“…. It was really about perfection….”
The partial quote above refers to the art of haute couture sewing in the book The Pink Suit authored by Nicole Mary Kelby. No one wants to revisit tragic events, but I highly recommend the book if you’re looking for a quick late summer read with tons of sewing and haute couture references; and if you’re fashion and fashion history obsessed like me. Did I say references? The main character Kate, an employee at Chez Ninon (which was a real couture house in New York, and constructed the suit in reality) is obsessed with making fine clothing. In the story, Kate is assigned the construction of the iconic/tragic pink suit worn by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Yes, THAT pink suit.
Here is where truth and fiction collide. Was someone called Kate, a recent Irish immigrant in 1961, really the sole seamstress? Apparently there was a real Kate, but she was just one of the seamstresses who worked on the suit. And was there a real person who was used as a fit model for Mrs. Kennedy? Yup! I won’t give away more, but be sure to read the Acknowledgements at the end.
The book, only 227 pages, documents the suit, the fashion and a little bit of politics in the haute couture world, through Kate’s eyes; and Kate being a very accomplished seamstress, frequently takes the reader into the technical world of sewing and haute couture. The author did some fantastic research on the haute couture world, or she herself must be a fine seamstress herself. If you’re a New Yorker, you may enjoy the stories of the Irish immigrants who inhabited the Inwood area in the 1960s.
We know the tragic events of how the suit ended up; it is now safe in the National Archives, and will not be seen by the public until 2103. In the book, however, the pink suit’s origins are explored in a way where it seems to take a life of its own. We get a description of the magical fabric, the lining, and other details. As well, Mademoiselle Chanel is also in the picture, since the suit IS a line for line copy of her design.
Then there are chuckle inducing moments (cringe worthy for the main character) where Kate’s sister steps all over haute couture garments – on purpose – and they were all copies of the First Lady’s wardrobe made for her by her loving sister! Well, some people just don’t know the value of fashion and haute couture…
The book also touches on the point in American fashion history when women obsessively started to follow the fashion choices of Jackie Kennedy. And, that was a good thing.
Whatever happened to the pillbox hat? That is still a mystery since no one has been able to locate it. Here is a link to a New York Times story on the pink Chanel suit, published in 2013 on the anniversary of President Kennedy’s 50th death anniversary.
Sew up a storm this week….
Footnote: I looked in my fabric stash and found all this. What do you say? Should we pay our respects to the suit in our own way? Do it the best way we know how? By making a “replica” or “adaptation”?