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Let’s Talk about The Asylum

Today, we’re sharing our thoughts on Simon Doonan’s book, The Asylum: True Tales of Madness from a Life in Fashion. (Or one of his other books, if you weren’t able to find a copy of this one).


To be honest, I suspect that this book might be divisive. I know that some of you liked it, and went on to read his other books, too! But Doonan writes in a very specific tone, and if you don’t like his style, the book might be intolerable. Like many extreme things, Simon Doonan is someone that you either like a lot, or find deeply annoying.

But that’s the risk of reading a humorous book — tragedy is universal, but comedy is personal and subjective.

My favourite bit is the first few pages, where Doonan and his psychiatrist friend get competitive over whose world is more demented. The whole thing is vey funny to me, but the best part is when the patients turn the tables on the psychiatrist and start passive-aggressively “complimenting” her shoes.

So tell us what you thought of The Asylum.

  • Did you happily ride the Doonan train to crazy town?
  • What was your favorite story?

  • Would you read more of his books?

Spill, darling, spill!

Kat Siddle

Kat Siddle is a librarian and fashion school dropout from Vancouver, B.C. She blogs about beauty and sewing at


Mary Ann

May 12, 2016 #

It was a fun read, but left me wondering…do people really live like that?? I mean, really? There is no way I could spend those amounts on clothing. I did love the vocabulary, so many fun words and phrases!


May 12, 2016 #

I was unfamiliar with Simon Doonan’s work before, but I enjoy reading funny essays, so I was looking forward to reading this one. I did enjoy “The Asylum”, but maybe not quite as much as I had hoped. I do like Mr. Doonan’s voice – like a cross between David Sedaris and Isaac Mizrahi – and I found some of his insights on the culture of fashion to be really interesting. That said, the non-stop name-dropping was a bit distracting for me and actually detracted from some of the stories. In my opinion, some – not all – of the stories would be more enjoyable if the “characters” remained anonymous.

“Suzy Menkes’s Saucisson” (the one where the ceiling collapses during a Michael Kors runway show) is the story that made me laugh the most. I’d say that my favorite story was probably “The Dream Crusher”, which I found to be refreshingly honest, without veering into mean-spiritedness. I wish that Mr. Doonan could had given me the Dream Crusher talk when I was younger; it might have saved me many years of frustration and disappointment. Of course, “Alexander Will Need A Room” was a sad read, knowing what happened later.

I’d like to read more from Simon Doonan. This book will not go onto my list of favorites, but it was enjoyable enough for me to want to read more. Mr. Doonan seems to have a really interesting family story and I would be interested to know if his other books talk more about his youth and his experience growing up around so many eccentric characters.


May 12, 2016 #

I probably wouldn’t have come across this book myself, but I enjoyed peeking into Doonan’s world. Reading it felt like a guilty pleasure, but was also thought provoking.

I work with people living in poverty, but I know a number of affluent people who think nothing of paying a premium price for a designer label. The price doesn’t always reflect the quality, though, and staying on top of fashion means always buying more. The people I work with don’t have much, if any, choice in what they wear, often relying on others’ cast-offs. Doonan’s self-deprecating tone helped me in reading this book–he recognizes that this way of life is not normal for most people–but sometimes the gulf between these two worlds hurts my heart.


May 13, 2016 #

I would never have read this book if it had not been chosen for the book club, had trouble getting a hold of it, and only received it a few days ago. That said, I loved it! Mostly because it deflates all the hype and “hauteness” (how’s that for a new word) of couture. It reminds us that there are real people — a WIDE range of people, both very ordinary and amazing) — involved in this game at so many levels. The tone is both kind and honest, using outrageous and hilarious “exaggeration” (as he terms it) to tell a kind of truth we do not often here about this multi-billion dollar business. Thank you for this selection.


May 14, 2016 #

I really enjoyed Simon Doonan’s voice. I thought his focus meandered a bit more than in other books, but otherwise it was an enjoyable read. It’s fascinating getting an inside look at the lives and times of Fashion People, which are so well out of the realm of what is normal.

I also enjoyed the exchange between himself and his psychologist friend about the insanity of Fashion Culture. I’ll admit, it is bizarre at times. Right now I’m reading “Tales from the Back Row: An Outsider’s View from Inside the Fashion Industry” by Amy Odell, which is a nice complement to “Asylum”. Both Simon and Amy are fashion fans, but they both highlight the sometimes bizarre nature of the industry.


May 14, 2016 #

I’ve fallen really hard for Simon since the beginning of this book club and I really enjoyed this book. I think what surprised me most was that realization that fashion really laughs at itself. I know I’ve always laughed at its more ridiculous Zoolanderish moments, but I really thought that most of the designers were taking themselves very seriously. And when he writes that the Queen’s designer stunned him by declaring that “there was an terrible unkindness to chic”, I was similarly struck and he pinned down what I don”t like about that particular look; I find the haughtiness of it really stifling. I really have nothing but raves for him, the Thom Browne chapter was hilarious and pretty much sums up the skin-tight hipster boy clothes that have baffled me for a few years now. If you enjoyed this book, you should read Wacky Chicks or Eccentric Glamour. Now onto Jonathan Adler’s books…


May 15, 2016 #

A very interesting read. My lifestyle is just so different I could not have ever imagined anything like this. I also appreciated his writing style. One of those glad I did reads as it is not something I would have chosen.

Mary Earle-Sigler

May 16, 2016 #

I really enjoyed this book. I laughed through out the entire book, many times out loud. I keep sharing parts of it with anyone who was near. My favorite line is when his coworker tells him, “you’re an idiot and the fucking part is silent” My collage age kids thought that was a great line too. Having gone through fashion design school, and the 80’s I got a lot of Doonan’s references. He really covered it all. From the crazy to the genius and how they can overlap. The chapter about the missing generation has really stuck with me. Last week I found one of Mr Doonan’s other books in a used book store. I didn’t hesitate, I bought it right away.

Thank you for picking this book. It was a great choice after the more serious “Overdressed” (which I also enjoyed – but in a completely different way).


May 18, 2016 #

I worked at Barney’s New York at the 17 street store in the early to mid 90s. It was a bit of a scene and I loved working there. The personalities and temperaments were as dramatic as the clothing. I had regular dealing with Simon and he was lovely.

Kat S

May 18, 2016 #

Amazing! I’m so glad he’s the way I imagine him.