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NEW YORK — Bryan Bradley may be an avid reader, but he’s no lit snob. Where some designers claim to be experts on Marcel Proust and Baudelaire and freely reference those writers in their fashion show notes, the creative force behind Tuleh has no such airs.
“When I started reading, it was Danielle Steel and the entire oeuvre of Sidney Sheldon,” Bradley recalls, a sense of pride in his voice.
The designer has come a long way since scouring the pages of popular fiction. Over the years, Bradley has amassed an impressive collection of books sourced from specialty bookstores around the world or received as gifts from friends. Until recently, Bradley would resell many books or keep them stored in boxes at his apartment on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which also serves as his studio. But last spring, he decided to get organized. He asked an acquaintance to create a white plywood bookshelf that now graces an entire wall of the elongated loft and is furnished with more books and magazines than Bradley cares to count.
The designer explains his passion: “Most fashion types don’t read. I read in a weirdly circular manner that I’m only now beginning to see some sort of pattern in. Whatever the various pretentious tendencies I am guilty of, building a ‘library’ is not amongst them, meaning, it’s a totally random selection, with very few — I hate this modifier, but bookish types would say — valuable editions. When well-meaning friends and acquaintances give these sort of books to me, I try to pass them along to the more appropriate recipient ASAP…well, with a few exceptions.”
Bradley does collect some first editions, but unless they are rare, out of print or have a personal meaning, he likes to rip out pages for his personal use. That said, he claims to rarely cull from them for his fashion collections. “The crossroad of fashion and literature is so remote that it rarely makes it onto the map,” he says. Still, he admits to having been profoundly affected by Francine du Plessix Gray’s “Them: A Memoir of Parents,” which he read while designing this fall’s collection.
“I do remember a kind of fascination with ‘Them’ that kept circling back,” says Bradley, who is a friend of the writer. “I think Francine found herself — her voice — in opposition. I have a weakness for outré, grandstanding, self-created types; I absolutely can relate to [Russian poet Vladimir] Mayakovsky’s obsession with Tatiana [Yakovleva du Plessix, the author’s mother], which was in direct opposition to his supposed duty to his revolutionary comrades.”
While he claims there is no particular system to the way he arranges a collection, he has an almost photographic memory of where each book is placed. For instance, Bradley will refer to a novel in conversation, walk about the studio, pause by a spot as if in mediation and pull out the volume mentioned. “When I go to a party and come across the gift situation, I have had great success standing here thinking, what would they like? What’s more them than me?”
Bradley particularly likes the works of E.M. Forster and Jane Austen for their social commentary. He often rereads certain novels, such as Forster’s “Howards End,” Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” (“I can’t hear above the screeching of those damn trains coming into the station,” he says. “I think I may have once even shouted, ‘Get that woman off the tracks!'”), Michael Pollan’s “Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education” and Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” (“I can’t stand that girl Emma and her acolytes, nor pride, nor prejudice, nor parks, nor abbeys and can never quite figure out the difference between sense and sensibility,” he notes).
“I like an author with a consistent oeuvre,” Bradley adds. “I almost always like the late work that’s a little bit odd. They have already done their masterpiece. They are less concerned with the commercial appeal and more free to write as they wish.”
Bradley’s library is a suitable backdrop to the hive of activity in the apartment. During the day, assistants scurry around with fabric swatches and samples, while at night the place turns into a kind of literary salon where he and his friends can kick back, drink, smoke and discuss whatever captures their imagination at the moment: political or cultural movements, society, theater or novels.
“It is impossible to say why I read those particular books at that particular time, though I’m sure there is some connective tissue,” Bradley says. “It is true that I have autodidactic tendencies, and also true that books are my great ongoing love affair. I am no monogamist here. I love the one I’m with: Trollope on the sly, Nancy Mitford for a crack-up, Louis Auchincloss for a little decorum, Ian McEwan for a complete escape, Mary McCarthy if I need to sit up straight, Doris Lessing for a lecture, W.G. Sebald if I’m feeling smart, Nadine Gordimer to remind me that I’m not.”
Bradley’s Favorite Books: A Selection
- Francine du Plessix Gray: “Them” and “October Blood”
- Joris-Karl Huysmans: “Downstream”
- Janet Flanner: “Paris Journals Volumes 1 and 2″
- Frederic Tuten: “Tintin in the New World”
- Philip Roth: “The Plot Against America”
- Vladimir Kagan: “The Complete Kagan”
- David Wojnarowicz: “Rimbaud in New York 1978-79″
- Sam Haskins: “November Girl”
- Joan Didion: “Where I Was From”
- Ryszard Kapuscinski: “Shah of Shahs”