The May Issue: Booksellers Edition
New York's Bookish Fashion Week
A few weeks ago, I threw on a pink corduroy suit, book tote, and comfortable pair of shoes and headed to my first-ever New York Antiquarian Book Fair. Held annually at the iconic Park Avenue Armory on the upper east side, the fair returned this spring after a two-year hiatus. Nearly 200 booksellers participated, constituting a seemingly endless maze of stalls. It reminded me of the set of Jacques Tati’s 1967 Playtime—like Monsieur Hulot, I was dazzled and a little overwhelmed. Luckily for me, many of the stalls contained the friendly faces of booksellers I had looked forward to seeing for months.
Since John Ortved covered the fair for the New York Times style section in 2018, I have dreamed of attending (and pondered what I might wear). I was not disappointed—everywhere I looked sellers and attendees were serving looks. I spotted one young woman in an oversized hot pink blazer and pants, an elegant gentleman dressed in black turtleneck and slacks leafing through an album with bright white lacquered nails, a punk poet rock star in braids and fringed suede jacket…in short, it’s spectacular people-watching, with the street style offerings rivaling those of New York Fashion Week.
In anticipation of this sartorial and antiquarian feast, I brought along my old Lumix GX1 and asked a few nosy questions. Many thanks to the booksellers below for obliging.
Philipp Penka, Bernett Penka Rare Books
On The Suit: “The suit is by the very talented young tailor Maximilian Mogg from Berlin, who has made a name for himself by bringing back the lounge suit in a classic English-inspired style and with lots of flair: wide lapels, roped shoulders, longer jackets and wider pants. This one was inspired by an ice green flannel suit he wore, but I wanted something for the warmer months, so we decided on a mint green Crispaire, cut as a 6x1 double breasted suit with white lining and mother-of-pearl buttons. It was meant to be quite casual, and can be worn with a belt and also works well unbuttoned. It’s extremely comfortable and was the perfect thing to wear at our first book fair in over two years!”
Were you sad to part with anything this year? “I'll confess that I rarely get upset about parting with even the most exciting of items, because what I love most is the thrill of discovering and researching new items. But I was a bit sad, or maybe surprised, that a few items didn’t find homes at the fair, especially our collection of materials documenting the life of the scandalous dancer, femme fatale and all-round self-made "reality star” Lola Montez (1821—1861).”
On Justin’s suit: “So my suit is made-to-measure by Beggar’s Run, London in 11-wale corduroy. I’ve had four of these over the years in different colors—the only suits I wear. The tie is Paul Smith via Liberty London.”
On Simon’s signature eyewear: “It’s funny: I’ve had a lot of nice comments about these frames over the years. It’s actually my second pair of them. The first (which were black, with tan on the inside) broke a few years ago and I had my lenses transferred into this pair (tortoiseshell), which had previously had prescription sunglasses in them. The frame is Lacoste, but apparently it doesn’t exist anymore. I know that because I’m actually in the process of getting some new glasses (I’m getting old, and need varifocals) and when my optician saw these frames she said how well they suited me, both for my prescription (minus 14.5 dioptres; if the frame is too big, you end up with the lenses being very thick at the sides) as well as for the overall fit. She thought they may have been bespoke! Anyway, soon I shall be going over to another similar frame, from Italy.”
On Heather’s approach to getting dressed for fairs: “After I left my Manhattan gallery job (Bauman Rare Books, 2004-2011), I donated my suits to charity. I prefer dresses, which I find less constricting, and jeans for everyday. Of course, this philosophy came back to bite me 15 minutes before the opening of this year's fair, when I was trapped in a stall in the armory bathroom unable to zip the cocktail dress I had not worn since 2019. There was no margin for error: I literally sucked it up and got through the preview and subsequent dinner. I was also in high heels for the first time in two years, another rude awakening.
The dress and boots you see in this Friday photo are compensation for my trials of Thursday night. Wrap dresses are good for fairs because they can travel in a backpack and they fit no matter what. The flat boots are from BedStü, a brand I like for the patina of their leather and the indestructibility of their workmanship. They truly never wear out.”
Justin, Simon, and Heather not only shared a booth at the fair, but were unanimous in their feelings about being back at the armory. Justin: “The best thing about this fair was catching up in person with friends from all over the world (on both sides of the counter) and rekindling our shared passion for books.” Simon: “I was really just looking forward to seeing everyone again, both colleagues and customers. Two years is a long time. I had no idea how Americans might feel about coming to such a large in-person event, but any fears were quickly allayed.” Heather: “What I most looked forward to at this year's fair was just the spontaneous pleasure of talking with people—old friends, favorite customers, first-time exhibitors, curmudgeonly colleagues, young collectors. I managed to hold on to most of my existing relationships during the pandemic, but really missed the fun of meeting new people.”
Allie Alvis and Rebecca Romney, Type Punch Matrix
Allie, on their gorgeous shock of pink hair: “I'm genuinely not sure where I got my predilection for pink! I remember as a young kid thinking that I wanted to have pink hair when I grew up, and here we are. I think the first time I dyed it was back in my sophomore year of undergrad? I tried fire engine red for a month during my first MLIS, but quickly reverted back to pink!” On where they find their cheerful, colorful prints: “I buy most of my clothes online at eShakti! I love that you can customize them to your measurements, and they have new fun patterns all the time. And most importantly, all their dresses have pockets!”
Rebecca on putting together her chic but comfortable book fair look: “The jacket is from Chiara Boni, a wistful lockdown-era purchase as I wondered when the next in-person book fair could possibly occur. It finally fulfilled its purpose here! The shoes are from the Office of Angela Scott, flashy Oxfords that require mindfulness in the rest of the ensemble: the weight of the necklace was meant to balance the way those shoes draw the eye down. You're right about looking comfortable: that's an absolute necessity in this environment. Book fair days are long, and you're essentially "hosting" people in your booth all day.
I'm really just a nerdy tomboy turned rare book company co-founder, so my professional style reflects that. I like mixing vintage and contemporary (just as we try to do with Type Punch Matrix), and I tend to mix masculine- and feminine-coded elements. I especially like traditionally masculine styles with some kind of feminizing trait.”
On their favorite objects to chat about with fair-goers: Allie: “Obviously I loved talking about the Amy Winehouse collection with visitors; it was fascinating to watch their reactions transform from "So why is there a random paperback edition of Watchmen here...?" to absolute awe and reverence. But my favorite object we brought to the fair was a little French Huguenot Bible with its title page removed and supplied in manuscript. What at first may be seen as simple damage is actually an effort to conceal the nature of the book: during the French persecution of Protestants, soldiers would go door to door looking for Bibles in French. But, the soldiers were often illiterate—they knew what Bible title pages looked like, but not the rest of the text. So some Huguenots simply ripped the title pages out of their Bibles, and they were safe! It's such a neat little book with a big story, and fits so nicely in your hand!” Rebecca: “My favorite item we brought to the fair sold to the first person I showed it—which is great, but also means I didn't get to show it off much! It was a set of uncut sheets from a Meiji era songbook collection, showing the imposition format for the classic Japanese fukurotoji style binding. With this format, printed via woodblock, the covers are printed on the same sheets as the rest of the book—and the covers for these actually depicted women reading books of the very same format.”
Oliver and Daniel, Daniel / Oliver Gallery
Oliver on his ensemble: “That shirt is actually a 60s JC Penney short sleeve, bought on eBay like many things I own! The yellow jacket is from our friend Emily’s company, Bode. It’s made from vintage coverlet material, believe from the late 19th century. The shoes—good old Nikes.”
Daniel: “The shirt is from a really cool company called Snow Peak. It was founded in Japan in 1958 and they sell nice camping gear and some clothing. We did a pop-up with them a few months ago, where we showed some photography related to early 20th-century auto-camping and the like. There was free beer at the opening and by the end of the night, what can I say, bought myself a shirt! The shoes are from my favorite vintage store in the world—eBay. I am not a sneaker person at all, but I really wanted this style and they were surprisingly hard to find outside of very expensive ones on StockX. I finally found these and the seller was happy someone was wearing them instead of just buying them to stick away in a closet. On his favorite vintage sources outside of eBay: “I usually do most of my vintage shopping at the various antique fairs and flea markets like Brimfield of the Elephant's Trunk, but my favorite vintage store in the city is certainly Paula Rubenstein. She is simply the best in the business.”
Oliver on their first time exhibiting at their fair: “Nothing but good things to say, it was great to meet so many new people and simply to exhibit at a fair in the legendary armory!”
A Few Fashionable Items from the Fair
Clockwise from the top: two collections of perfume bottle designs from Piver Perfumes, circa 1820-1870. Seen up-close, the bottles are more like works of collage combining original watercolors with the printed labels. (Rodolphe-Chamonal Books) | A book of hours illuminated in the Ghent-Bruges manner for a Spanish patron, c. 1500 with carrying case lined in needlepoint textile. (Les Enluminures.) | Original sketch for two coat designs from Mizrahi’s fall 1994 collection later featured in the iconic 1995 documentary Unzipped. (Type Punch Matrix) | Fragment of the dress worn by actress Laura Keene on the night of President Lincoln's assassination bearing two spots of Lincoln’s blood, stained while cradling his head in her lap. (Abraham Lincoln Book Shop)
My favorite journalist on the cultural heritage beat, Jennifer Schuessler, covered the fair for the Times here. + more great portraits of sellers and collectors from the fair featured in this piece on the “New Old Book Collectors” by Kate Dwyer. (Kate’s piece points out what is also obvious here—we need more BIPOC booksellers.)
On Sunday, hours before our already-dystopian reality became a littler darker, many of us escaped into the Met Gala’s gilded red carpet coverage. Kim Kardashian’s choice to wear a dress once worn by Marilyn Monroe ignited fierce debate on the line between cultural heritage and homage. ICYMI: fashion Historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell broke down the stakes in this wonderful Twitter thread.
As long as there is war in Ukraine, each issue of Luxe Libris will highlight the work of forPeace, an org run by my friend Britta who is on the ground in neighboring Poland. Consider donating if you have the extra funds; here’s a glimpse from Britta of the relief work your funds support: “This week I returned from a refugee relocation trip bringing Kharkiv and Mariupol refugees to their new home in Stuttgart, Germany. Trying to make the most of the drive into Germany, I came back into Poland with a car full of medical wound dressings and gels for a front-line hospital located in Kryvih Rih. In this same city, forPEACE is sponsoring a growing network of IDP shelters. The big success of the week is that a shipment of medicine made it to Zelenodolsk, a city that is on the front lines of the war—such hot spot areas have the most trouble providing basic civilian needs. We also supported local Ukrainian businesses by purchasing $1000 worth of much-needed blankets and hygienic products. Body armor, helmets, and bags of front-line medical aid kits are also on their way to the a battalion situated on the outskirts of Kharkiv. Thank you for your support! It truly saves lives.”