Who would have thought a book about couture would also inform me about the Spanish civil war that was raging before the start of World War II? Not this reader and so as much as I was looking forward to learning about the world of fashion I’m pleased to report there was far more on offer in The Dress Thief.
As the title suggests the book looks at the business of copying designer fashion and our heroine is caught up in this dubious business. Designers were alert to the problem and employed different methods to keep their finished articles under wraps to try and foil the counterfeiters but when people are desperate, they do desperate things.
The setting is Paris in the 1930s and Alix Gower is recruited by a friend who lives on a barge supporting his two younger sisters to draw designs of a scarf. He will then sell the design onto another woman who will have the designs made up and sold at a fraction of the cost with the profits being split between them. After all Alix needs the money too as she supplements her wages as a telephone operator to support herself and her Grandmother, Meme.
Alix’s background is full of tragedy, both her parents are dead and the family have moved from England to France because of anti-Semitism with the support of a wealthy Count who fought with her father in the war and an old artist friend of Meme but the underlying feeling is that the past is a shadowy country. But with a dream to pursue Alix concentrates on getting accepted as a seamstress at a high fashion house despite the drop in wages she wants the role to fulfil her ambitions to be designer but she needs to be accepted to earn a decent amount of money through stealing some designs to sell through the counterfeiter’s network.
There is no doubt that men are attracted to Alix and she has one admirer in the form of Verrian Haviland, a war reporter who has recently returned from Spain but a nightclub owner also has his eye on her and he sees his chance when Verrian returns to Spain.
Through the engaging story-telling we learn about all the different parts that go into making a high couture outfit, from the cutting room to the final showing on the mannequins, or as we know them nowadays models. The rush to get a collection finished, the choice of fabric, the ingenious ideas used to show the dresses off to their best advantage are all included. And of course Alix has got caught up in a plot to steal the designs despite her ambitions to be a designer so we have a moral dilemma too!
This is a story of all those things that make for an involved read; there are various mysteries including a death, family relationships, having a dream and a romance, all perfectly executed. And no story about couture in Paris would be complete without the big names; Channel, Hermès and Schiaparelli to underpin the glamorous angle of this delightful read but ultimately this is a story of contrasts, the wealth of the women who wear the designer outfits to the poverty which exists in the city where the clouds of war are gathering.
The Dress Thief was my thirty-second read in the Mount TBR 2017 challenge qualifying as having been bought back in July 2014.