In March 1905, Georges Vuitton dared escape artist Harry Houdini to pit his skill against a handmade trunk bearing the Vuitton family name.
“Sir, I take the liberty of challenging you,” he wrote in a newspaper ad, “to get out of a BOX MADE BY ME, NAILED SHUT after you get in by MY STAFF, and tied with ropes.” Houdini doesn’t seem to have taken up the offer, aware, no doubt, that the LV brand stood for goods even tougher than he.
“Louis Vuitton: 100 Legendary Trunks” (Abrams) is as luxe and quirky as the luggage produced by the house since 1854, when Louis Vuitton opened his shop on the rue Scribe in Paris. Here are the trunk custom made to transport diva Lily Pons’s 36 pairs of shoes and a black trunk emblazoned with a life-size penguin ordered by the avant-garde director Robert Wilson.
There’s even a trunk made expressly to carry a Sony PlayStation 3 and all its accoutrements.
And here is Michael Caine, Alfie himself, in a sleek black double-breasted suit tailored for him by Douglas Hayward.
The photo is a standout in “Bespoke: The Men’s Style of Savile Row” (Rizzoli). In a changing fashion world where “custom” fittings are done by computer, it’s practically nostalgic to revisit the likes of Gieves & Hawkes and a time when hunting outfits included a top hat and silk cravat. Jude Law knows (he’s here, in Kilgour), as does David Beckham (in Timothy Everest).
“I suppose that when it comes to men’s clothes I am an Anglophile,” writes Tom Ford in the foreword, “and if I did not design my own men’s collection, I would have virtually my entire wardrobe made on Savile Row.”
Ahmet Ertug and Michael Forsyth’s “Palaces of Music: Opera Houses of Europe” (Ertug & Kocabiyik) is truly a project befitting its subject, with volumes available in $900, $7,500 and $15,000 editions.
Within this oversize volume are Ertug’s dazzling images of the glorious foyer of the Palais Garnier in Paris; the bird-cage glory of the Floral Hall at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; the bosomy marble caryatids encircling the first balcony of the Prague State Opera House, and finally, the pristine modernism of the Norwegian National Opera & Ballet, its sleek white stone and glass exterior hiding a warm auditorium glowing with dark wood and crimson seats.
The 20 homes described in “Living Architecture: Greatest American Houses of the 20th Century” (Assouline) tend toward the angularities of Charles Gwathmey, Robert Venturi and Philip Johnson. They include Louis Kahn’s light-filled wood-and-stone cubes built in 1967 for Norman Fisher, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic masterpiece, Fallingwater, the Ur statement of modernism-meets-nature. This lavishly illustrated volume has smart commentary by Dominique Browning that’s often more fanciful than the structures being celebrated.
There are just 246 links courses in the world and they’re prized by the likes of Tom Watson. Lovingly photographed for “True Links” (Artisan) by Iain Lowe, the seaside courses, mostly in the U.K., are hilly and rough, often dotted with sheep and cows, high grasses, wind swells and other annoying obstacles generally absent from modern courses. That’s the point.
“It was not love at first sight,” Watson writes in his introduction. “You need almost a sixth sense, an ability to adjust to all the conditions and somehow get your ball to travel the proper distance -- whether through the air or along the ground. That’s the essence of links golf.”
No artist rates an oversize overview more than Franco Zeffirelli, the genius for whom the word “director” barely scratches the surface of his impact on opera, theater, film, design and performance over an astonishing career. “Franco Zeffirelli: Complete Works” (Abrams) covers the famous collaborations (Maria Callas, Richard Burton) and less heralded work of a supreme story-teller who credits Luchino Visconti as his primary mentor. Along with a mesmerizing collection of photographs, the book includes a lengthy interview with Zeffirelli by the editor, Caterina Napoleone.
“Leonard Bernstein at Work: His Final Years, 1984-1990” (Amadeus Press) presents the composer and conductor in his autumnal years, with ample kisses from colleagues and friends photographed by Steve J. Sherman. “A big hug with all my affection and deepest esteem for man and artist,” smooches the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti. The photos of Bernstein in mufti -- relaxed, bronzed and smiling, usually with a drink and a smoke at hand -- have an Olympian sensuality.
(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)