Wednesday, January 24, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Style experts Tam, Fekkai write books

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Two icons of contemporary fashion, one with roots in China, the other in France, both popular in Hawaii, recently released fashion-related books. Each is a refreshing departure from the all-too-familiar format in which a celebrity makeup artist takes an already gorgeous teenage model and makes her up 20 different ways.

Each book communicates the highly individual sense of style of the author without patronizing or dictating. The result is fresh, insightful and useful. Here’s a look at both:

"CHINA CHIC" by by Vivienne Tam, ReganBooks, hardback, $50.

I’ve always had a passion for things Chinese. So when I saw that Vivienne Tam, a fashion designer who marries Asian design motifs with a modern Western edge, had written a book called "China Chic," I had to read it. I was not disappointed.

This is not a fashion book with a narrow focus. It reads more like a personal scrapbook, often irreverent and whimsical. Tam sees Chinese style as a fusion of mythology, folklore and spirituality.

Chapters are divided according to thoughts and ideas contributing to the totality of Chinese style: Double Happiness, Chinglish, Mao Crazy and Ming, to name a few.

The language and photos provide a powerful evocation of China’s life and culture through images and words relating to style.

Hundreds of vibrant photos (this this is a coffee table book, measuring 10-by-10 inches square) offer insights into China, past and present.

While much of the writing is first-person, including touching anecdotes of her childhood in China and Hong Kong, Tam conducted extensive interviews, publishing them verbatim in a question-and-answer format.

The style influences of Chinese movie stars like Anna May Wong and Suzie Wong, and of kung fu, are explored. She gathers the insights of an architect and feng shui expert, a calligrapher, an authority on Chinese gardens and an herbalist.

Of course there are a few photos of Tam’s spirited fashion designs- striking and offbeat, superimposed on city scenes or Chinese screens.

Like her edgy, even shocking 1995 Mao dress depicting a photograph of the late Chairman Mao with a bee on his nose, Tam is more interested in telling the story of China than the story of Tam.

"China Chic" is available at Neiman Marcus, Barnes & Noble, Bestsellers and at Borders by special order.

"A YEAR OF STYLE" by Frederic Fekkai, Clarkson Potter, hardback, $35.

Style icon Frederic Fekkai, who grew up in Provence, lives in New York and is a frequent visitor to the Islands, takes a day-by-day approach, much like that of Sarah Ban Breathnach in "Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy."

Fekkai’s family had a tradition of looking up a word in a dictionary every day and committing it to their vocabulary. Here, he applies that idea to an idea a day, January: simplify; February: energize; September: renew; and so on.

In a sense, it's a guidebook for looking at possibilities and trying new things.

The tone is warm, upbeat and understated. Advice is practical and, in most cases, affordable and realistic.

The scope is by no means limited to appearance. There are recipes for Fekkai’s mother’s honey spice cake, suggestions for using candles in home decor and food ideas for making meals more healthful in a Mediterranean way.

In keeping with his philosophy of "the most simple and natural is the most beautiful," Fekkai spends many pages discussing "don’ts." The first chapter, in fact, describes style as "knowing what not to do."

Fekkai asked 10 close friends to suggest inspirational quotes to be included in the book. Here’s a sampling:

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Eleanor Roosevelt

"Dare to be na•ve." Buckminster Fuller

"I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch." Gilda Radner

There are also, of course, hundreds of useful hints on fashion, beauty and style. A few examples:

Are your nails breaking? Your body may be telling you that you need more zinc, calcium, potassium and vitamin C.

Before retiring to bed, slather your feet in a rich moisturizing cream and slip on a pair of light cotton socks.

Buy clothes made of 80 percent linen and 20 percent cotton. They will be both cool and wrinkle-resistant.

Work out barefoot occasionally to strengthen the small muscles in your feet.

In his biannual personal appearances here at Neiman Marcus, it’s evident that in helping women look their best, Fekkai prefers to look at the whole woman, head to toe. His book does the same, but also goes from the outside in.

"A Year of Style" is available at the Fekkai counter at Neiman Marcus and most bookstores.

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