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Backstage at Gucci AW18Photography Giacomo Cabrini

8 books that inspired fashion collections

From The Shining to A Clockwork Orange, Mumbo Jumbo and A Cyborg Manifesto

When Juergen Teller shot literary heavyweight Joan Didion for Celine’s SS15 campaign the world, bizarrely, came to a standstill. The image of the author wearing oversized glasses, a black top, and a gold necklace went viral so viral, it prompted Didion to make a statement on the matter. “I don’t have any clue,” she told the New York Times when asked what she made of all the fuss. 

And with countless other examples of authors breaching into the realms of fashion, there are also the designers who have looked to books to inform their own work. 

From Alexander McQueen who looked to H.G Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau to create his wild and animal-like “It’s a Jungle Out There” collection to Alessandro Michele who created Gucci cyborgs for his AW18 show after being influenced by Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto, here, on World Book Day, we explore the relationship between fashion and literature. Outlining some of the industries most favoured books, influencing the likes of Grace Wales Bonner, Rei Kawakubo, and Vaquera, these are eight of fashion’s favourite texts.   


Virginia’s Woolf’s Orlando tells the tale of an Elizabethan nobleman who wakes up one morning a woman. Following this, Orlando goes on a 300-year time-travelling journey, meeting some of literature’s key figures on the way. Adapted into a film starring Tilda Swinton, Woolf’s novel has gone on to become a cultural touchstone, notably in the LGBTQ+ community. With its extensive timespan and gender-fluid approach to fashion, a number of designers have looked to the book for inspiration. From Ann Demeulemeester and her AW07 collection to Christopher Bailey for his AW16 Burberry show, there is also Rei Kawakubo who has dedicated both her SS20 men and womenswear shows to the novel as part of a three-part project. With a demure mostly black menswear collection which saw models styled in frock coats, pinafores, and petticoats, the collection then evolved for the womenswear presentation which was a maximalist lesson in theatrical fashion. The final iteration of this came last December with Kawakubo costuming an opera performance of Orlando


Written in 1823, Frankenstein is one of the most influential gothic novels in the English language. A story about human limitations, Shelley tells the tale of Victor Frankenstein, a scientist who undertakes the experiment of creating a sentient being. With its rich and dark descriptive passages, Frankenstein has become one of the most referenced works of literature on the runway. From its very obvious interpretations – where visual depictions of the book’s monster have been printed on Prada and Christopher Kane shirts – to the more subtle references found in Feng Chen Wang’s SS19 and Alexander McQueen’s SS99 show, its most recent iteration, however, comes from Alessandro Michele’s AW18 Gucci presentation. “We are all Dr Frankensteins of our lives”,  he wrote in his show notes, where he also referenced Donna Haraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto


A post-modern text, A Cyborg Manifesto is a critique of the traditional notions of feminism which pushes forward socialist and anti-identitarian politics. Using the cyborg as a metaphor to reject binaries and challenge the notion of identity, Michele created his own Gucci cyborg for AW18. Set in a medical style room, decorated with hospital beds and clinical lighting, models walked down the runway carrying moulds of their own heads, miniature dragons, and chameleons. Along with Haraway and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Michele also cited French philosopher Michel Foucault for this collection. 


A Clockwork Orange’s imagery has become iconic. The story, written in 1962, tells the tale of a 15-year-old named Alex. Following him and his group of “droogs” who go around a raping, stealing, and harassing civilians, Burgess’ dystopian tale delves into themes of morality, and law and order. With the looks detailed in the book instantly recognisable, mostly due to Stanley Kubrick’s 1977 film adaption of it, the novel has been referenced by Jun Takahashi for Undercover. Taking the book to the runway for his AW19 collection, models wore the theatrical masks, bowler hats, and canes symbolic of the novel’s characters. Elsewhere, tops were also embossed with some of the book’s integral made-up language.  


Another of fashion’s favourite books to be adapted by Stanley Kubrick comes in the form of Stephen King’s The Shining. A horror novel, The Shining tells the story of a writer who takes the job as an off-season caretaker at a hotel. Joined by his wife and psychically gifted son Danny, who is able to see the hotel’s terrifying past, a snowstorm then leaves the family stranded, all the while supernatural forces torment the protagonist’s sanity. Alexander McQueen took this as the setting for his AW99 show, “The Outlook”. Set in a Lucite box filled with artificial snow and bare trees, models walked and later ice-skated around the runway. An eerie and dramatic presentation, the show also referenced one of The Shining’s most iconic scenes of twin girls standing in a hallway. Although this was not actually part of the book, Jun Takahashi also used this idea to inform his Undercover SS18 show. Wearing 50s-styled dresses decorated with landscape motifs, models made their way down the runway in pairs, walking hand in hand.


Set in the 1920s, Mumbo Jumbo details an epidemic called Jes Grew – a virus carried by black artists causing half of America to recklessly dance and enjoy jazz. A satirical tale which embraces jazz, magic, and conspiracy theories, it was this book that Grace Wales Bonner looked to for her AW19 collection of the same name. With the show accompanied by a special piano performance by Ishmael Reed and Ben Okri, who recited a poem at the presentation, the collection sought to explore African Intellectualism. With the British designer renowned for her intense and academic research process, in her show notes the LVMH prize winner outlined: “The collection considers the role of writers as oracles, connecting to a rich and magical lineage, serving as the custodians of ancestral wisdom passed down and reinterpreted. Words are collaged and transformed, becoming spells woven in cloth.” 


For his AW97 collection entitled “It’s a Jungle Out There”, Alexander McQueen referenced the work of H. G. Wells and his science fiction novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau. A book which explores ideas of what it means to be human, the story follows Edward Prendick, a shipwreck survivor who lands on an island belonging to Doctor Moreau, a scientist who practices vivisections. McQueen took this story and transformed it, giving his models exaggerated cat-like make-up and wild, crazy hair. With the rest of the collection accented with hints of animal prints and fur, the show is considered to be one of his most iconic. Elsewhere McQueen has looked to the Italian poet Dante to inform his work which came in the form of his AW96 collection of the same name.


Written in 1985, A Handmaid’s Tale has had a cultural resurgence in recent years, thanks to the TV adaptation which hit our screens in 2017. A dystopian tale set in a future where the American government has been overthrown by a quasi-Christian group which dictates, among other things, that women lose control of their bodies, too many the novel became bizarrely reflective of our current times. With the female characters dressed in red robes and a white hood, it was New York label Vaquera which took Atwood’s words and transformed them on the runway with a collection created to promote the TV show. 

In light of World Book Day, click here to view our favourite books to read this month.