This story is set in Paris in the 1930s – a decade of haute couture and haute danger…
The setting is the fashion houses and the cut throat fashion world in the most chicest cities in the world…
Think Chanel, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent…..
Entering this world comes at a price for Alix Gower and her attempts to make her way in the world of haute couture. She dreams of becoming a designer in a leading fashion house. She is given a chance in a million but but only if she steals the designs. Does she have a choice? She is determined to become a designer despite being the poor, illegitimate child of a mother who was an Alsace Jewess and father from England who both died too young. It is something she is hungry for and she has to support her remaining family after all. But what will be the cost if she gets caught?
This is a journey across Paris via its fashion houses, bypassing its chocolate houses, cafes, beautiful parks, imposing bridges and the darkest corners of the human conscience….
The main locations –
The setting in themes – The fashion houses of 1930s Paris
Now if you are thinking that this may turn into a frilly novel about fashion and sewing, you could not be more wrong. And it would be a shame to miss out on this thrilling journey and insight into the cut throat world of high fashion. The Dress Thief portrays what is meant to be a young seamstress and work in a world when men dominate but where women have sharpened claws and are not afraid to use them.
We stroll down the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré where Alix hesitates before going inside the famous Hermes store to look at a design and inside the fictious Maison Javier located in Rue de la Tremoille where Alix gets a job……
There were twelve ateliers, each with long tables and huge windows. There were also cutting rooms and store rooms crammed with loth. Pressing room , finishing rooms…she was shown the button room and the thread room and the storage room where finished garments hung waiting delivery.
The fashion houses are at war. Business is as cut throat as they come and their mantra might well as be the following -One good design is a godsend, a second is a steal.
As we enter this world, the author not only takes us on a tour of the fabrics, styles and colours, but the atmosphere in the sewing room and stores. We get behind the scenes -for it doesn’t seem enough to call them chapters – which are breathtaking.
A wooden mannequin was decked out in a ball dress of gold dulpion silk. More gold than Alix had ever seen in her life.
She walked slowly around the figurine, assessing the gown’s tight waist, the voluptuous skirt that fell in graded flounces. It had a neckline out of a renaissance painting which would leave the arms bare. Javier’s dream was that this dress ‘should move like waves of molten gold’.
Paris – shiny on the surface but a rough fabric of society underneath
The Dress Thief however is much more than a novel about the inside of a fashion house – war is approaching and the Parisians are worried. The rich who frequent the fashion houses feel both excited and hedonistic at the prospect. Alix however is the most fearful of all…
The maid gave the directions. ‘Come at seven. A taxi will take you away at eight as Madame has an engagement. Do not mention Madame’s name to anybody at your place of work, or at home.’
What about a fake beard and a big hat? Alix muttered as she hung up. It was starting, the theft. She felt sick.
There is depth and quality to the history of the setting – we see Paris in a world of contrasts – draped in shiny fabrics but within the shadow of the bombs and despair.
People sit in cafes such at Les Deux Magots in Bld St -German and discuss the war and what is going on. Artists and the like congregate there as does Alix when she meets someone and he gives her some flowers wrapped in a ribbon of Lanvin blue….
Alix and Paul meet in the Jardin du Luxembourg near to the lion statue to exchange information about stealing the designs….
It was all very well for Mémé to tell her to stay safe, Alix mused a few days later as she crossed the Jardin du Luxembourg on her way to meet Paul, her hands deep in her pockets, her head bowed against a bitter wind. After all, there’d been no sign of caution the day Mémé announced they were moving to Paris.
Paris and its cobbled dark streets provide the perfect backdrop for a city of contrasts.
The plot is an intricate one which continues to surprise throughout. The detail is vivid and intricate as the designs on the couture dresses – for against these fashions are the scars of war – the social and historical observations of France and indeed of Spain from where the journalist whom Alix meets has been working covering he horrors of the Spanish civil war –
The theatre of war was turning north. The facists had failed to take Madrid and were targeting Spain’s industrial centres instead. but even so, Striking little Durango made no sense.
Three days later all hell had broken loose.
A town, but really an event. A bombing.
It seemed that Picasso had created the moment any hope of peace exploded and humanity perished.
It is true that Verrian will have trouble adapting to life in Paris and when he meets Alix their paths will cross in ways that neither could have expected.
In war time it is said that the normal rules don’t apply and that people act differently – in Alix’s world there are men from the underworld like Serge Martel, owner of the Rose-Noire nightclub, and the Comte de Charembourg, a wartime comrade of her father. Each with secrets of their own and secrets that they and those around them must keep hidden at all costs.
However, Alix is living the most double life of them all and if she gets caught, if someone knows what she is doing, then who knows what will happen and what the consequences will be.
The world of fashion might be a battlefield, but the real world is at war. The two intertwining stories provide an explosive mix.
Visit the author at Quercus books here – http://www.quercusbooks.co.uk/dress-thief/
Natalie is on twitter – @natmegevans