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London Fashion Week Celebrates Four Decades of Timeless Style

London Fashion Week Celebrates Four Decades of Timeless Style

It’s London Fashion Week 2024 and celebrated designers and artists are descending on the capital to participate in one of the biggest fashion events of the year. This year sees Fashion Week reach its 40th anniversary with a theme entitled REBEL: 30 Years of London Fashion.


London Fashion Week Celebrates Four Decades of Timeless Style

Fashion, by which what is really fantastic becomes for a moment universal . . .

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Expect it to be fun and radical, comical and chic. London Fashion Week is London’s explosive celebration of all things sartorial coming as it does at a welcome point at the close of winter.

Before setting out into the world of London fashion, take a moment to explore our specially curated selection of rare texts and images featuring some of the most iconic designs and styles of the previous centuries.


[T]rue dandyism is the result of an artistic temperament working upon a fine body within the wide limits of fashion.

Aubrey Beardsley, Dandies and Dandies

The Dandy Club by Richard Deighton the younger, Wikimedia Commons

Dandyism has had adherents in the world of fashion long after its originator Beau Brummel first stepped out into the streets of London in the late 18th century. According to National Geographic, to be a dandy was to be elegant but minimal, luxurious without being garish. They point out that though Brummel’s dress sense was enthusiastically embraced by his contemporaries, the word ‘dandy’ had already entered the English lexicon by the time Brummel became an influence on men’s fashion. 

On Our Shelves

Oscar WILDE. A House of Pomegranates. London, 1891.

‘[D]andyism, which, in its own way, is an attempt to assert the absolute modernity of beauty’ - Perhaps the most famous of the British writer dandies, Wilde was both a lover and critic of fashion. Whilst at one time asserting that it was ‘a form of ugliness so absolutely unbearable that we have to alter it every six months’, he was also meticulous about his own style and dress.

Max BEERBOHM. Fifty Caricatures. London, 1913.

Beerbohm was an enthusiastic adopter of dandyism. Caricatured above in an elegant but discrete jacket and tie, Beerbohm is dressed according to an example of the typical dandy style.

Charles BAUDELAIRE; Michael HAMBURGUR (Translates). Twenty Prose Poems. London, 1946.

Famous for his two anthologies of poetry Les Fleurs du Mal and Le Spleen de Paris, Baudelaire also embraced dandyism as evocative of the battle against what he perceived as the ‘engulfing mediocrity of Bourgois culture' (‘Baudelaire’s Philosophy of Dandyism’, S.A. Rhodes).

Aubrey BEARDSLEY (art editor); Henry HARLAND (literary editor). The Yellow Book. London, 1894-97.

According to the Tate Modern, the dandyism of Aubrey Beardsley saw him embrace the practice in the context of its close association with the Decadent movement. The at times controversial The Yellow Book, listed here in its complete run, was similarly linked to the Decadents and features beautiful examples of Beardsley’s distinctive illustrations.

Art Deco

It was an age of miracles. It was an age of art, it was an age of excess . . .

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Echoes of the Jazz Age

Illustration from the Gazette du Bon Ton

The Met Museum describes art deco with repetition, geometry, theatricality, stylisation, elegance, modernity. It was the distinctive style of the end of the Bel Epoque and the between the wars period, characterised by designers like Paul Poiret (discover his personal autobiography in its first English language edition here!), Erté, Sonia Delaunay and Jeanne Lanvin. Together with artists, architects and interior designers, they would create a movement which would epitomise the roaring twenties and the thirties.

On Our Shelves

Enrico SACCHETTI. Robes et Femmes. Paris, 1913.

An album of satirical fashion illustrations, parodying the work of famous art-deco designers like Paul Poiret. Nevertheless, it beautifully imitates many of the art-deco fashion images of the period by its use of the pochoir technique, which consisted of overlaying repeated layers of gouache paint or watercolour.

George BARBIER. Journal des Dames et des Modes. Paris, 1912-1914.

Journal des Dames et des Modes was an art deco fashion periodical founded by Tom Antonginigini, with images by artists which include George Barbier. Featuring a selection of beautiful colour pochoirs, the periodical is a striking illustration of Parisian fashions towards the end of the Belle Époque.

George BARBIER; Lucien VOGEL. Gazette du Bon Ton. Paris, 1912-1925.

Running for over a decade, the scarce Gazette du Bon Ton is also one of the greatest periodicals of the art deco period. Also featuring illustrations by Barbier, as well as by Bakst, Dufy, and Brunelleschi, the publication catered for the wealthy and elite, and dealt with many of Paris’ top fashion houses.

Jean-Emile LABOUREUR; Robert BONFILS; Pierre BRISSAUD; et al. Le Goût du Jour. Paris, December 1918 & June - December 1920.

A complete set of Le Goût du Jour, a stunning post-war magazine of art-deco fashions. Pictured here are two of its striking illustrations: the first is of a woman dressed in an ‘Evening dress in canary yellow cloth’ and a ‘Belt in silver gauze.’ The second illustration depicts a woman wearing a ‘Young girl's dress [in] sulphur yellow organdy, a muslin cape with jade green reflections, [and] black velvet ribbons’

60s, 70s, 80s

I dress to kill, but tastefully.

Freddy Mercury

A page from a Biba mail order catalogue

The last decades of the 20th century have become some of the most radical, diverse, eccentric and distinctive in recent history. Hippies and punks, mods and rockers; catsuits, shoulder pads, perms and miniskirts; music and mayhem. It is impossible to create an exhaustive list of the many styles, trends, and fads that characterised the latter part of the 1900s. Often spearheaded by the music industry, the fashions of the period were at once shocking and innovative, delightful and openly garish.

On Our Shelves

BIBA. Mail order catalogues. n.d. [1960s, probably 1968-69].

One of the most recognisable names of 1960s fashion, Biba was founded by Barbara Hulanicki in 1963. More affordable and accessible than its competitors, the brand quickly rose to become a major force in global fashion.

Richard HAMILTON. Dedicated Follower of Fashion. 1980.

An etching evoking 1960s fashion, the image is also a metaphorical representation of the essential notion of style. Based on a fashion photograph that Hamilton rescued from a dustbin, the image explores not only style itself but also the means of its representation.

Bob GRUEN. Roc-Pic. New Music Magazine. Tokyo, 1975.

Presentation copy inscribed to Hilary Gerrard. This special edition of New Music Magazine also features Gruen’s photographs of many of the most notorious and famous names in the music industry of the period. The music industry of the 70s was closely entwined with evolution in fashion, with fans frequently adopting styles and trends worn by popular artists.

Christopher MAKOS. White Trash. New York, 1977.

Signed by the author. Includes Makos’ photographs of the emerging punk scene, which also became another key arena for innovation in clothing and fashion trends. The Met museum describes bondage clothing, torn fabric, boots, dyed hair and cheek and nose piercings as some of the most distinctive elements of punk style.

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Shapero Rare Books is an internationally renowned dealer in London, specialising in antiquarian & rare books and works on paper, with particular expertise in fine illustrated books from the 15th to the 20th century, travel & voyages, natural history, modern firsts, rare children’s books, guidebooks, Hebraica & Judaica, Eastern European, and Islamica

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