Friday, 13 June 2014

The Pink Suit

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.


38 comments:

  1. I very much enjoyed this book too, all the stitchy details were a treat :o)

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    1. Weren't they just?! Glad you enjoyed it too. x

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  2. It was lovely ;) And I passed it onto my MIL as well - we both demolished it in a solid days reading ;)

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    1. Oh great idea, must pass it on to my mum - she'd love it! x

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  3. Hello Now that sounds like my type of book! except if I have spare time I have to finish my latest sewing projects....mmmmm decisions decisions?
    lovely review inspired to read it!
    bestest Daisy J
    x

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    1. So pleased my review inspired you to read it. Don't worry about missing sewing time - you'll read it so quickly you won't even notice! x

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  4. Are there photos in this book? I'm just wondering if it would be a good choice for my e-reader or if I should read it the old-fashioned way.

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    1. There are no photos - it's just a standard novel so would be perfect for your e-reader! x

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  5. This sounds fascinating! Just reserved it at my library - thanks!

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  6. Not quite the same but have you read Mrs Harris goes to Paris, by Paul Gallico? Mrs Harris a a char lady who sees a Dior dress and decides she wants one so she scrimps her way to Paris and the Dior salon. The book must be at least fifty years old now but your review of the Pink Suit has reminded me of it.

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    1. Thanks so much for reminding me of this book - I read about it years ago and forgot to put it on my list. I promptly bought it this afternoon and can't wait to read it! x

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  7. Thanks for the review. I'm definitely going to check this one out. It reminds me of the feelings which emerged as I sat in Stanley Hostek's house, him in his nineties, recounting moments of his life as a tailor in Seattle and many other places. I felt like a world that had previously been kept secret (though not on purpose) suddenly opened up. If you're interested, I wrote about a few of us visiting with him last summer on my blog: http://www.calmundertension.com/blog.html (search stanley hostek)

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    1. I've just read your blog post about meeting Stanley Hostek, thanks so much for the link. What a privilege it must have been to meet him, he sounds amazing! Can't get over those hand sewn buttonholes! x

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  8. Thanks for the info on this book. It sounds like my kind of read, so I ordered it through interlibrary loan right away!

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  9. A book I must put on my list.
    Hugs

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  10. I love the housewife 49 diaries. She talks about sewing and the difficulties of getting fabric during the war and afterwards, it was these books that inspired me to get back into sewing as she made it sound so rewarding. think your book sounds similar so off to the book shop tomorrow

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    1. Are they the Nella Last Diaries? Yes I've read them too and really enjoyed them. I loved how she still managed to make her 'dollies' with the tiniest scraps of fabric! x

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  11. Thanks for the review.. It souds like the perfect book to indulged during my summer holidays

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    1. I agree, it would be perfect! x

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  12. Sorry, but I can't read your review because it is sitting on my night table waiting to be read. But lucky you for being asked to review it. I also was enticed by Karen's mini review and waited with baited breath for April 29th to arrive so that I could order it. Nine more days of work and then I can relax and turn the pages. I can't wait.

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    1. Ah wonderful! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. x

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  13. I've lived all these years believing it was a genuine Chanel.. but the book sounds really interesting - thanks

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    1. It's a really interesting book, I learnt so much from it. x

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  14. A lovely (& very convincing!) review, Jane. I'm sold! I smiled when you asked do we ever want to savour the words whilst reading....yes, yes, yes! One of my favourite all time reads is "Without Reservations - Travels of an Independent Woman" by Alice Steinbach. There are paragraphs I read, then re-read, just for the pure pleasure of beautifully constructed sentences! Ahhhh, the wonders of the written word! Thanks, Jane! :)

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    1. Thank you so much for this. 'Without Reservations' has just been firmly added to my basket! Can't wait to read it. xx

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  15. After reading here I went straight to to amazon to put this book on my wishlist! Musr read :)

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    1. Ah that's great! Hope you enjoy it! x

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  16. Sounds like a fascinating and really interesting book to read!! Glad that you enjoyed it so much. xx

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  17. I adored this book too! I couldn't believe I was reading such a wonderful account of real dressmaking plus a style icon I love. It has made me scour the internet for more books like this one, I got a few tips here in other user comments so thanks!

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    1. I felt exactly the same! I couldn't believe all my favourite things were in one book! x

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  18. Glad you enjoyed this book - I reviewed it here a little while ago: http://judgingcovers.co.uk/reviews/the-pink-suit/

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  19. Ooh, I need to read this! If it's anything like Brooklyn, I'm sure I'll love it (isn't that a beautiful book?)!

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  20. It's just gone straight onto my list as well! Bx

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