Pamella Roland: Dressing for the Spotlight
“essentially sums up Roland’s oeuvre: functional, but not fabulous.”
In the world of coffee table books, some designers are born to have them, some achieve them, and some have them thrust upon them. Pamella Roland: Dressing for the Spotlight is decidedly in the last camp. Just because every fashion house is suddenly getting its own splashy volume dedicated to the history of its craft does not necessarily mean that it should.
In the instance of this book, the confusion and disappointment begins with the cover. Here, a perfectly innocuous photograph of an all-American looking model greets the viewer, promoting what is supposed to be a show-stopping gown representative of Roland’s mastery in the art of glamorous attire. Given the vast creativity in red-carpet wear today, the image is less “wow” and more “cover of Better Homes & Gardens.”
Accompanying this image is perhaps the most bizarre typographic treatment and placement ever created for a professional fashion publication: a sans-serif, gilded typeface entirely in lowercase, with unnecessarily long ascenders that screams European modernism. It is the kind of typeface used by sleek kitchen appliance companies or expensive, Nordic furniture stores, not by makers of flouncy, feminine evening wear. Moreover, rather than make the text a touch smaller, the cover designer has instead smushed it up against the head of the unfortunate model, removing any semblance of visual breathing room and creating a baffling mashup of Sears wedding photography and typographic roulette. The viewer has no sense of where this book is going.
Over the next 256 pages, the reader is faced with step-and-repeat imagery of celebrities in relatively bland ensembles and un-noteworthy photographs of models on the runway. Aside from all of them featuring the fashions of Pamella Roland, the one thread linking all of these photos together is that none of them are very good. It would have been more interesting to incorporate more dynamic or even staged photography of the clothes.
Instead, the editors chose to recycle imagery wherein everyone looks a little less than their best. The runway shots can all be seen on style.com and better pictures of the rich and famous in these outfits were published by People magazine. Such lack of care (or perhaps budget) in selecting imagery results in a slapdash presentation that becomes less a celebration of a fashion house and more like a hard-cover version of a catalog received among junkmail.
The overwhelming “meh” of this tome, however, cannot be entirely chalked up to bad editing. There’s a reason Roland isn’t a household name—she does not produce the show stopping gowns often churned out by red carpet darlings like Zac Posen, Tom Ford, or even Marchesa. Roland is a notorious safe bet in fashion—while many gowns are lovely, most have all the pizazz of “mother of the groom.” Flipping through the pages, one is reminded of Hamptons housewives at local charity events or, with regard to some of the less fortunate numbers, shopping for prom dresses at Jessica Mcclintock at a New Jersey mall in the early 2000s. The product is simply not worthy of a large scale, flashy book—and attempting to do so has done the designer more a disservice than not. Her designs suddenly become woefully lackluster when compared to those in comparable volumes.
Finally, while text in coffee table books about clothes is notoriously vapid or, at best, filler, there is usually a sense of minor effort on the part of the contributors to uplift the brand. The foreword by Vanessa Williams, while delightfully real, sounds like a QVC sales pitch—she focuses not on the design or craftsmanship or even the beauty of the dresses she’s worn, but on how easy it is to sit down in them! And that essentially sums up Roland’s oeuvre: functional, but not fabulous.