by Helena Matheopoulos

Thames & Hudson, $60.00, 192 pages

Helena Matheopoulos’ Fashion Designers at the Opera details the involvement of ten top fashion designers with the opera, mostly in the work they’ve done in costume design, but with some mention of set design, and overall conceptual designs of the show as well. The book is from well-known art publisher Thames & Hudson, and their experience with creating books about art shows. This book is large, clearly meant more for a coffee table than bedtime reading, but it is gorgeous, and the pages feel glossy and lovely in one’s hands (as they should for the $60 price tag).

One limitation of the book is that it is aimed at a strictly expert audience. There is no synopsis of the plot of even the more obscure operas, nor is there really any discussion of the fashion designers’ previous work. If you’re not an expert in both worlds, you may occasionally want an outside reference. The texts of the essays also tended a little towards the repetitive, particularly when read straight through (it seems more designed for browsing). For instance, virtually every essay talked about how designing for the stage requires broader strokes than designing for a couture audience.

The pluses were largely in the design. Both photos and drawings were reproduced at a large scale that makes detail easily visible. The inclusion of a large number of drawings was also a pleasant surprise. These drawings really give a feeling of the designers and their personality, and who sketched broad concepts, and who controlled the look down to the last zipper. The juxtaposition of drawings and photos are also expertly placed to illuminate both the idea, and the final appearance.

Reviewed by Katie Richards