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Clothes for People Who Love Books

Inside the packed Rachel Comey store on Crosby Street in SoHo on Thursday, the readings began about halfway through the evening. When the crowd applauded for the memoirist Vivian Gornick, who read from her book “Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader,” she made an observation about her somewhat unfamiliar audience: “So it’s not just clothes, it’s also books that turn you on.”

Indeed. This was a fashion event that had perhaps an unusually high concentration of writers in attendance. Many wore Comey designs from their closets, printed jackets and tall boots, as well as the dresses, tops and pants that are part of the designer’s collaboration with The New York Review of Books, the literary magazine edited by Emily Greenhouse and art directed by Leanne Shapton, a longtime friend and creative partner of Ms. Comey’s.

Fashion and literature might make an unexpected pairing, but it is one with some recent precedent. The author Ottessa Moshfegh wrote flash fiction for Proenza Schouler’s fall 2022 collection, and models like Kendall Jenner and Kaia Gerber often display their current reading as part of their off-duty style. This was the latest flirtation between the fashion and literary worlds, a courtship in which each party gets to extract a bit of social capital from the other. That might explain the touch of self-consciousness in the air, with writers seeming more aware of their outfits than usual.

We asked some of the attendees — many of whom work in the magazine and publishing worlds — what they were reading and whether good taste in books could translate into great taste in clothes, too.

Interviews have been edited.


Vivian Gornick, 87

Memoirist and critic

Credit…Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

What are you reading?

I’m reading the memoirs of Lewis Mumford. I am embarking on a new book — I’m going to write a book about City College. My memory was of Lewis Mumford having gone to City College in the 1920s. I read this book years ago, so I hope I’m right! I’m about a quarter of the way through.

What do you wear when you write?

You’re joking! What I wear? A T-shirt and sweatpants. I just get up in the morning, I pull them on and I sit down.

Do you think reading can give you a better fashion sense?

Oh, yes. Ha-ha. Not in the sense in which we’re gathered here, I don’t think. I don’t know! They might have ideas I’m not privy to about the New York Review and these clothes. But certainly in terms of the development of your own language, the development of your social being — absolutely.

Would you ever wear a garment with your own byline on it?

No. Would you?


Jade Mapp, 30

Program coordinator at Books Beyond Bars

Credit…Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

What are you reading?

There’s a book called “The Joy of Being Disliked.” Part of the human experience is realizing that we’re not always likable and not everyone is going to want to be our friend.

What do you like to wear when you write?

I usually have a fun sock on — a band shirt and cozy socks.

Do you think reading can give you better fashion sense?

Absolutely. Because I think it helps you be more fashionable because you get to be part of someone else’s world.


Sandeep Salter, 34

Owner of Salter House

Credit…Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

What are you reading?

“Speedboat.” It’s been nice because I’ve been taking it out with me, and the chapters are so short I can do it while I’m on the train.

Do you think reading can give you a better fashion sense?

I wish that were so. I think it can make you a deeper, more complex person, and that will translate into your personal style.


Samantha Yadron, 27

M.F.A. student at Columbia University

Credit…Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

What are you reading?

I just started a book called “A Woman.” I’m taking a class on Italian autobiography in the 20th century. I’m also reading “Septology” — I’m almost done with that.

What do you like to wear when you write?

I usually don’t look this good. I tend to write in the morning in coffee shops. I don’t even shower; I go straight to the Hungarian Pastry Shop on 111th and Amsterdam and just write for two hours. I’m usually in my gray corduroy pants, and I have this green sweater that’s really soft and that I wear almost every day.

Do you think reading can give you a better fashion sense?

I think these days literature has become an aesthetic in itself; you can develop an aesthetic based on the idea that you enjoy reading. A better version of that is if you have your own independent reading interests — maybe you’re always reading something super obscure and maybe that makes you more stylish.


Yassmin Abdel-Magied, 31

Writer

Credit…Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

What are you reading?

I just started “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida,” which is the recent Booker winner. Very good. And also I’ve just started an audiobook called “Legends & Lattes,” which is apparently “high fantasy and low stakes.” It’s a good combination.

What do you like to wear when you write?

The most comfortable clothes. I want elastic.

Do you think reading can give you better fashion sense?

What leads you to read more widely, which is curiosity, can lead you to be more stylish. Curiosity leads you to more experimental dressing, and that can be quite fun.


Mieke Chew, 34

Editor and publicist at New Directions

Credit…Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

What do you like to wear when you edit?

I guess Covid has changed what people like to wear during the day. I’m a huge fan of Rachel Comey, but I usually wear trousers and Commes des Garçons and T-shirts and things. Comfortable clothes.

Do you think reading can give you better fashion sense?

No, I don’t think so. I don’t see any correlation, which I think is pretty obvious if you go to any book party. But that’s why there’s something so nice and surprising about this collaboration.


Rowan Ricardo Phillips, 49

Poet

Credit…Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

What are you reading?

I’m reading a translation by an incredible Egyptian poet named Iman Mersal called “The Threshold.” It’s translated by Robyn Creswell.

Do you think reading can give you a better fashion sense?

Absolutely. Reading is something that brings you inside yourself. Some people get so far inside themselves that their insides are reflected on their outside, and I think that’s what you see here with these very fashionable people.

Would you wear a garment with your own byline on it?

I would be fine with that. Once you write something you sort of let it go, so whatever happens to it after is part of the process of writing.


Heidi Julavits, 54, and Sloane Crosley, 44

Authors

Credit…Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

What are you reading?

Heidi Julavits: I am reading a book called “Left for Dead” by Nick Ward, about a person who sailed in the 1979 Fastnet race. There was a very terrible storm back in 1979, and he was abandoned and left for dead on his boat. Not literary! But I’m learning how to survive bad weather and being abandoned by all who love me.

Sloane Crosley: I’m reading a marginally older book, Meghan O’Rourke’s “The Long Goodbye.” I’m working on a book about grief. I also just finished the new Emma Cline. Normally I chain smoke books a little more.

What do you like to wear when you write?

Ms. Crosley: Whoever says anything other than “bathrobe” is a filthy liar. I wear two bathrobes: One is a fully disgusting, old, formerly white robe. One is a vintage kimono when I feel like I want to be in a movie about a writer.

Ms. Julavits: I pretty much wear the pajamas that I slept in.


Hermione Hoby, 38

Novelist

Credit…Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

What are you reading?

I’m reading “Septology” by Jon Fosse — probably like a lot of ladies here.

What do you like to wear when you write?

I do actually like to wear an outfit rather than, like, sweatpants because I need to feel that there is something interesting happening in what I’m wearing. So I do like to get dressed to write.

Do you think reading can give you a better fashion sense?

Undoubtedly! Yes. It makes you a more interesting person, and I guess being interesting is the most stylish thing there is.


Chellis Baird, 39

Textile artist

Credit…Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times

What are you reading?

I just started reading a book on the art of letter writing. In today’s age, we kind of have lost touch with writing actual handwritten letters. With Valentine’s Day coming up, I wanted to brush up on my penmanship a little.

Do you think reading can give you better fashion sense?

Yes, I think words can almost be like wearing an accessory. It’s a great way to add an attitude, or a gesture or a feeling with the way one presents themselves.

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