The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby first came to my attention via Karen, when she posted an excellent mini review prior to publication. Based on that review, the book went straight to the top of my wish list. My literary fairy godmother must have been hovering nearby though, because a few days later I was offered a review copy of the book by Virago. Joy of joys! I tried, I really, really tried to read the book slowly, but it was an impossible task. I read it in one day….
I'm sometimes asked to review novels 'about dressmaking' which, on further reading of the press releases, are nothing of the kind. The Pink Suit is different - it's all about dressmaking. It’s based on the true story of one of the seamstresses - Kate - who worked on Jacqueline Kennedy’s iconic pink suit. Yep, the very same one she was wearing when her husband was assassinated in Dallas. The Chanel-style suit was made at Chez Ninon - a Manhattan couture house providing select customers with 'line by line' Parisian knock offs. Buying from Chez Ninon allowed Jackie Kennedy to indulge her obsession with French fashion with a clear conscience - all her outfits were made in New York, so she was still seen to be supporting home grown businesses.
As Kate's story unfolds, we really get a flavour of life in 1960’s New York. In Manhattan, we see the bustle and glamour of the Chez Ninon workroom and the colleagues she works with: the owners (known as 'the Ladies'), the in-house designer, the fitter and the finishers. In contrast to this are the everyday scenes with Kate's family and prospective sweetheart in Brooklyn. Pub singalongs and queues at the butcher’s shop are all part of the Irish catholic community in which Kate lives. I found these descriptions reminiscent of Colm Toibin’s wonderful novel - Brooklyn. Although Brooklyn was set in the 1950’s, in both books you get a strong sense of what it must have been like to be a young woman making a life for herself at that time. Kate’s personal story (will she or won't she marry the butcher?!) is pretty interesting as it stands, but for me, the whole business of making a suit for the First Lady just elevates it to a different level!
When you're reading a book, do you ever feel that you want to savour the words as you read them? I sometimes feel it when I’m reading descriptions of food preparation (or perhaps that’s my natural greed?!) Anyway, I got that same feeling with The Pink Suit when I read the detailed passages about sewing, and in particular, couture sewing. Where do I start?! Did you know that couture sewing requires 20 stitches per inch at the beginning and end of seams, but only 12 per inch everywhere else? Or that everything is sewn twice: first with a straight stitch, then with a zigzag to reinforce the seam? No, I didn’t either, and it was fascinating. I read about beeswax on silk thread, hand quilted linings and discovered Jackie Kennedy's personal measurements and the adjustments her body shape required. I devoured every word of it and I learnt so much!
As you may have gathered, I loved this book and I think if you have an interest in 1960’s culture, fashion and sewing or just working women and their creative passions, then you'll enjoy it too. If you've already read it, I'd love to know what you think. Thank you so much for the review copy Virago, I might just read it again! x
A copy of The Pink Suit was given to me free of charge for review. All views my own.