Too Much is Not Enough: The History in Harriett's Closet.
By Kristina Toffelson and Jodi Ozimek
The Florida Historical Society Press, 2018; 550 pages
Reviewed by Jenny Kenyon
"All I know is that I love beautiful clothes and I wear them."--Harriet Lake
This one sentence is all you need to know when first opening Too Much is Not Enough: The History in Harriett's Closet by Kristina Toffelson and Jodi Ozimek. Through the pages of this lively book, you will come to know Harriett Lake, philanthropist and hoarder of beautiful clothes, for her charm, for her spirit, and, of course, for her amazing clothing collection.
This book is an interesting combination of the story of Harriet Lake and her husband, Hy, a history of the role of women throughout the century, and a clothing collection that showcases that journey. The work done by Toffelson and Ozimek to convey Harriet Lake's personality and passion for both philanthropy and clothing speaks of friendship and most importantly, respect for all that Lake gave to her community. To quote Lake, "Who would think that all that stuff lying around this house would be of interest to anyone." Thankfully Toffelson and Ozimek were savvy enough to understand and capture in film and prose the uniqueness that was Harriet Lake and her amazing closet. The writing style makes you feel that you are sitting and speaking with Lake over a glass of iced tea, and she is inviting you into a friendship. Without this human element, the images of Harriett's closet might come across as over-the-top and potentially garish. Instead, Lake's spirit shines through, complete with her insecurities and her victories.
The initial chapters of the book give you insight into Lake's life story and the trials she and her family faced. Poverty and charity play heavily in her past and really help shape the philanthropist she was to become. Later on, the book is broken down into chapters that feature a specific part of Lake's collections. Toffelson and Ozimek break down the collection into palatable and decipherable chunks --Judith Leiber bags that Lake collected, dresses she designed to complement her figure, or a full chapter on the red coats that Lake had coveted and collected since childhood. Within each chapter, the backstory of this portion of the collection is followed by beautiful photographs of the items and many close-ups of interesting details. Tony Firriolo deserves praise for his delicious photographs of the ensembles. The richness of color and attention to detail make these images so delightful to peruse. I personally loved that Toffelson and Ozimek were careful to arrange the complete ensemble, from head to toe including accessories. With each of the ensembles, you can immediately picture Harriett entering a gala, benefit, or bridge game--always a tour de force of fashion. These images are sprinkled with quotes from Lake herself, allowing the reader to see the clothing through her eyes as well as in beautiful photographs.
My one rebuke would go to the editor of the book: I wish I could read the words below the photographs better. The choice of a gold color for much of the text is problematic, as I want to know more about the items but have a hard time deciphering the words. Either embracing another color (though as a visual designer, on an intellectual level, I know why the color was chosen) or finding a shade of the color that had more contrast against the white page would have been extremely helpful. In addition, there were a few instances where page numbers, chapter headings or references in the text to images did not correspond. I might suggest these concerns be resolved in the next edition, as I spent almost a half hour trying to find the Adrienne Landau kimono coat that was theoretically in Chapter 5, only to find it in Chapter 9 instead. The good news is that I was invested enough that I tracked it down; the bad news was that I was a little "over it" by that point.
Though 550 pages long, the book speeds by with charming anecdotes and luscious photographs, making the reading not a trial but a journey of love. Lake is quoted as saying, "I can't help my fashion. It isn't to attract attention. It's just because I love them, that's all." It is clear that not only does she love her clothing and the good she has done for her community, but also her community loves her back. Toffelson and Ozimek rejoice in a life that could have come off as frivolous, but instead shows the true heart and soul of a woman finding her path in the world and doing it dressed in style. I applaud them for their work on this celebration of Harriett Lake and for bringing this amazing woman to our attention. To quote Harriett again, "Look. I've outgrown that attention. Like I said: I'm trying to keep a low profile. And yet, my clothes don't allow that, I guess." Thank goodness, her clothes knew best.
Jenny Kenyon is a freelance costume and scenic designer and forensic artist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.