Valerie Steele on Curating Fashion
The author and fashion scholar reveals her favourite style icons and why she’s obsessed with shoes.
You’re a prolific writer. How have your research interests evolved over the years?
Well, there are a couple of continual themes. Fashion and Eroticism kicked off a theme dealing with body, sexuality and gender. And that continued with books like Fetish and Corset and Gothic, and now we’ll have Queer Style. There has also been a theme of looking at fashion in different parts of the world. My second book was Paris Fashion, then China Chic and Japan Fashion Now. And the third theme has been looking at individuals, with this new book about Akris, about Albert Kriemler and his work, also books about Isabel Toledo, about Ralph Rucci. Last year, I did a show and a book about Daphne Guinness.
Regarding your most recent book from Assouline about Akris—how did you come to research this family?
I was approached by Assouline to write the book. I had met designer Albert Kriemler and seen his work, and I admired Akris. I went to Switzerland and interviewed Albert and also his brother Peter, who runs the business side of the company, and his mom, who is a very sophisticated, very intelligent woman. I got a picture of a family and of a young man who was really interested in fashion and textiles from a very early age. Another thing that amazed me was how much effort Akris puts into research and development of textiles. Albert works very closely with some of the best luxury textiles in the world right there in Switzerland, trying to figure out how can he make textiles that go beyond what textiles normally do.
Who are your fashion icons?
I think that Daphne Guinness is probably the most interesting and original fashion icon around today. She’s such a fascinating and lovely and cultivated person. It was really a pleasure working on a show and book about her.
Of the younger designers on the scene today, who are you watching?
In the museum, we’ve been collecting clothes by the Rodarte girls. Gareth Pugh I find very intriguing. Out of the Netherlands, Iris van Herpen is somebody I’m watching now.
And what are you researching right now? Do you have a book in the works?
With Colleen Hill, I’m working on Shoe Obsession and with Fred Dennis I’m working on Queer Style.
Speaking of shoes, just what is it about this accessory that makes women crazy?
I think shoes are the best way to play with fashion. You don’t have to make a huge commitment of money or transform your identity. With a pair of black jeans and a black T-shirt, you’re completely different if you’re wearing a little pair of Lanvin ballerinas or if you’re wearing incredible, insane Iris van Herpen shoes. The shoes completely change the look. I was just at the Givenchy couture presentation and, as magnificent and as extraordinary as the clothes were, my eyes kept slipping down to the shoes and boots.