Gift guide for Mother’s Day: Top 3 books about inspirational women

May 10, 2018

With Mother’s Day fast approaching, we picked three books that would make a great gift for mothers who enjoy reading and love beautiful books.

These three selections are about iconic personalities who have inspired people of all ages for decades. Similarly to our last year’s review, these women have very distinct signature styles, are acclaimed fashion icons, and have left their mark on the fashion industry.

Obsession: Marlene Dietrich: The Pierre Passebon Collection by Henry-Jean Servat

French journalist Henry-Jean Servat, who published a book about Brigitte Bardot last year, produced a new one recently. This time, he based his new edition on a collection of Marlene Dietrich photographs from a private collection of a French gallery owner and collector, Pierre Passebon.

“Obsession” is a great title for this book, as Pierre Passebon is truly obsessed with Dietrich, as much as the actress was obsessed with her own image. The collector says that what he feels for Dietrich is a genuine obsession: “I am obsessed by her life, by the things she did, by her style, by the images we have of her, and by her image”. The collector owns one of the most complete photograph collections of the actress, which accounts for 2,000 works. Most of the photographs featured in the book belong to the Pierre Passebon Collection.

The book is arranged as an interview, a conversation between Henry-Jean Servat and Pierre Passebon, where they discuss how the actress controlled her image—from her sense of fashion and style, to planning and styling her photoshoots, and even setting up the light for cinematographers for her best films and images.

Even though this is not a biography book, the author and a collector discuss life events of Marlene Dietrich, her sexuality and impact on fashion. Although Pierre Passebon had never met Dietrich, he had a privilege to speak to people who had known the actress. This allowed the collector to share many interesting stories and insiders’ memories of the great actress.


Fun fact: The actress had her own principles and when she was supposed to be dressed by Coco Chanel, Dietrich refused to meet with a designer because of the way Chanel behaved with the Germans during World War II. “Dietrich would not forgive her for it, and there was no question of meeting her, even at home.”

Surprisingly compact in its size, Obsession: Marlene Dietrich: The Pierre Passebon Collection is lightweight and can fit into a purse of those who enjoy reading while on-the-go. This book would make a great gift not only for Marlene Dietrich fans, but also cinephiles, fans of black-and-white photography, and those interested in pop culture and Hollywood of 1940s and 1950s.

Cover image credit: © Obsession: Marlene Dietrich: The Pierre Passebon Collection by Pierre Passebon and Henry-JeanServat, Flammarion 2017.

Iris Apfel: Accidental icon by Iris Apfel

This autobiographical edition by the one-and-only Iris Apfel is a real gem! It’s a treat for your eyes, for your hands and for your mind. The book is as fascinating, visually engaging and original as the author herself. While you read it, you imagine how Apfel is narrating those stories with her signature manner, wit and New York accent.

The self-proclaimed “World’s Oldest Living Teenager” shares not only her fashion habits, preferences and stories, but her life wisdom, fun facts about herself, her musings about travel, tips for a successful marriage and what it was like working for a White House. The book provides many discoveries about Apfel’s personal life behind her famous glasses, bangles and multi-coloured frocks.

The book contains amusing illustrations, beautiful images as well as personal photographs from Apfel’s family album and some mementos from past events. There are many witty quotes, wisdoms and anecdotes thrown around as well.


Fun fact: After finishing college, Apfel decided to try fashion journalism. In her own words: “Determined to become a fashion editor, I took a sub-entry-level job trafficking copy at Women’s Wear Daily on Twelfth Street in New York City… This was well before the age of hyper technology… so with latest stories in my hot little hand, I would run up and down the stairs, from department to department, delivering the news from one editor to another. I ended up learning nothing about the fashion business, but I did get into the best shape of my life.”

Iris Apfel. Accidental icon would make a great gift for anyone, who not only is an Apfel fan, but who also enjoys reading witty memoirs, indulging in visual treats and searching for new inspiration.

Sophia Loren. Movie Star Italian Style by Cindy De La Hoz

Cindy De La Hoz, a film historian and the author of Audrey and Givenchy (previously reviewed in FAJO), has written a beautiful book on another iconic actress: Sophia Loren.

Even though the name of the book might suggest that it is about Sophia Loren and her relationship with fashion, this is not the case. The name is a reference to Loren’s most famous films, Divorce Italian Style and Marriage Italian Style.

The book is a full biography of Loren, starting with her days as Sofia Scicolone and up to her last film, Human Voice in 2014, directed by her son Edoardo Ponti. As a matter of fact, the book is divided into two parts: one is a biography and the second one is her filmography, describing most of Loren’s films, many of which are not very familiar to a viewer outside of Italy and not very accessible in North America. The texts and descriptions feature in-depth details and many amusing facts.


Fun fact: Loren’s mother, Romilda Villani, had huge Hollywood ambitions and dreamt of becoming a star herself. She possessed a unique resemblance to Hollywood’s most beautiful actress of the time, Greta Garbo, and even won a contest of her look-alikes. However, her parents didn’t let her go to MGM Studios in Hollywood, which was a grand prize of that contest. So instead, she went to Cinecittà in Rome, where she met Loren’s father. Who could have imagined that Italian Greta Garbo would present to the world one of the most beautiful and celebrated Italian beauties?

The book is very richly illustrated by photographs of Loren, from her First Communion photo to all the famous film stills, promotional images and various beautiful portraits. Most of the photographs are accompanied by quotes of either the actress or her coworkers, providing a great context of her work. The book is as rich in text as it is in photographs, so it would make a great gift for those who love to read and those who enjoy flipping through pictures. This makes Sophia Loren. Movie Star Italian Style a valuable addition to a library of any Sophia Loren fan, and a connoisseur and enthusiast of Italian cinema and culture.  

Feature image credit: Sophia, 1957, author’s collection.  

By Darina Granik
Photography by courtesy of Rizzoli, Running Press and Indigo Books

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  • Morocco and other Marlene Dietrich films at TIFF | FAJO Magazine said:

    […] “After seeing this series at TIFF Bell Lightbox, if you still crave more of Dietrich’s images, you can always refer to the book Obsession: Marlene Dietrich: The Pierre Passebon Collection by Henry-Jean Servant, which I reviewed in FAJO last year.” […]


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