cover image Woman as Design: Before, Behind, Between, Above, Below

Woman as Design: Before, Behind, Between, Above, Below

Stephen Bayley / Author Conran Octopus $50 (336p) ISBN 978-1-8

From early Greece to 20th century Paris fashion, this book examines women's curves-emphasis on the breasts-as portrayed both explicitly and implicitly in popular culture. The scope is huge, and the connections are often a reach, such as the Volvo car company's 1950s resurrection of name ""Amazon"" just as women's roles were beginning to shift, an explicit response to the American 1953 Kaiser Dragon Hardtop Sedan (""to project an image of competitiveness and aggression""). Elsewhere, Bayley references Ezekiel the prophet, Aphrodite, the Virgin Mary, and Rousseau in a single paragraph. The multiple links can produce unnecessary, at times breathlessly goofy tangents, such as a comparison between Marilyn Monroe and the '59 Cadillac: ""as insanely desirable, as powerfully symbolic, as ridiculous and as ultimately doomed as Monroe herself."" Bayley's chattiness can be amusing, but ultimately distracts from the overall effort to chart thousands of years of history. Considering the ambitious scope and high level of research, that's a shame; more clarity and restraint could have elevated this beautiful volume into a classic of cultural history.