by Penny Martin .
A relative newcomer to the system of image production, the 'look-book' evolved out of the culture of catalogues produced by fashion companies at the end of the 1980s. Through these lavishly produced pamphlets, brands were able to suggest a more artistic interpretation of their garments than offered by editorial found in contemporary mainstream magazines. The most directional examples of these catalogues were produced by Japanese designers, perhaps most notably Yohji Yamamoto.
Far less opulent in their production and creative in their concept, Look Books came into being in the early 1990s. Effectively, a sequence of outfits, Look Books comprised pictures of models wearing every outfit from a collection - either photographed on the catwalk runway or afterwards in a studio. These were inexpensively spiral bound with a cover page sporting the brand's logo.
Starting out as a useful tool to supplement the stylist's notebook- that veritable 'bible' of scribbles, illustrations and personal memoranda compiled at the biannual catwalk shows- Look Books took their lead from the fashion departments of leading fashion magazines, who made Polaroids from catwalk transparencies, as a 'short-hand' of each show.
If a single-breasted jacket was required for a shoot, there was no need to leaf back through rough sketches in your Paris notebook: detailed photographs in Look Books sent by fashion PRs after the shows would throw up plenty of options. The insidious creep of Look Books throughout the 1990s led to illustration skills no longer being a prerequisite of a fashion assistant's appointment, such was power of these simple trade publications.
Where once a stylist's job extended to creatively sourcing esoteric items of thrift or fetish wear to add to high fashion, the increasing use of Look Books actively work against such freedom. The actual structure of the look books encourages its own lexicon, relying on the page number to identify clothing ('Look 1, shoes from Look 17' and so on). This has transferred creative control to the PR lending the garments, to the extent that in some cases, they can insist that an entire 'look' be used, with no mixing of pieces. In this sense, editorial interpretations of clothing are kept 'on message' by the brand.
Nowadays, of course, the Internet offers more options, with style.com, firstview.com and catwalking.com making it even easier to peruse the collections remotely, without having attended the shows at all. Today, Ebru Ercon -one of the highlights of the acclaimed 'Fashion East' showcase- will photograph her Autumn/Winter 2004 collection live in the SHOWstudio space. Fusing the print format of the look book with SHOWstudio's web context, Ercon will make this industry practice accessible for the first time with the aid of stylist Marie Chaix and photographer Dennis Shoenberg.