Monday, July 11, 2022

Jade Beer Interview - The Last Dress from Paris

Photo Credit: Holly Clark Photography

Jade Beer is an award-winning editor, journalist, and novelist who has worked across the UK national press for more than twenty years. Most recently, she was the editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Brides. She also writes for other leading titles including The Sunday Times Style, Harper’s Bazaar, The Mail On Sunday‘s YOU magazine, The Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Tatler Weddings Guide, Glamour, and Stella magazine. Jade lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and two daughters.

Greatest thing you learned in school.
That it is, in fact, cool to want to be clever!

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Having writers that I admire say complimentary things about my own work is the most amazing confidence boost. If I can return the favour one day, that will be even better. The response I sometimes get from readers is also thrilling. A lady in New York emailed me this week to tell me how much she enjoyed The Last Dress From Paris. What she said really encapsulated why I love being a writer so much – it’s having the ability to move people in ways they haven’t been moved before. I can make a connection with people I will never meet, who live thousands of miles from away from me through the story I have written.

Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
Honestly, no. That ambition came a lot later in life for me, after being a newspaper and then a magazine journalist for years. I had reached a few professional ambitions and I began to wonder if I had a book in me – one that would draw on all the experiences I’d had during my time at Vogue House, surrounded by brilliantly creative women. But it seemed initially like a very unattainable ambition. The book publishing world is very different to the world of glossy magazines. The question was could I go from conceptualizing shoots, hosting live reader events and writing and editing 500-word articles to writing a 100,000-word book. Thankfully, the answer appears to be yes!

What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
What has really helped me is to focus deeply on the things that move me – a sense of time running out, family rifts, unfulfilled ambitions, buried secrets, the many forms of love. I also try to hold onto the thought that anything I write should provoke a reaction. Whether that’s a great sense of relief in your reader, huge sadness or a new-found joy – give them all the feels and don’t hold back. More practically, it also helps to read lots of other writers and ask yourself what are they doing well and how are they doing it, what can you learn from them?

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
As The Last Dress From Paris publishes, I am working on the second draft of my next book. It contains a lot of the similar threads that I loved about the current book – a dual timeline, a strong fashion angle, it’s multi-generational and places strong women at the centre of the story. Again, it has been a joy to write and I am excited to bring it to its full potential.

In your newest book; THE LAST DRESS FROM PARIS, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it.
During the writing process, I thought about this story very much as a diary of a secret love affair, told through a collection of couture Dior dresses. It has a strong female cast, ranging in age from 32 to 90. Lucille in the (almost) present day tackles similar issues to Alice in 1950s Paris, albeit with very different backdrops and through very different lifestyles. What starts as a very simple task – Lucille must go to Paris to retrieve and return a couture Dior gown that her grandmother wore in the 50s and loaned to a friend who is now deceased. When Lucille arrives, it’s not long before she realizes this is not the simple and straightforward request that was asked of her. There starts an increasingly romantic dash across the city to unearth a family secret that will challenge everything she believes to be true. Lucille’s chapters alternate with those of Alice, a privileged young woman whose life appears to be everything it is not. Eventually, the two timelines collide with significant and emotionally charged consequences for everyone involved.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I hope they will be routing for and admiring all the women in different ways and for different reasons. Perhaps Alice for her resilience; Lucille for her determination; Marianne for her loyalty; Veronique for her passion; Sylvie for her bravery and Genevieve for her reinvention. If they haven’t already, perhaps they will fall a little in love with Christian Dior and the city of Paris too.

What part of your characters did you enjoy writing the most?
Alice’s wardrobe was certainly a highlight. I was able to see and study nearly all the Dior pieces that I refer to in this book, which really informed the kind of woman Alice is and the life she lives – privileged but also restricted and restrained. Because of the way I structured this book, I loved that I was able to seed hints and clues in one timeline and drop the corresponding reveals into the other. I hope it helped bring great pace to the character’s development in both storylines.

What was your unforgettable moment while writing THE LAST DRESS FROM PARIS?
There were a few significant moments – whether I realized it or not at the time - in this book coming to life: visiting the Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition when it arrived at the V&A Museum in London in 2019 – the very first moment the story started to shift into place in my mind. Returning to the V&A Study Centre and personally examining some of the pieces that would make it into Alice’s wardrobe. My research trip to Paris, walking through all the different locations that Lucille would visit in a modern-day Paris. Then checking into a writer’s retreat in the South of France where the very first words of this novel were written. All those moments delivered a sprinkle of the magic that helped this story grow.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would love my Veronique to meet Sally Jay Gorce, the bed-hopping American graduate and aspiring actress from The Dud Avocado. Imagine the combined wardrobes, the storytelling over hours spent sipping champagne together, then men who would melt in their presence - they’d be great friends before long.

Best date you've ever had?
It would have to be Paris for my first wedding anniversary in 2002. We had very little money but somehow managed to find all the best places to eat with the locals. We returned for our 18th anniversary in 2019 and it was almost as if time had stood still – we were the same people, with the same passions in life, just a few more wrinkles to show how happily the years have passed.

What is your happiest childhood memory?
I was obsessed with dancing as a child. I would spend every Saturday at dance class, and every Sunday competing somewhere in the UK. My mum made me the most magical outfits to perform in, often staying up through the night to sew on hundreds of sequins and glass beads, while I slept upstairs in my hair rollers! To this day my parent’s attic is still full of all the trophies I won.

Choose a unique item from your purse and explain why you carry it around.
It’s a pale nude Christian Dior lipstick (as worn by Alice) with the words The Last Dress engraved on the case. It was a gift from my UK literary agent to mark the publication of my book and a beautiful daily reminder of how proud I am of it.

What were you doing at midnight last night?
Sitting on the sofa with my teenage daughter, watching one of the Twilight movies (again) and reigniting the debate over who is the more beautiful – Edward or Jacob.

  • 1. Your timing will be perfect! This year marks the 75th anniversary of the first Christian Dior show at the House of Dior in Paris in 1947.
  • 2. Early readers are already describing it as: ‘a heartwarming and heartbreaking adventure’; ‘a wonderful, emotional story that has had a profound effect on me’ and ‘a tear-jerk story of true love’.
  • 3. The Fashion! Step inside the gilded ballrooms and dining rooms of Paris and marvel at what the women wore. All the featured gowns are real so you can google them as you read.
  • 4. The men. The story serves up the absolute best and the very worst of male traits.
  • 5. In Australia, the book has been reprinted before it even went on sale due to high demand.
  • 6. You can walk the streets of Paris in the footsteps of Christian Dior himself, without ever getting off the sofa.
  • 7. You’ll enjoy not one but two passionate love affairs.
  • 8. You’ll get a free Reader’s Guide with insider book club questions from the author.
  • 9. The female friendships. You’ll turn the last page with a strong sense of how much better life can be with a loyal woman at your side.
  • 10. The food! From the banquets at the ambassadorial residence to the cultured street cafes of Paris, this book is almost guaranteed to make you hungry!
Your Favorite Quotes from THE LAST DRESS FROM PARIS
‘In a few moments she will be surrounded by dozens of wealthy, well-connected women. She can see them now, clustered and swarming outside like tormented insects, smoking, congratulating each other, closing ranks on the tight community they want her to be a part of. But as Alice approaches, all she feels is the competitive swirl of women who want more of everything. Nothing but the best.’

‘Happy birthday, my darling Lucille! You are off to Paris to have an adventure. See things. Do things. Meet people. And bring home something dear to me – something I have longed to hold again for too many years.’

‘How can something so uniformly gray also be so beautiful? Early evening Paris is painted in the last strokes of daylight, looking like someone turned the dimmer lights down across the whole city . . . I’m high above the madness of the Parisian streets below, the honking horns, the nose-to-tail city grind, cars slowing pushing the one in front forward, up here on the edge of the stars where everything feels weightless. I want to venture out. I want to be that woman.’

‘I actually take a step backward. This is no minor dress collection. Even to my totally untrained eye, the fabrics look heavy and rich. Buttons are still rigidly in place. Everything has a very ordered and deliberate symmetry. I’m guessing all the detailing has been done by hand, and one of the dresses is covered in what must be thousands of sequins and crystals. It’s all from a very different world. One that knows nothing of the fast fashion of today’s high street, its clutter of wire hangers and mass-market copies . . . there is a lavishness that some might say borders on the wasteful. Why have one layer to a skirt when you can have five or six? . . . Granny has always been well put together, from a generation of women who care what they look like. But this? This is not her life or her world. . .

Veronique, one hand theatrically pressed to her chest, actually looks on the verge of tears. ‘Have you ever seen anything like it? she asks, rather redundantly, I would say . . . it’s not even the best bit. You haven’t seen the notes that accompany them yet. I will show you.’

‘There are many things I could envy about your husband, Alice. I’ve seen the way he is. How ambitious men want his ear. How beautiful women want his company. The power and influence he has. Those qualities are attractive to many people, I understand that. And, of course, he has you. But please don’t confuse my mother’s ambitions for me with my own.’

‘[Alice] . . .enjoys the briefest feeling of pure calm until the sound of a shattering champagne flute on the stone floor jolts her out of herself. She hears her name being repeated by Anne and realizes to her horror that it is her glass that has fallen from her hand. She can’t look down to assess the damage or mess because her eyes are fixed on him, at the far end of the room, now making his way slowly toward her. Antoine has found her, and she knows before he reaches her that she will not be able to resist him tonight. She is not in control of whatever happens next.’

‘It’s scattered with tiny threads of metallic embroidery that are barely visible but that give the faintest rose-gold glow. There is the faded Toile de Jouy pattern we have heard so much about, the softest repetition of painterly florals that seem perfectly pure and angelic. The small, rounded neck is trimmed with a pleated frill, repeated at the bottom of two puffed sleeves. Then the fabric gathers across the chest before falling away into the lightest translucent silk skirt, the most precious canvas for the ornate painting that is unfurling across it. It has a femininity that speaks to an entirely different era. More than anything, I can see my grandmother would love it. That it is refined, fitting of the occasion it was made for while still being impossibly pretty.’

The secret is hidden within a collection of Dior dresses...

London, 2017. There's no one Lucille adores more than her grandmother. So when her beloved Granny Sylvie asks for Lucille's assistance with a small matter, she's happy to help. The next thing she knows, Lucille is on a train to Paris, tasked with retrieving a priceless Dior dress. But not everything is as it seems, and what Lucille finds in a small Parisian apartment will have her scouring the city for answers to a question that could change her entire life.

Paris, 1952. Postwar France is full of glamour and privilege, and Alice Ainsley is in the middle of it all. As the wife to the British ambassador to France, Alice's job is to see and be seen--even if that wasn't quite what she signed up for. Her husband showers her with jewels, banquets, and couture Dior dresses, but his affection has become distressingly elusive. As the strain on her marriage grows, Alice's only comfort is her bond with her trusted lady's maid, Marianne. But when a new face appears in her drawing room, Alice finds herself yearning to follow her matter the consequences.

The City of Light comes alive in this lush, evocative tale that explores the ties that bind us together, the truths we hold that make us who we are, and the true meaning of what makes someone family.

You can purchase The Last Dress from Paris at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you JADE BEER for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Last Dress from Paris by Jade Beer.