Say what you want about Joan Rivers, but she always had impeccable timing.
In a kind of cosmic joke she would have been the first to appropriate, the publication of “Joan Rivers Confidential” comes on the heels of the demise of her signature television series, “Fashion Police,” which has been limping along without her, in spirit if not in body, since she died a little more than three years ago.
The book is a behind-the-stage-door dive into the ephemera of a woman who ritualistically kept virtually everything — every ticket stub, every dry cleaning receipt, every Polaroid from a wardrobe fitting — from her half-century-long career.
Affectionately compiled by her screen-sharing daughter, Melissa Rivers, and her onetime producer and longtime pal Scott Currie the book also charts her love of fashion, evident from the very start.
“Before Joan, women were supposed to look like comedians, almost like clowns,” Mr. Currie said, citing Phyllis Diller with her wacky cigarette holder, crazy hair and the exaggerated long gloves. “That’s the way it was, and suddenly Joan burst on the scene, in a black dress and pearls.”
Many of her routines over the years dwelled on the tribulations of this self-described ugly ducking:
“And do you like the dress by the way? I love this. I was a little worried ’cause it was off the shoulder and I have no boobs to keep it up. Do you know what it’s like to have no boobies? To have a man look down your dress and compliment you on your shoes.”
Ms. Rivers, born Joan Alexandra Molinsky, had a trademark style — L.B.D. and pearls — which would loosen up considerably in the 1970s, but she found her glamorous groove in the next decade. What with being named permanent guest host of “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson” in 1983 and a move to Hollywood, she was wearing bejeweled column dresses and poofy-sleeved satin gowns every night, both on “Tonight” and on her own short-lived show on Fox. She was getting calls from the likes of Oscar de la Renta and Calvin Klein. Of course they made it into the act.
“Do you love this? Dress by Oscar de la Renta, body by Oscar Mayer.”
“She always had great sense of humor around her fashion,” Mr. Currie said. “But in the ’80s, she began to realize she was having fun with it. She did theme weeks. She did one with only black and white dresses.” Appropriately, the cover of “Confidential” is a glamour shot from the era by the photographer Harry Langdon, with Ms. Rivers decked out in a fluffy platinum coif and a Bob Mackie spangled dress with flower-bedecked shoulders worthy of Cher.
So it’s no surprise, really, that her next career-defining act would be to turn up on nascent Hollywood red carpets in the mid-’90s, shove a microphone in a star’s face and croak, “What are you wearing?”
To say it clicked would be an understatement.
“Joan really made the red carpet what it is today,” said the stylist George Kotsiopoulos, one of the original panelists (along with Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osbourne) when Ms. Rivers’ red carpet outings morphed into “Fashion Police” in 2010. First as a series of specials, then an hourlong weekly series, the program paralleled the snowballing rise of the red carpet as fashion’s common denominator.
“Now it’s big, huge business,” Mr. Kotsiopoulos said, with stars paid to strut the latest runway looks to serve the rich global fashion brands.
Ms. Rivers’ unexpected death in 2014 threw the show into a tailspin. “When Joan Rivers passed away, that whole moment was done — they just should have ended the show,” said Sasha Charnin Morrison, a fellow red carpet critic, author and the current style director at CBS Watch! magazine. “She loved fashion. She adored it. She got it. When they moved forward afterward, it was all just for a sound bite.”
Maybe, though, Ms. Rivers was once again ahead of her time in unwittingly bowing out. “Everyone’s a fashion critic at this point,” Mr. Kotsiopoulos said. “Everyone comments on social media. There’s no authority anymore.”
Ms. Morrison doesn’t disagree. “Instagram has changed everything,” she said. “It’s really more about this behind-the-scene access that everybody has. Everything is hashtagged, so you get the hair, the makeup, the manicurist, the car driver, the dog, what they ate, the this, the that.”
Gary Snegaroff, the senior vice president for production for “Fashion Police,” says that E! will continue to cover fashion with, among other things, a “Lookbook” show of red carpet bests, which sounds a bit like an Instagram feed come to life.
But first, a final “Fashion Police” special will air Nov. 27, with unseen clips from an “evergreen” show Ms. Rivers filmed before her death in anticipation of a comedy tour she was planning. It’s an ’80s-themed episode, and there’s Ms. Rivers, with a teased hairdo looking just as she does on the book cover, and cracking wise about the likes of “Dynasty”-era Joan Collins.
Jonathan Van Meter, a contributing editor of Vogue and a friend of Ms. Rivers’s, tells of bonding with Amy Schumer because she sees Ms. Rivers as a role model, and together they marveled at how well dressed she always was. And Ms. Rivers was stylish right up to the end. Melissa Rivers took charge when her mother was on life support, and when Mr. Van Meter was invited to the hospital to say goodbye, the comatose woman was beautifully turned out.
“She was dressed, and the room was dressed,” he said. “She was dead, basically. But she looked fantastic.”