Here’s an interesting read I picked up at Fully Booked last May 2007 along with Victoria Finlay’s Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox.
The Essence of Style is by Joan de Jean, who has written seven other books on French literature, history, and culture. She is a professor of French at the University of Pennsylvania, and also holds positions at Princeton and Yale.
De Jean traces the reasons why Paris is the fashionista center of the world, and why Hermes, Vuitton, and Creme de la Mer are must-haves despite their exhorbitant prices.
Apparently it was all Louis XIV’s fault. This maitre of style ruled the French court with his highly original and decorative ideas on dress, etiquette, and urban planning, which to this day have repercussions on the monde of haute couture.