Rachel Zoe Versus Victoria Beckham

Ahh, yes. ‘Tis the season for style manuals to start arriving thick & fast on the iCiNG Bowl doorstep. (Fa la la la la, la la la la!) I must admit that so far, the two most intriguing ones have been Victoria Beckham’s That Extra Half an Inch: Hair, Heels & Everything in Between & Rachel Zoe’s Style A to Zoe: The Art of Fashion, Beauty, & Everything Glamour. Now, I understand very well that you might be in the predicament of only being able to buy one of these books. A well-written style manual does, of course, make a superb Christmas gift — but which one should you give? Well my sweet, I am here to help you. Today I present an exclusive heavyweight boxing match — Rachel Zoe versus Victoria Beckham.

I love to read about other people’s perspectives on fashion & style, especially people who know what they’re talking about! Victoria Beckham is widely regarded as a fashion icon, while Rachel Zoe is the hottest stylist in Hollywood right now. From that comparison, it sounds like Victoria would trounce Rachel, but the thing that is amazing about Rachel is that she is almost as big a celebrity as some of the women she dresses. Most stylists work distinctly behind the scenes, but Rachel’s reputation is huge — it has truly preceeded her — & she is a definite fixture in the front row of fashion shows the world over.

I admire the aesthetic of both women. They look completely unique, & their styles are instantly recognisable. Victoria Beckham is queen of the pout, with magnificently fake breasts & a penchant for incredibly high heels. Rachel Zoe is the queen of laidback Californian chic, often seen in 70’s caftans, with her trademark mussed-up mane, deep tan & big sunglasses. Their looks are almost entirely opposite — it seems the only thing they share is a lust for tanned skin.

To be fair, both these women had help compiling their testaments to style. Ms Beckham enlisted the help of Hadley Freeman, while Ms Zoe was assisted by Rose Apodaca. Who are these people? Well, Hadley is the Guardian’s deputy fashion editor & a contributing editor to Vogue. Her column in the Guardian is brilliant. Rose has been writing & editing for two decades, was once the west coast editor of Women’s Wear Daily & now writes a column at Uber. In her blurb on the side, it says: “Her first book, Style A to Zoe: The Art of Fashion, Beauty & Everything Glamour, an all-encompassing lifestyle guide written for celeb stylist Rachel Zoe, is now in bookstores.” Did you note the bit where it says for? For celeb stylist… ? Yes, okay, good. Now that you’ve seen that, let’s move on.

From seeing Ms Beckham in moving pictures, I really do get the impression that the majority of this book is hers. It appears to be written in her voice, dishing out her tips — it’s very true to the image she presents everywhere else. I don’t know whether she penned it herself, or whether Ms Freeman is just exceptionally skilled at writing in someone else’s voice, but it is impressive regardless. Unfortunately I haven’t seen a lot of footage of Ms Zoe speaking in public or anything like that, so it’s very hard to know how much of a hand Ms Apodaca had in putting the book together.

The softcover version of VB’s book is described as a “handbag edition”, which is hilarious. It weighs about the same as my digital SLR camera with a big sodding lens on the end of it. I lugged that sucker all over Manhattan & let me tell you, my shoulder wasn’t happy about it. Beware! That Extra Half An Inch may cause irreparable harm if you try to stuff it in your tote!

Okay — enough introduction. Let’s get down to business!

Ready… fight!

Victoria Beckham versus Rachel Zoe

FORMATVictoria whacks Rachel with a Fendi bag full of nappies
Chapters in Ms Beckham’s book: Introduction; Jeans & Trousers; Tops; Skirts & Day Dresses; Accessories; Parties; Vacations; Winter; Special Occasions; Pregnancy & Post-Pregnancy; Lingerie; Hair & Make-up; Conclusion; Where To Buy.
Chapters in Ms Zoe’s book: Introduction; Excessories; Life’s A Red Carpet; The Day After; Jet Set; Lip Gloss & Mane Toss; Behind Closed Doors; Entertaining; Glamour A To Zoe.

Both books are laden with pictures, which is important, of course, because style is visual. That Extra Half An Inch features photographs by Ellen Von Unwerth — ring a ding ding! Ellen Von Unwerth is my favourite photographer. Yum.

Victoria’s book has twice the number of pages that Rachel’s does, but it is also about 3/4 the size. It took me two days to get through That Extra Half An Inch (not for lack of trying), while it only took me a couple of hours to read Style A To Zoe. I think Victoria’s book is much more compelling & definitely more information dense. I really did walk away from it with my head spinning. There is just SO much to take in. Rachel’s book, on the other hand, gave a fascinating glimpse into her world — the world of glitz & glamour, her gaggle of celebrity friends & whirlwind holidays all over the place.

Both women are trying to present something very different with their books. Victoria’s modus operandi seems to be, “Here I am, I’m famous but really I’m still that weird chubby girl from school. I’ve made mistakes but I love fashion & here are some fantastic tips I’ve picked up along the way.” Rachel’s modus operandi appears to be, “Here I am, my life’s a party! This is how I dress myself & my clients, I’m a professional & I know what I like, & here are some ideas to inspire you.”

CLOTHINGVictoria winds Rachel with a quick jab from her exceptionally pointy elbow
When it comes to pure page count, Victoria devotes 256 pages to clothing, spanning from the chapter on jeans through to her tips on special occasion dressing. In fact, the only chapters which aren’t about clothing entirely are the ones on pregnancy, lingerie, hair & make-up. Rachel has 90 pages on the subject of clothing — the other hundred pages are on grooming, entertaining, home decor & travel.

Writing more words on a subject doesn’t necessarily mean that you are providing more information — in some cases, it just means you’re a bad writer. But when it comes to clothing & putting it all together, the more words you can say, the better. The thing with clothing is that ultimately there is no right or wrong way to do anything, it’s all opinion, so if someone can present you with a lot of options, that’s really the most useful thing. Victoria does this very well. She says what she prefers, & then explains other ways of doing it, as well as providing food for thought on body shapes, quality, & much more.

Most of Rachel’s writing on clothing is about dressing for special events. Of course, dressing celebrities for the Oscars et al is what she does, but your average woman doesn’t do a lot of red carpet dressing. While it’s interesting to read how she puts looks together for big occasions, it isn’t necessarily very applicable to you or I. In her chapter, The Day After, she writes about dressing for work & comfort. Most of this seems to be about various materials, like cashmere & jersey. She stresses the importance of glamour, which I couldn’t agree with more, & also the importance of buying the right pair of jeans for your shape.

Rachel waxes lyrical about accessories (she calls them “excessories”…), which makes sense, because whenever you see her, she’s dripping with bangles, rings, watches, etc. Victoria’s accessories chapter is mostly about shoes & bags, with a bit of extra stuff about hats, stockings, jewellery & tattoos — & this makes sense too, since Ms Beckham is a shoe fiend but doesn’t tend to wear a lot of other jewellery.

BEAUTYBronzed, bejewelled fists are thrown but no connection is made
Victoria recommends an absolute truckload of beauty products in her Hair & Make-Up chapter, which is fantastic. I love knowing what people use, & I get the impression that they are honest recommendations, not paid endorsements or anything underhanded. She doesn’t give a lot of direct make-up tips, but does encourage you to experiment & try new things.

Rachel’s book contains make-up tips from Paul Starr & Byron Williams, as well as some hints for matching your face/hair/outfit. She writes about hair (specifically, hair extensions) & perfume.

Both women speak about horrific lipstick incidents in their youth — Victoria’s first lipstick was called “Twilight Teaser” by Boots No. 17 & was an irridescent purple. Rachel’s first experience with lipstick involved grabbing her mother’s tube of red & coating her face with it. Glamorous! It just goes to show that there is hope for anyone, really!

Rachel also says,

“I love a tan. I love a deep, Bain de Soleil-like tan, rich with all the promise of St. Tropez & Ipanema & Marrakesh. I tend to keep bronzed through the year, a consequence of my having olive skin that soaks up the sun year-round in Los Angeles. I don’t fake bake. I soak the rays directly from the source. & I don’t make any apologies for it.”

I appreciate her honesty but I think that even mentioning it is totally irresponsible. Please don’t follow her sun-worshipping lead! Constant sun exposure ages you like mad, not to mention that it’s really dangerous. Fake tanning is fabulous, the technology is getting better & better, & wouldn’t you rather be alive than crispy brown & dead?!

FAMEVictoria gores Rachel with a high heel
Both books, as you would expect, contain little anecdotes about borrowing dresses from famous designers & interactions with everyone from Donatella Versace to Manolo Blahnik. The difference is in the way they’re presented. Victoria tells her stories as if she is almost a little bit embarrassed — she is very vocal about how amazing the experience was, & how much she appreciated it for what it was. Rachel, on the other hand, has a completely different approach. Rachel’s tales are more about name-dropping & her own ego than the actual story. You get the impression that Rachel would tell you a story about going to the convenience store, as long as it mentioned someone whose name was synonymous with the tabloids.

COLLABORATORSRachel suffocates Victoria with a long Missoni caftan
Both books feature short pages of text from various fashion names. Rachel Zoe’s book contains wise words from Valentino, Frank Zambrelli, Cameron Silver (owner of Decades), Alberta Ferretti, Francisco Costa, Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors, Roberto Cavalli & Margherita Missoni, as well as text from some of her celebrity clients like Molly Sims & Anne Hathaway. They contribute tidbits about flying in style & their views on what being stylish really is. While most of us don’t really wonder much about how Michael Kors travels, again, it’s always interesting to hear new points of view.

Victoria’s book is scattered with quotes from Manolo Blahnik, Christopher Bailey, Roberto Cavalli, Valentino, Roland Mouret & Matthew Williamson. Unfortunately, however, the sole purpose of this stellar line-up appears to be only to pump up Ms Beckham — “Victoria has such a strong personal love of fashion & clothes”, etc. etc. While it must have been nice for her to collect these quotes, they don’t serve any true purpose. We know you have style, honey — that’s why we bought your book! We don’t need to be convinced!

PRACTICAL INFORMATIONVictoria swings her sons around & knocks Rachel off balance
Ms Beckham really has Ms Zoe trumped here. The first half of Victoria’s book is broken down into items of clothing, & in each chapter she talks about the various types of that item. She then treats the reader by giving high & low end options for each item. For example, when it comes to little black dresses, she recommends Azzedine Ala├»a at the high end, & lots of low end choices — Miss Selfridge, Topshop, H&M, etc. For this reason, her book is super-practical & she names a lot of great sources. Ms Zoe does not.

However, Style A To Zoe does have some great tips for entertaining guests. She covers how to throw a party, how to book a festive dinner at a restaurant & how to buy special gifts. Her chapter on interior decorating is very good too. There are lots of pictures of her home, which thrills me since I am obsessed with seeing how people live! Her house is big & airy, lots of light, with minimal but comfortable furniture & lots of interesting touches about the place. She talks a bit about how she & her husband overhauled their home & the changes they made, & makes a lot of suggestions for doing up your own home. Definitely worth a read.

The reason Victoria wins in this round is that… well… these books are about style! While home decor & entertaining is part of that, those two chapters seem to be the most useful out of Style A To Zoe — which is probably not why people bought the book in the first place.

Other points:
Ms Beckham’s book is more useful, while Ms Zoe’s is more aspirational & inspirational Ms Zoe’s book is quite anecdotal, while Ms Beckham’s book is practical & stays on task Both books stress that you should work to develop your own personal style, yet neither of them really tell you how to do that That Extra Half An Inch has space for you to make notes at the end of each chapter That Extra Half An Inch is very England-centric. A few American reviewers on Amazon despair over this fact, but really, stop complaining & just hoof it over to London for a fortnight!

Summary:
Both of these books are entertaining reading, but what you select for yourself or your friends will depend on what you’re after. If you’re a laidback, vintage lovin’, Californian glamour girl, then Style A to Zoe: The Art of Fashion, Beauty, & Everything Glamour is for you. You’ll adore her aesthetic insights & find the whole thing very inspiring. The introduction is about how dreaming big is important, & this book will help you do that. But if you want a real style manual, with tips & tricks, places to buy, how to wear things well & how to put looks together, then That Extra Half an Inch: Hair, Heels & Everything in Between should be your first port of call. For this reason, Victoria Beckham is my chosen winner. Ding ding ding!

However, having said that, both books are a delight to read & I recommend having a flick through both at your leisure. I am all for the sharing of information, which is one reason why publishing online appeals to me so much. I think it’s an absolutely fantastic luxury to be able to read other people’s perspectives on all kinds of topics, & with the internet & the speed of publishing these days, we are in a better position than ever to be able to do so. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel — the most efficient way to learn, progress & develop is to use information from people who have been there & done that. Whenever you come across information from someone whose opinion you respect, or someone whose lifestyle you’d like to emulate, you should pounce on it with all your might! That stuff is valuable — you can never learn too much. Lap it up, baby!

Victoria Beckham is victorious!

Extra For Experts:
Rachel Zoe styles a girl on the Tyra Banks show. Short but interesting.
Being Rachel Zoe from New York Times.
Rachel Zoe’s style secrets — a slideshow from In Style.
Posh Madness, a Victoria Beckham fansite.
Little Ant & Dec interview Victoria Beckham. Sooo cute & awesome.
Seems that Style.com had the same idea as me! Here is a comparison of the two books against Wife Dressing (1959).