The title already tells you that this is probably not going to be an ordinary book about fashion. Women in Clothes. It’s so straightforward. So modest and yet mightily bold, because it would be quite a task to cover the entire spectrum of women and their clothes.
What makes it in fact an extraordinary book about fashion is that it delivers on that promise and tells you even more than that broad title suggests. Heidi Julavits and Sheila Heti, both novelists, together with illustrator Leanne Shapton, who’s also a writer, wanted to very simply find out why women wear what they wear. So they sent questions to over 600 women, among them famous names like Lena Dunham, Miranda July and Kim Gordon, who appear next to seamstresses, teachers and trans women. The answers, which take the form of brief sidebars as well as extensive interviews, essays, pictorials and illustrations, are as diverse as the protagonists themselves and unveil how much more our clothes say about us than where we went shopping last week.
Perhaps these three women had to come along to remind us that you can be passionate about fashion without writing about either pompously or trivially. In any case you’re damn thankful for this stupendously clever, moving, wise and funny book which never fails to take you seriously.
It’s the fourth book I’ve read by Leanne Shapton, after Was She Pretty?, Important Artifacts… and Swimming Studies, and for all I care she could write an instruction manual for lawnmowers next, I’d buy it. She’s bafflingly brilliant at seeing magic in the mundane and uncovering beauty in our insecurities. When you’d love to meet someone as much as I did her, I almost didn’t have the guts to ask for this interview. But I had to, of course. And she’s as wonderful as I had hoped.