Source: Review copy
Publication: 28 January 2021 from Hodder & Stoughton
I need to tell you a story, ma chère. My story.
Rosa Kusstatscher has built a global fashion empire upon her ability to find the perfect outfit for any occasion. But tonight, as she prepares for the most important meeting of her life, her usual certainty eludes her.
What brought her to this moment? As she struggles to select her dress and choose the right shade of lipstick, Rosa begins to tell her incredible story. The story of a poor country girl from a village high in the mountains of Italy. Of Nazi occupation and fleeing in the night. Of hope and heartbreak in Switzerland; glamour and love in Paris. Of ambition and devastation in Rio de Janeiro; success and self-discovery in New York.
A life spent running, she sees now. But she will run no longer.
Rosa Kusstatscher is every inch the poised, sophisticated fashion plate. This is what you might expect of a woman who helped inspire one of the most famous Paris couturiers and whose own reputation as a highly successful businesswoman in the fashion industry is second to none.
Rosa is a woman who understands the value of clothes and dressing and whose make up tips begin every chapter of this glorious book. Tonight, though, as the book opens, she is getting ready for the most important meeting of her life and her usually implacable confidence has given way to a nervous doubt.
Georgia Kaufmann’s sweeping historical novel covers Rosa’s life from her beginnings as a young girl waiting tables in an inn in the mountains of Italy, where everything changed with the Nazi occupation and the influx of soldiers that brought to the small village. Rosa’s circumstances were such that she was left with no option but to escape in the dead of night to Switzerland where she threw herself on the mercy of a man she did not know but whom she hoped would be kind to her.
Rosa begins to settle in Switzerland. It is here that she discovers she has a flair for fashion and knows instinctively what cut of a cloth will most flatter a woman and sobegins her lifelong love of dressmaking. But it is also in Switzerland that she has to make the worst decision of her life – one that allows her to pursue her dream but to give up all that she holds most dear including her security and the love for the family that she has built.
She travels to Paris, begging for work at every atelier she can find, sewing until her fingers bleed until she finds a friend in the atelier of new young fashion designer, Christian Dior. One of the strengths of this novel is the fierce strain of female friendship that runs through it, While Rosa’s fortunes often rise and fall with the men she encounters, it is some of the women she meets who remain her strongest and most steadfast friends throughout her life.
Rosa learns a lot at Dior and after meeting a renowned chemist with a ‘nose’ for perfume she and her new husband move to Brazil where she embarks on her own path to success as a noted fashion designer in her own right.
There’s a sadness that follows her though and as her success grows, so her heart misses what she has left behind.
As we follows Rosa’s career and she takes a journey that crosses continents, spans decades and covers a number of significant relationships you can’t help but be drawn to a woman who gives everything she has in pursuit of her dream and yet whose heart is constantly punctured by those who let her down.
Yet Rosa has learnt to be resilient and the matched she once made for love she now makes for business in an effort to ensure that those puncture wounds will no longer reach her heart. And yet, it is these very barriers she has put up that make her more vulnerable than ever and my own heart reached out to her as she finally finds what she has been looking for ever since she fled Italy.
Georgia Kaufmann’s book is entrancing. It draws you in and makes you care about Rosa. Her journey is a mixture of inspiration and dedication and you can’t help but admire what she has achieved even as you wish more for her. I used to love the dynastic northern sagas of Barbara Taylor Bradford. The Dressmaker of Paris has that same feel about it.
Verdict: I let myself get swallowed up and carried away by The Dressmaker of Paris and I’m not a bit sorry. Lush, sweeping, deliriously good, it enchants and delights. Perfect lose yourself, #lockdown reading. I loved it.
Georgia Kaufmann studied Social Anthropology and Demography at Cambridge, LSE and Oxford. She currently lives within cycling distance of central London with her husband, two daughters and a cat. The Dressmaker of Paris is her debut novel