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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Must-Reads for Fall

The days of summer reading may be over, but autumn brings a bevy of new style guides. Here, reviews of four of the most intriguing titles.

Twinkle's Town & Country Knits

By Wenlan Chia (Potter Craft, $21.45-$32.50 at bookstores andhttp://www.amazon.com )

Bold designs, chunky yarns, almost-instant gratification for knitters -- must be a Twinkle creation. This 30-piece collection features trendy and classic patterns with an upscale look: a Fair Isle pullover, a thick cabled cap, a flirty Metropolitan Diary Skirt, all made on giant needles so you'll spend more time wearing, less time stitching.

The instructions are easy to follow and include diagrams. The recommended yarns are readily available, if pricey. (Knitters know this secret: You don't necessarily save money by crafting your own creations.) Besides patterns, the book offers tips for "the Twinkle lifestyle": souvenir shopping, packing for vacation, even songs suited for seaside, town or country.

Wenlan Chia launched her line in 2000, when new knitters were whipping out endless eyelash scarves. Those who stuck with it still seek fast results. The Twinkle books are an ideal choice, with elegant projects whose details also appeal to experienced knitters.

-- Kathy Blumenstock

Twinkle's Soft Chunky yarns are perfect for creating the line's trademark knits. $18.85 each at http://www.yarnmarket.com.

The Lucky Guide to Mastering Any Style

By Kim France and Andrea Linett (Gotham Books, $19.80- $30 at bookstores andhttp://www.amazon.com)

Lucky has built its name on being the go-to magazine for the how, what and where of shopping. In this guide, the glossy's editors take on the much trickier task of mastering style by identifying 10 archetypes, which range from such unexpected ones as Euro Chic and Posh Eclectic to the more typical Bohemian and American Classic.

For each, you'll find an iconic item, profiles of trendsetters and 40-odd quintessential pieces. Some of the suggested basics are obvious (a leather motorcycle jacket for capturing Rock and Roll), but others are head-scratchers. Is a brown suede poncho really necessary for nailing California Casual? Still, the well-edited take on each look's essentials is fascinating, and I eagerly examined even my least-likely styles before creating a mental shopping list of the Arty Slick staples my closet is sorely lacking.

What the book is sorely lacking, though, are notes on whether a piece is Alexander Wang or Alice + Olivia. And while the guide does scope out each style's best shops, most are nowhere near the District (surprise, surprise). Shortcomings aside, Lucky's guide is a fun and focused way to decipher and hone a style, whether yours leans toward a Gamine/Bombshell blend or heads straight for Mod.

-- Michelle Thomas

For the look dubbed Arty Slick, Lucky recommends a drapey two-toned shift, like this silk dress from Dolce Vita ($209 at http://www.shopbop.com).

How to Have Style

By Isaac Mizrahi (Gotham Books, $19.80-$30 at bookstores andhttp://www.amazon.com)

A bargainista's best friend, Isaac Mizrahi packed this bluntly titled book with helpful advice, from tips on scoring cheap, exotic accessories to a catalogue-style list of wardrobe necessities. But first, Mizrahi doles out some earnest thoughts on how this is not a makeover book; instead, it's his guide to discovering a sense of personal style.

So how does he do it? First with a 24-question quiz and the command to create an inspiration board. Then, leading by example, he assesses and revamps 12 women's looks, using candid photos, sketches and scribbled notes to explain the process.

A few style prescriptions are baffling, primarily his advice for a woman uncomfortable with her large bust. Three of her four new outfits direct the eye to a lacy peekaboo bra and lots of cleavage. Bold? Yes. Practical? Not so much. But most of the women look truly transformed -- with help from a great haircut and professional makeup application -- and the tips are genuinely helpful. I cracked and bought a corkboard, so my own inspirations are tacked up in plain sight. For readers just starting to explore personal style as well as those stuck in a fashion rut, Mizrahi's two cents' worth is a wise investment.

-- Holly E. Thomas

Isaac Mizrahi recommends colorful, eye-catching accessories, such as these Max Studio satin "Salsa" sandals ($154.95 at Nordstrom stores and http://www.nordstrom.com).

Influence

By Mary-Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen (Razorbill, $23.10-$35 at bookstores andhttp://www.amazon.com, available Tuesday)

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen train their kohl-lined saucer eyes on a creative A-list in this coffee-table book, which registers as a beautiful mess of contradictions, not unlike the twins' own famed fashion sense. A series of interviews with their aesthetic heroes, "Influence" includes such boldface names as Karl Lagerfeld and Lauren Hutton, plus others familiar to readers of edgier glossy magazines.

But the real star of "Influence" is the sumptuous design, which lends the book a rhythm and dynamism missing from some of the mutual-admiration exchanges, many of which could use a judicious edit. The question hanging over the book is one of audience: Will "New York Minute" fans follow M.K. and Ash into art-school-acolyte territory? And will jaded fashionistas splurge on a tome that, despite its fabulous facade, commits the deadly style sin of terminal earnestness?

-- Adriana Leshko

The Olsen twins count designer Karl Lagerfeld as a source of inspiration.


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