The Paris Seamstress is a wonderfully evocative novel about Estella, a seamstress and aspiring fashion designer in 1940s New York, and her granddaughter Fabienne in the present-day. A love for clothing and designs that women actually want to wear connects both women, and Lester does a masterful job in immersing us in Estella’s world.
I loved Estella’s story. I felt for how she had to give up her beloved mother and the life they shared in Paris, to save herself from the Germans and build a new life in New York. I love how realistic her work life felt, with her strong desire to create original, forward-thinking fashion, yet being constrained by her boss’s directive to simply copy fashions from Paris that are several seasons old and just making their way to America.
Most of all, I loved the romance she had with Alex, a British spy undercover as an American lawyer, and the complications that arise when she realizes Alex is dating a woman who disconcertingly looks exactly like Estella. I love how it forces Estella to come to terms with some uncomfortable truths about her mother’s past, and how these end up impacting Estella’s present life and future career. The historical background is ever-present, as Alex has to involve Estella in an important mission, and Estella then has to learn that her own personal concerns pale in comparison to the greater good of fighting against the Nazis.
The complications that keep Estella and Alex from their happily ever after become frustrating after a while, but it’s also a testament to the strength of Lester’s characters that I wanted so badly for the couple to just get together already. The twists and turns do become soap operatic after a while, but in a deliciously exciting way, and I loved seeing the family secrets unfold and spill over into Estella’s reality.
Fabienne’s half of the story, told in intersecting chapters throughout, is somewhat less compelling to me, though it may just be because the world she inhabits is a lot more familiar than the one Estella lives in. Fabienne is a fashion curator who is too intimidated by her grandmother’s legacy to pursue her own interest in fashion design. She meets a handsome stranger at the Met Gala celebrating a retrospective of Estella’s work, and the rest of her story is about gathering up the courage to pursue her heart both in romance and in her career. She also ends up discovering a mystery about her family’s past, and her untangling of this parallels Estella’s own investigation in the past.
The Paris Seamstress is a lush and evocative story, and it’s an absolute pleasure to lose oneself in during a quiet weekend. I absolutely loved all the talk about fashion, and all the glitzy glittery glamour of the worlds Lester describes. And I loved the romances and the way both women and their men had to learn to be courageous in the pursuit of their own happiness.
Thank you to Forever Romance for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.