Wednesday 13 May 2015


Book review: The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby

My edition: Paperback, published on 23 April 2015 by Virago Press, 306 pages.

Description: On November 22, 1963, the First Lady accompanied her husband to Dallas, Texas dressed in a pink Chanel-style suit that was his favorite. Much of her wardrobe, including the pink suit, came from the New York boutique Chez Ninon where a young seamstress, an Irish immigrant named Kate, worked behind the scenes to meticulously craft the memorable outfits.

While the two never met, Kate knew every tuck and pleat needed to create the illusion of the First Lady's perfection. When the pink suit became emblematic, Kate's already fragile world--divided between the excess and artistry of Chez Ninon and the traditional values of her insular neighborhood--threatened to rip apart.


The Pink Suit was one of those gems that wasn't on my radar before a copy of the novel unexpectedly popped into my mail box, but I am so glad it did. It's a beautiful and provocative book, different from anything else I've read in recent months, and one I cannot stop recommending since I finished it.

We all know the story of JFK's assassination and have undoubtedly seen the footage and photographs of the tragic event on many occasions. However, because the majority of the visual reports were in black and white, did you know that his wife wore a bright pink suit at the time of the shooting? It was an iconic design by Chanel but recreated line-by-line within America, to support the local economy, by a company called Chez Ninon.

And this is where the novel focuses on. Not Jackie Kennedy, who is never even mentioned by name within the story, only referred to as the Wife, but on the New York boutique and one of the seamstresses working for it; Kate. She is from Irish descent, like the Kennedys, and knows her way around a thread and needle. Together with Chez Ninon she's been working on the clothes for the Wife for years, even before she became the First Lady, and though they have never met in person Kate feels a sense of intimacy with the other woman.

Kate is already completely focused on her work, and she regularly works overtime to meet the demands of her bosses and her own perfectionism, but when she first lays eyes on the Chanel suit she will be recreating for the Wife – the one that will become The Pink Suit – her obsession takes an even more extreme turn. Completely caught up in tufts of pink, Kate doesn't even notice what's going on in her own neighbourhood, or how her friends and neighbours view her tentative relationship with the local Irish butcher, until it's almost too late.

I've always been fascinated by the Kennedys, in fact I vividly remember creating an elaborate presentation and essay around JFK for my history class, going as far as scouting down memorabilia at the local flee markets to show (and bribe my history teacher with), but I had never been overly interested in what the First Lady was wearing on that faithful afternoon – until now.

Author Nicole Mary Kelby has laced the pages of her novel with so much love for the craft of sewing that even as a non-fashionista I felt a sense of excitement when Kate first laid her eyes upon the stunning fabric that would be transformed by her hand into the iconic outfit that would one day grace the covers of newspapers worldwide, though sadly not because of Kate's extraordinary handiwork.

It was incredibly fascinating to get an insight into the inner-workings of a couture house such as Chez Ninon, with its links to the famous Kennedys, while at the same time reading the story of a perfectly ordinary Irish girl who became a part of history. Kate was an interesting and feisty protagonist, her ambitions and attitude not entirely suited to 1960 America and because of that it created conflict and excitement, which elevated the novel from just being a girl in a backroom sewing a suit.

The Pink Suit is beautifully written and cleverly crafted story, intricately interlinking an iconic point in history with bouts of fiction until the two start to blur together and as a reader you no longer know what is rooted in fact and what has come from the imagination of its author. It created an incredibly gripping and immersive read, and one that even after turning the final page you'll keep contemplating; which parts were factual and which were completely fictitious?

You can purchase the novel from Waterstones, or your own preferred retailer.

Would you like to know more about the author? You can connect with her online at:


Twitter: @nmkelby

This review first appeared on Novelicious.

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