I’ve been MIA lately on my blog and I know you enjoy my book reviews…so here come two (actually three!) I recently featured, with the authors, on my monthly nenasnotes The Fashion Book Club. And, in my opinion, are MUST reads and adds to your library.

First a memoir, one of the most impactful books I’ve had the pleasure to read and share with my TFBC attendees in recent memory! The added attraction was not only having the author, Christine Barker, joined me in conversation but she also read the first chapter of her extraordinary story giving it so much more depth! How do I get advance notice of the books I feature on TFBC, actually several ways, sometimes the publisher notifies me (think RIZZOLI for an example), sometimes the author, sometimes I reach out to authors or publishers, or sometimes one of my TFBC supporters such as Jeffrey Banks, he recommended Third Girl From The Left…here is his quote for Christine’s book…”Christine Barker has written a beautifully crafted book about a life in the theater and the world of fashion set in the vibrant, yet turbulent time of AIDS, that I simply could not put down. Filled with many people I also knew, and who will also be familiar to the reader, this is not only a wonderful piece of history, but also a heart-rending memoir that simply begs to be read.” — Jeffrey Banks, two-time Coty Award and CFDA Award winning designer and author of Perry Ellis: An American Original Another nenasnote….and who I am privileged to call a dear friend…I said I was doing two books….make that three, I’ll talk a bit about Jeffrey’s monograph on Perry Ellis!)

Christine Barker with her incredible book, Third Girl From The Left!

We learn of her career in the theater, most specifically in A CHORUS LINE, where she joined the London cast and later went to the Broadway production, along with the ups and downs of day to day life of a dancer in a blockbuster, landmark show. It is the story of a military family, a large close knit one, most specifically her brother, Laughlin Parker, partner to Perry Ellis in life and business….a quote from publisher Delphinium “…Laughlin, divorced, a father, ex-military and a corporate lawyer—also makes his way to New York City, where he meets, and begins to build a life, with rising fashion star Perry Ellis. The two men enjoy a partnership and a financial success that Christine both admires. and envies.” As we progress through the years we learn so many details of both Christine and Laughlin’s life…a nenasnotes aside….I asked Christine if she had a photographic memory there is SO much detail in the book…her answer “I keep journals!”…I must admit it is one of the few regrets I have of my career, I did not! Since we are talking about the 1980’s and the world of theater, art and fashion we find ourselves in a health “issue” that no one understood and one that was killing many…too many, almost overnight…one with a name filled with dread…AIDS! This hideous plaque took Laughlin’s life first at the young age of 37. Perry followed shortly after. At that time obituaries did not mention AIDS. We, of course, now know there are treatments and it isn’t the hateful plaque it was and we still must fight for a cure. She not only lost a cherished brother and Perry but so many more colleagues and close friends in the theater.

Perry Ellis and Laughlin Barker

The memoir is heartwarming, heartbreaking and most certainly heart wrenching. It is an honest telling of family both real and acquired and told in minute detail. I was in tears remembering all the people in my life that succumbed to AIDS who could be here today if there had been more understanding of the illness and more aggressive treatments…I thank God that we didn’t lose more…it devastated so much creativity in the Arts and Fashion. I really need you to read this book…you will not only be deeply touched but will learn so much from a person who lived the story and was destined to tell it! Thank you Christine, I applaud you and your brilliant writing!

At our June nenasnotes The Fashion Book Club we began our 6th year and it has become a tradition that Jeffrey Banks joins us to discuss one of his brilliant books…in 2018 it was NORELL: MASTER OF AMERICAN FASHION…this year it was PERRY ELLIS: AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL.

Here I am with Jeffrey Banks and the first book we discussed, NORELL: MASTER OF AMERICAN FASHION!

PERRY ELLIS: AN AMERICAN ORIGINAL isn’t a new publication but is, most certainly, the best book on this amazing creator written with first hand knowledge by another unique creative talent the book has an extraordinary collection of photographs and sketches, a MUST for your fashion library. Again, I quote from the publisher’s notes (RIZZOLI) the book “….providing an insightful look at each season of his career, from 1976 to 1986, offering readers unique access to editorial and ad campaign photographs from the archives of brilliant photographer Erica Lennard, with whom Ellis worked almost exclusively. Included here are ephemera, a treasure trove of drawings, and never-before-published photos from the personal collections of the designer’s friends and family, adding insight to Ellis’s unique aesthetic while solidifying his place as one of the key contemporary designers of American fashion.” Jeffrey is not only an original voice with his fashion publications but a fabulous raconteur…the stories he can tell are FABULOUS! Talk about a photographic memory…need I say more. Another nenasnote…I did not personally work with Perry Ellis, more the pity, but greatly admired his versatility, while maintaining his own perfect interpretation of the fashion of the 70’s and 80’s, I did wear his designs and we devoted a huge department to his collections in the Saks Fifth Avenue Oak Brook store when it opened in 1982.

I have read ALL of Renée Rosen’s books, I believe the first one I read was WINDY CITY BLUES, which I loved (I believe I have reviewed several of her historical fiction books), the last being THE SOCIAL GRACES. They just keep getting better.

Renée Rosen

Here is a good example of how I choose my TFBC titles…in the back of THE SOCIAL GRACES (2021) with Reneé’s raison d’être, her next book was mentioned and would be on Estée Lauder along with Renée’s email….I couldn’t write a note quickly enough inviting her to be a guest at my monthly TFBC….she explained it wouldn’t be published for two years…I said great and the confirmation was made…fast forward to May 2023 and there we were in conversation! I actually thought I knew everything there was to know about Mrs Lauder but boy oh boy was I wrong….so many details (that’s why I love historical fiction it blends the “real” with the imagined). Since the Lauder Company and Saks Fifth Avenue were so intertwined I was quite familiar with that connection (and yes, I did meet Mrs. Lauder and was in her divine office which, I understand is still in the Lauder headquarters and I also did many events and launches for Lauder and their brands while I was at SFA!) and the book does definitely uses that as a catalyst for this intriguing story of survival, gumption and an extraordinary entrepreneur who definitely wouldn’t take no for an answer. I loved the story of a budding cosmetic company, the retail scene at the time, and, of course, Renée’s writing. By the way Renée lives in Chicago and I have already invited her to join us in 2025 to be in conversation about her upcoming book on Barbie!!!!!!

I’m sure, by now, you know my Independent Bookseller of choice is in Winnetka, Illinois. All the titles featured in my reviews are available there.

You might also know, I don’t have sponsors, I’m definitely open to that…at the moment, my book reviews are sponsored by an avid reader who wishes to remain anonymous.