Terry Newman’s Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore is every literature-loving, style maven’s summer bible. Highlighting the key works and wardrobes of 50 writers, from Proust to Patti Smith, the book has been celebrated across the broadsheets – including any writer’s punch-the-air moment when legendary cover star Joan Didion shared the New York Times review on Facebook. Job done. We know what the erudite author of Legendary Authors has read; but as her introduction declares, ‘What you read is as important as what you wear.’ A provocative, elbow-length glove has been tossed onto the desk, and so I think what people want to know now, is what Terry Newman wore.
The biggest clue comes via the prediction (also in the introduction) that ‘the geek chic of librarians is a look that’s set to prevail.’ Terry is a friend and former colleague of mine, we worked together in the fashion journalism department at university, and so I’m familiar with her sensible, studious style and ask if she’s referring to herself here. ‘The first ever photoshoot I did when I was starting out was for Just 17, I shot the models in a library in slightly nerdy, boyish clothes. I feel that the geeky librarian look is staple and it’s one I always come back to.’ A member of the nineties London scene, she reminisces about a memorable newspaper feature analysing the style of the time, ‘When Luella Bartley was working as a journalist at the Evening Standard she contacted me regarding the ‘English look’. It ended up as a double page spread with a photograph and the headline Fashionable Frump. At first I was a bit upset but after a while I thought, “she’s probably right”. I guess I’m slightly frumpy, a bit librarian, a bit utilitarian with a bit of geek chic thrown in.’
Listing Comme des Garçons, Prada and Margaret Howell as her favourite designers, Terry admits to having something of a geeky uniform. ‘I’ll slip on a Margaret Howell shirtdress or a pinafore – these things are incredibly useful – I went through a phase of collecting old pinafores, one grey, one blue, worn with a t-shirt underneath, often in rotation. But I do like a dirndl skirt and wear one without any caution. I’m never without a cardigan, I wear a pale blue Vivienne Westwood every time I’m on the beach in Cornwall.’ There’s an idiosyncratic, Duchess of Devonshire element to Terry’s signature style, ‘ I once told my husband that I was saving something for best and he said, “We haven’t got time for that at our age.” So I do dress to please myself and can end up wearing something totally inappropriate. I’ve found myself cleaning the floor in one of my top drawer dresses.’
Legendary Authors has a section on glasses, ‘All those gorgeous authors wore them and this is the biggest seller of any design house, people wear them because they think they look cool.’ Terry wears Cutler & Gross frames, ‘I worked for Lulu Guinness after graduating and when I left she very kindly gave me some money as a thank you gift. So I bought the Cutler & Gross glasses and I’ve worn them for the last 25 years. About 10 years down the line I had to buy prescription sunglasses and so I bought exactly the same frames.’
I know it’s true when the Legendary Authors author says that she’s been researching the book forever. ‘It’s such a rich topic, I did enjoy writing it and it didn’t feel onerous – apart from the bibliography, which was almost as big as the book itself! It’s about how people tell stories with their clothes and maybe you just get a bit more information about your favourite authors by scrutinising their wardrobe – and that, to me, is quite exciting.’ And that she hopes her literary work will have an impact at undergraduate level, too, ‘I want the students to look at it and think ” Fran Lebowitz, she looks interesting, let’s read some of her writing.” But her ultimate aim is for more sincerity less superficiality, ‘All these writers live in their own world and have their own style and authenticity. Forget about Instagram, they didn’t have stylists, they just wore what they wore – and I want people to do that.’
Legendary Authors and the Clothes They Wore is published by Harper Design. Terry Newman will be signing books at Hatchard’s Piccadilly on 17 August, 6-8pm and there’s a Fashion & Fiction Q&A at Waterstones, Gower Street on Friday 15 September.