Wallach, Janet 1942-
WALLACH, Janet 1942-
PERSONAL: Born May 4, 1942, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of George (in business) and Sylvia (Feigen) Weil; married Ronald Smith, August, 1961 (divorced, 1974); married John P. Wallach (a journalist), June 9, 1974; children: David Alan, Michael Adam. Education: Attended Syracuse University, 1959-60; New York University, B.A., 1965.
ADDRESSES: Home—94 Wykeham Rd., Washington Depot, CT 06793-1312.
CAREER: Herman Geist, New York, NY, designer, 1969-75; Woodward and Lothrop, Washington, DC, fashion coordinator, 1975-76; Garfinckel's, Washington DC, fashion merchandising director, 1976-80; freelance writer, 1980—.
MEMBER: Washington Independent Writers, Women's Foreign Policy Group.
Working Wardrobe: Affordable Clothes That Work for You!: Capsule Concept, illustrated by Christine Turner, Acropolis Books (Washington, DC), 1981.
Looks That Work: How to Match Your Wardrobe to Your Professional Profile and Create the Image That's Right for You, illustrated by Martha Vaughan, Viking (New York, NY), 1987.
(With husband, John Wallach) Still Small Voices, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich (San Diego, CA), 1989.
(With husband, John Wallach) Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder, Carol Publishing (Secaucus, NJ), 1990, revised edition, 1997.
(With husband, John Wallach) The New Palestinians: The Emerging Generation of Leaders, Prima Publishing (Rocklin, CA), 1992.
Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell, Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia, Nan A. Talese (New York, NY), 1996.
Chanel: Her Style and Her Life, Nan A. Talese (New York, NY), 1998.
Seraglio (novel), Nan A. Talese (New York, NY), 2003.
Contributor to Washington Post (magazine) and Stores; contributing editor, Dossier.
SIDELIGHTS: Using her decade-long experience in the fashion industry, Janet Wallach published her first book, Working Wardrobe: Affordable Clothes ThatWork for You!: Capsule Concept, in 1981. The "capsule concept," the idea that twelve basic clothing items in two colors and coordinated shapes and fabrics together yield forty different outfits, "is the basic message of one of the few actually useful books about dressing," claimed fashion editor Mary Peacock. Reviewing Wallach's book Working Wardrobe in Ms. magazine, Peacock continued: "Wallach has moved the goal of a workable personal style from theory into practical reality by providing an organizational key, the 'capsule,' which at least partially codified that great intangible, a 'fashion sense.' And the 'capsule concept' works on any level of budget and sophistication, or at any level of dressiness."
In addition to her books on fashion, Wallach has written several biographies with her husband, John Wallach, including Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder. In this biography, the Wallachs acknowledge that they write as American Jews who are committed to the security of Israel and the rights of the Palestinians. Wallach then wrote biographies that include Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia. Kate Muir wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Bell "probably influenced Middle Eastern politics as much as her contemporary and friend, Lawrence of Arabia, though she is far less well-known today. While T. E. Lawrence operated with guns and camels, Bell's weapons were her pen and her afternoon teas." Lawrence and Bell conspired to impose Faisal Hussein as the King of Iraq, with Lawrence pressuring Winston Churchill in London, and Bell influencing the High Commissioner in Baghdad. In a time when women were not given official diplomatic posts, the British Empire could not refuse to award Bell one, considering that she had considerable influence with both the British officials in Baghdad and the chiefs and tribal leaders of the country. She spoke Arabic and Persian fluently and understood the nuances of the culture.
Bell was born in 1868 and educated at Oxford, where she was the first woman to receive a first-class degree in history. She was an adventurous woman, traveling by boat to Europe, then on to the Middle East, climbing the highest peaks in the Alps, crossing deserts on horseback, and finally entering the male world of diplomacy. She wrote constantly, and her diary entries and letters provide a great deal of information helpful to biographers, particularly her letters to her father. With her pen, she also drew the boundaries of Iraq, which came under the control of the British after the fall of the Ottoman rule, and those lines have since been little changed. Bell never married, and probably could not have exerted the influence she did if she had a husband or family. Her life revolved around her ability to make decisions of state.
Muir noted that Bell's "brusque attitude to living in a male club foreshadowed that of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Just as Mrs. Thatcher filled her cabinet with men, so Bell had few female friends, while sustaining long intellectual friendships with men." In 1926, when her power had diminished, Bell took her own life. Jane Samson wrote in the Geographical Journal that "Wallach's treatment of Bell is sensitive and even-handed, and her treatment of the political history of the Middle East is enhanced by her own experience of the region…. She tells a captivating political story."
Wallach combines two of her interests in her next book. Chanel: Her Style and Her Life is a biography of Coco Chanel, who rose from the most extreme poverty to become one of the world's leading fashion designers. Chanel was born in 1883 and lost her mother before she was twelve. Abandoned by her father, she was raised in an orphanage and sent to a convent boarding school at eighteen where she learned to sew, first making clothes for herself in the simple and elegant style for which she became known. By World War I, her circle of friends came to include Picasso, Matisse, Cocteau, and Stravinsky, and she took many lovers among the artists, poets, musicians, and royals of the time. She invented the "little black dress" and her trademark Chanel No. 5 perfume. Wallach writes of Chanel's failure in Hollywood and romantic and financial links to the Nazis, which a Publishers Weekly contributor called "some of the more intriguing details."
Turning her hand to fiction, Wallach created Seraglio, a novel based on fact in 2003. Aimee du Buc de Rivery, cousin of Napoleon's wife, Empress Josephine, is thirteen when she is kidnapped while en route to her home in Martinique and sold by the pirates to the Turkish sultan. She becomes one of the thousands of women in the sultan's seraglio, or harem, confined to the palace with nothing to do but gossip and be instructed on sexual techniques by the eunuchs who watch over them. She is given the name Nakshidil and forced to practice Islam. The narrator of the story is Tulip, a black eunuch who befriends the young girl and tells her that she can improve her situation if she is favored by the sultan. She is called to his chambers, but the old sultan dies later that evening. She becomes the favorite of Salim, the new sultan, however, and cares for his son, Mahmud, who eventually succeeds his father. He relies on Nakshidil to help him Westernize eighteenth-century Turkey by naming her "valide sultan," the second most powerful position in the empire. A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "the intrigue and drama of the palace are balanced by capable, authoritative prose and admirable restraint, resulting in a novel at once serious and enchanting."
Wallach once told CA: "It has taken me fifteen years to come full circle to my first love, writing, and I'm grateful that my dream has been fulfilled. Writing about fashion seemed like a natural thing to do as I've spent most of my life in that field. It has been gratifying that my book has helped many women come to terms with their clothes and enabled them to make their wardrobes work for them (rather than the reverse). Clothing is important in the way we present ourselves to the world, and it should also be part of the fun of life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell, Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia, p. 59; January 1, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of Seraglio, p. 852.
Christian Science Monitor, March 12, 1997, review of Desert Queen, p. 13.
Contemporary Review, April, 1997, review of Desert Queen, p. 224.
Geographical Journal, July, 1998, Jane Samson, review of Desert Queen, p. 227.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1996, review of Desert Queen, p. 888; November 15, 2002, review of Seraglio, p. 1655.
Kliatt, September, 1999, review of Desert Queen, p. 35.
Library Journal, July, 1996, review of Desert Queen, p. 127; January, 2003, Faye A. Chadwell, review of Seraglio, p. 160.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 3, 1996, review of Desert Queen, p. 4.
Ms., September, 1981, Mary Peacock, review of Working Wardrobe: Affordable Clothes That Work for You!: Capsule Concept.
New Yorker, September 30, 1996, review of Desert Queen, p. 82; September 21, 1998, review of Chanel: Her Style and Her Life, p. 132.
New York Times Book Review, September 8, 1996, Kate Muir, review of Desert Queen, p. 32.
Publishers Weekly, June 10, 1996, review of Desert Queen, p. 77; October 26, 1998, review of Chanel, p. 53; January 6, 2003, review of Seraglio, p. 39.
Times Literary Supplement, January 31, 1997, review of Desert Queen, p. 28.
Washington Post Book World, August 25, 1996, review of Desert Queen.*