It’s a random Thursday afternoon at The Shop at O.E. (Oxford Exchange for the uninitiated) in downtown Tampa. Filled with statement jewelry, fabulous bric-a-brac and volumes of coffeetable books devoted to fashion, The Shop, which is adjacent to the popular restaurant, is high on style and buzzing with caffeine-lovers.
The first book to catch my eye is Private
— a 14¾"x12", two-ton (or something like it) autobiography depicting the not-so-private-anymore life of Giancarlo Giammetti and his beloved Valentino. Nearby, three copies of Louis Vuitton: 100 Legendary Trunks
are stacked on an inviting armchair.
One title after another catches my eye as I rove the shop until I reach the object of my desire: Emilio Pucci
, published by Taschen and bound in actual Pucci print fabric. With a choice of limited-edition covers and 420 pages to get lost in, Pucci is TDF.
Then there’s Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950
, with a foreword penned by H.R.H. Princess Alexandra. I flip open the slim book — a rarity for coffeetable pubs — to find a huge bow adorning the low-cut back of a dress. Flip a few pages and another silhouette shimmers in black against a black background.
Vogue: The Covers
is exactly as it sounds — Vogue
covers splashed on every page, featuring everything from Art Deco illustrations to Lady Gaga. There’s a coffeetable book devoted to the little black dress (aptly titled Little Black Dress
) and another to the black jacket. There’s Fashion Jewelry: The Collection of Barbara Berger
and GQ Men
, picturing male style icons like Outkast’s impeccable André 3000. Will Arnett, JT and Jimmy Fallon, De Niro and Viggo Mortensen rub elbows in it, too, but one compelling image in this star-studded edition is a series of collared shirts with no one wearing them. If I had to pick favorites from Oxford Exchange’s vast collection, GQ Men
would be among them.
But who buys fashion coffeetable books, anyway? And why?
“I always pick them up when one sparks my attention,” says accessory designer Rebekah Eugenia Lazaridis of Eugenia Woods. “They are so resourceful for my work.”
Nancy Vaughn of Tampa Bay Fashion Week admits that hers are not on the coffeetable at the moment, but her collection includes Versace, Catwalking
and Men of Color: Fashion, History, Fundamentals
. She gives fashion books as gifts also, “for those who enjoy pretty things, history, influence.”
Don Me Now proprietress Danielle McFarland keeps a stack in her Hyde Park Village style lounge for constant inspiration. Designer Kimberly Hendrix of k.hendrix has an out-of-print book of Madeleine Vionnet’s fashion designs and another featuring fashion from the 16th century to the modern age. “The beautiful details never get old to look at,” she says.
“I love cracking open a brand new title and not knowing what I’m about to experience,” says O.E. Director of Retail Jess English, who along with Allison Adams curates The Shop’s selection. Among the criteria for choosing titles: “The book has to be beautiful, as that’s a huge part of the attraction to a coffeetable book — its presence.”
Fashion coffeetable books are top sellers at O.E. and the clientele buying them is diverse. “It ranges from design students to art lovers, photographers, interior and set designers, architects and people who just love a gorgeous coffeetable book,” says English.
Even in the Internet age, when it’s quite possible to OD on visual ecstasy (whether fashion photography, natural, architectural or other), coffeetable books remain relevant works of art. They boldly represent the power of the printed page — especially when that printed page is gorgeous and gathered with a slew of others, bound in hardcover and presented in a sheath.
I don’t have a coffeetable, but if I did, I doubt I’d be able to see over the stacks of coffeetable books I would place on it. Some are so massive you can quite possibly flip a new page each day for a year and be rewarded with a fresh spread of artwork to adore. From fashion designers to enthusiasts, these books invite us to love them, and we do.