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Fashion Plates

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Beaucoup Brits: 'The London Fashion Book' explains why London is such a hotbed of cutting-edge fashion design.

A look at the latest and greatest books from the style section

By Diana Rupp

Visionaire's Fashion 2000: Designers at the Turn of the Millennium is a must-have A-to-Z compendium of the world's top designers. Unlike many books of this genre, which seem dated and out of touch from the moment they hit the shelves, this high-production volume was written with the authority of a fashion insider. (Stephen Gan, Universe Publishing, 160 pages, $35)

Equal parts documentary and travelogue, The London Fashion Book captures the energy of the city that unleashed the edgy genius of Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy and John Galliano. From the street to the atelier to the runway, the book gives it up to London's "model-divas, muses, punks, party-goers and poseurs" and concludes with a thorough shopping directory. (Andrew Tucker, Rizzoli, 192 pages)

The concept behind Joe's Magazine is simple: invite some of the world's leading fashion photographers to publish work without editorial constraint. A self-proclaimed homage to decadence, the book's images promise to shock or inspire, depending on your taste. Participants include Jürgen Teller, Mario Testino, Bruce Weber, Craig McDean and Mario Sorrenti. (Joe McKenna, Distributed Art Publishers, 100 pages, $80)

A remarkable work of fashion scholarship, Claire McCardell: Redefining Modernism charts the life and legacy of the woman credited with inventing 20th-century American casual dress. Hailed as a revolutionary in her own time, McCardell is best known for using "common" fabrics like gingham, calico, denim and stretch jerseys, and for ditching corsets and shoulder pads as early as 1936 in favor of wrap-and-tie "comfort-first" styles. These so-called futuristic garments, recorded in scores of photos and illustrations from the Fashion Institute of Technology archives, continue to influence the direction of sportswear to this day. (Kohle Yohannan and Nancy Nolf, Henry N. Abrams, Inc., 151 pages, $40)

Completed just before Gianni Versace's death in 1997, The Art of Being You is a fitting, albeit self-indulgent tribute to the flamboyant designer. Inspired by his democratic belief that "on each person's shoulders is the freedom to have his or her own style," the book is a dizzying panorama of signature Avedon and Weber ads juxtaposed with the couturier's museum-quality art. The paintings overshadow the clothes, but fans will enjoy perusing Versace's haute trash ode to la dolce vita. (Gianni Versace, Abbeville Press, 244 pages, $75)

Decades of Beauty: The Changing Image of Women, 1890s to 1990s, is the worst kind of coffee-table book: all style and no substance. More junior-high-school text than sociological treatise, the content would be entirely lackluster if weren't for the photos, which do a much better job of distilling the key trends of the last century than the bad writing. Hopelessly superficial and ethnocentric, the book is destined for the remainder table. (Kate Mulvey and Melissa Richards, 208 pages, $35)

Erudite, visually provocative and at times funny, The Style Engine ponders the age-old question "Is there intelligent life on the planet Fashion?" The answer is both yes and no, according to essays ranging from "<why the accent mark?> Barbès: Visibility and Contamination in the Laboratory of Fashion" to "Why People Hate Fashion" (which contains a number of deadpan remarks like "fashion is a waste of time and money" and "for people with imperfect bodies, fashion can cause a lot of stress"). Although the collection may sound heavy-handed and rabidly antifashion, it actually presents an interesting and challenging critique of a complex culture. (Edited by Giannino Malossi, The Monacelli Press, 215 pages, $45)

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From the November 16-29, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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