My edition: Paperback (proof), published on 10 September 2015 by Head of Zeus, 378 pages.
Description: Lily Fitzpatrick loves vintage clothes - made all the more precious because they were once owned and loved by another woman. Thousands follow her vintage fashion blog and her daily Instagram feed.
But this passion for the beautiful clothes of the past is about to have unforeseen consequences, when Lily stumbles upon the story of a 1950s New York beauty, who was not only everything Lily longs to be, but also shares Lily's surname.
Joy Fitzpatrick was a legend. But what was the famous dress which she once commissioned – said to be so original that nothing in couture would ever match it again? What happened to it – and why did Joy suddenly disappear from New York high society?
The Dress has dual time-frame narrative; one part set in the 1950s and the other in modern times. The present storyline tells the story of vintage fashion blogger Lilly Fitzpatrick as she comes across a photo of the titular dress in an old magazine and is instantly drawn to it. So much so in fact that she decides to take on the near impossible task of replicating the piece of clothing – even though the materials that go into creating this stunning item are beyond the meager income she gets from her blog. Through her research she discovers snippets about both the owner of the dress, Joy Fitzpatrick, who is likely a distant relatives of Lilly, and Honour, the talented designer.
Joy and Honour are the protagonists in the other storyline strand, the one set in the past, where we meet them at the very start of their acquaintance, which turns into an intense friendship as the two women collaborate on both the design and actual making of The Dress, yet ultimately their relationship shatters beyond repair as their pasts and different backgrounds catches up to them and forces a rift between the two friends. Despite the untimely dismissal of their friendship, The Dress has made an impact on New York society and has hit the media – and that is where decades later Lilly comes in, to uncover not only the true story behind The Dress but also that of Joy and Honour's lives and unlikely friendship.
After The Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby, The Dress is the second book I've read this year focusing on an exquisitely crafted piece of clothing, and despite not having a single fashionable bone in my body, the undeniable love for the craft that seeps through every page of the novel is so contagious that it makes me appreciate the beautiful thoughtfulness that goes into designing unique clothes such as The Dress much more than I did before.
As a fellow blogger I was of course instantly drawn to the character of Lilly, who has far more established as a writer and trendsetter than I am and it was wonderful to vicariously live through her success and take inspiration from her hard work (even though she is fictional!). And when her idea to recreate The Dress really starts to take off, and she is hired by a big company supplying her with unlimited funds to make her dream a reality, it really started to get exciting. Similarly, when Joy and Honour's hard work together started to pay off as The Dress became a reality, this was the interesting part of the novel and I could almost feel the buzz of come off the pages with each new addition to the magnificent piece of clothing, transforming it into the incredibly dress it was going to be.
However, this is one of those occasions where I really, really, REALLY loved the story until just before the end when everything kind of fell apart for the characters. I had really started to love these people after feeling like I'd shared blood, sweat and tears with them during the creative process, but in their almost single-minded obsession to create the titular garment both Lilly and Joy & Honour started to make incomprehensible choices that hurt those around them and it was a shame that their passion had to come with such a prize. While Lilly was able to overcome the issues in her lives, I didn't feel that Joy and Honour's conclusion was quite as satisfactory and that was a shame.
Also, gorgeous the cover may be it wasn't anywhere near the magnificence of the dress described within the novel, in addition to being a different colour, which was distracting and I almost wish that rather than creating such a beautiful drawing for the front that didn't match my imagination, the cover design had been a bit more elusive, shrouding the dress in the mystery it is deserving of.
Other than that though and a somewhat disappointing ending for several of the main characters, The Dress was a really fantastic read. The love for design really pops off the pages and creates this exciting and hugely intriguing story around the women that are each for different reasons drawn to The Dress. I love how the two storylines were woven together within the novel, and with each passing chapter started to intertwine more and more until ultimately they came together in a captivating way. If you're a blogger, designer or generally interested in fashion this will be a particularly compelling book for you, but even if you're not hugely into clothes, like me, you'll find this an enthralling and exciting read, which will make you appreciate the art of design much more than you did previously.
You can purchase the novel from Waterstones, Amazon.co.uk or your own preferred retailer.
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Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.