Emma Elwick Bates,
The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley (1953)
Fashion News Director VOGUE US, New York
I first picked this up aged 14. I was actually re-reading it at Paris Fashion week when I met Anna Wintour for the first time and she asked what I was reading. She smiled as she had only seen the film, the epically beautiful 1971 Joseph Losey directed movie with Julie Christie (which I admit is also a treat, with a Harold Pinter screenplay). “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there,” is the opening line and suggests that nobody ever-moved forward looking back - or standing still but also implicit is the idea that the romantic draw of the past can be misleading. This is a torrid tale seen through idealistic young eyes and it always reminds me that not everything can be rationalised and that we are all fallible.
The Book of Qualities by J. Ruth Gendler (1984)
Creative Director and Founder of TOME, New York
I have forever loved this book. My best friend in 8th grade gave it to me and I still think of it so often. I love the poetic descriptions of our many human qualities. This made a lasting impression and always reminds me to look for the beauty and whimsy in the details of my own personality and life.
The Masters and the Slaves by Gilberto Freyre (1933)
Founder and designer of Fernando Jorge, London
The book’s impact emerges from its portrayal of Brazil as a nation that melded races and cultures like no other place on earth and I am fascinated by its argument to show Brazil’s vast mixing of different racial groups as a positive rather than a negative thing. Since I read it in school I carry a similarly optimistic vision about Brazil. I revisited the book during my Masters research to elaborate my own portrayal of Brazilian culture through my jewellery collections.
Ways of Seeing by John Berger (1972)
Influencer and Creative Consultant, Shanghai
Reading Berger made me more objective and rational about the act of seeing. We can observe how everything is carefully designed and also how that reflects desires and emotions.
Walid al Damirij,
Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis (1955)
founder of By Walid
The book is based on the story of Dennis’ life as a ward of his paternal aunt and her colourful adventures. I learned all sorts of naughty but nice facts of life. More importantly it taught me that it was okay to be eccentric and think outside the box.
Le Rouge et le Noir by Stendhal (1830)
Creative Director of Delpozo, Madrid
It is a psychological novel that charts the attempts of a young man to rise above his modest upbringing through talent, hard work and deception. Ultimately his ambition is his undoing.
Hans Ulrich Obrist,
The works of Édouard Glissant
Artistic Director at The Serpentine Galleries, London
Glissant is my mentor. A Martinique born writer, poet and philosopher, he writes about hybridisation and how Caribbean islands are different but inspire each other. It focuses on a global dialogue that resists homogenisation – which itself can result in extinction of language, handwriting, and species and the rise of a dangerous new nationalisation, protectionism and xenophobia. We need to embrace the global dialogue in a way that does not homogenise and working in culture, I need to be reminded of that.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)
Photographer and Filmmaker, London
I first read it as a teenager and that book had an immense impact on me. It was the first time that I truly remember pre-visualising a narrative and creating a movie in my head while reading.
The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet (1949)
Creative Director, Paris
Genet’s book taught me to look for beauty in everything, to find poetry in the gutter. It was the first literature I read as a young adolescent gay punk and it gave me wings to fly.
The Flagellants by Carlene Hatcher Polite (1966)
Fashion Features Editor at ELLE UK, London
A little-known but critically acclaimed experimental novel that was published in France. Hatcher was a modern dancer raised in Detroit who performed professionally in New York and then moved to France (like so many creatives did during that time) and became a novelist. I love the book, the searing commentary and her style of storytelling, but I also love the story of the author behind the book and this idea that we really can be anyone or do anything.