roses on the corner of the balcony punctuate her innocence and also her willfulness.
15. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, 1915
Fashion designers are often attracted to the more morbid side of things. The minimal colours and the splayed position of this half-man/half-insect specimen implies he has been freshly pinned to a board for display. The weird structure of the upper wings, the frilled lightness of the second set, the narrow lower portion provides great fodder for us to explore new silhouettes and volumes and make pretty models wear scary Halloween make-up.
14. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, 1878
I couldn’t choose between both covers as together they really emphasize the anxiety and isolation of the aristocratic Anna embarking on an affair that leaves her increasingly paranoid and shunned by society. The languid dishabillé state of her in the first cover contrasts with the bold graphics of the cinched corset and the fleshy pink petals in the second. Steamy.
13. Beowolf translated by Seamus Heaney, 1999
You have ancient Scandinavian warriors translated by an Irish Chieftain of poetry, and chainmail. What else do you need? Even Alexander McQueen must bow to the impact of this book cover.
12. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, 1856
The bored manner in which she holds her fan, the belligerent stare, the rich gold blanket draped over her well-tended to knees and the bold announcement that is her black and white hat bow, this doctor’s wife is ready to risk it all for a roll in the hay.
11. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, 1847
I’m not usually taken by modern illustrations on the covers of the classics but this one works for me. I feel the cold winds sweeping across the moors almost lifting her off her feet; the rain has started; her hair is wild and her teeth chatter; her clothes beat around her body; and yet all she can think of is that blasted Heathcliff. Brrrr
10. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, 1955
The kitsch childish accoutrements of lollypops, bubble writing and brightly colored sunglasses are standard styling ingredients of many high fashion photoshoots and the youthquake of the sixties is represented in both. Again I couldn’t choose. Or I didn’t want to.
9. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, 1954
The preppy look never goes out of fashion otherwise where would Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger be? The hapless Jim with his untucked shirt and uneven tie is an overgrown version of all those irresistible bad boys in crested blazers that we should have stayed away from in school but instead we skipped gym class and ran off to smoke cigarettes with them just outside the school gates.
8. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, 1920
The monotone austerity of the first cover interrupted by the red rectangle bearing the title which incidentally looks like a cotton label plucked from the inside neck of a garment is the exact opposite of the second cover with its haughty lady shielding herself from the world in her voluminous fur lined cape and satin gloves. Whichever representation of innocence is on offer, I’m buying it.
7.1984 by George Orwell, 1949
These dystopian works seem to inspire the best book art. The clashing brights; the varying sizes of circle and the pixilated eye resemble a print straight off the London Fashion Week catwalks.
6. Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford, 1949
The photograph is of the author and was taken by legendary fashion photography Sir Cecil Beaton so he would certainly know how to dress a book. The almost sepia tone transmits nostalgia for the elegant era and the peachy accents evoke the femininity of the three aristocratic Mitford sisters. The second cover is from a modern day style bible, POP magazine, featuring Georgia May Jagger, Mick’s daughter, as model but the similarity to the novel cover is striking.
5. A selection by Agatha Christie, 1930-1970
These are just little loose gems of covers that I strung together. Peacock feathers, beaded fringing, coral toe nails, a vicar’s collar, a weird porcelain doll, and an antiquated sports racquet and you expect me to choose?
4. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
The streaky melancholy face, the nude inside the eyes, the neon carnival below..it’s too iconic not to be on my list. But the clever lesser known cover below it has much to say for itself too. The gentleman looks dashing if utterly alone. Picking up from where the phrase, he didn’t have a pot to piss in, leaves off, this chap doesn’t have a glass to drink from thus highlighting the fact that material wealth will not bring happiness. No matter how sunny yellow the cover.
3. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, 1945
This unexpected cover from the early sixties is a different take on the tale of the 1920s Oxford born friendship of Charles Ryder and Lord Sebastian Flyte because there is a quota on how many flapper/20s images are allowed on one list. And the color blocking brings us back to the Celine runway in Paris.
Although the one below is quite a treat too so I had to include it.
2. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, 1925
The bold yellow and graphic pattern and thick blue floral motif are reminiscent of the giddy play of colour and pattern of one of my favourite designers, Belgium-based Dries Van Noten. I’m beginning to realize if a cover is predominantly yellow, I go straight for it. Focus groups, are you getting this?
1.The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, 1985.
Dystopia again. That, yellow and the 1920s just about sums up my literary inclinations, it has become evident.
This award-winning cover (it won awards before winning my award for most stylish book cover, pop pickers) was designed by the Milan-based Balbusso sisters for a 2011 edition of The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s number one; my Best Dressed Book.
And it allows me to conclude my top twenty with a picture of this lovely lady dressed head to toe in Comme Des Garçons during Fashion Week.
Because she makes me smile.
My novel is also available and the cover art is about to become iconic. You heard it here first. You can buy Silk for the Feed Dogs here.