The Paris seamstress by Natasha Lester
Hachette, 2018. ISBN 9780733640001
(Age: 16+) Recommended. In 1940, young Parisian Estella Bissette finds herself unwittingly drawn to help a dying man, and becomes the courier of secret plans to the French resistance. She passes them to a dark mysterious stranger, a spy, in an encounter that will change the course of her life. Because of her actions, she has to leave France, and finds herself on the last ship to New York, an escape route available to her due to American birth papers that her mother has kept secret and only now reveals. Estella has to leave her mother behind and set sail to start a new life in a foreign land. She wants to carve a career for herself as seamstress and designer with the help of her friends Sam, a cutter at a fashion house, and Janie, an adventurous Australian model.
In 2015, young Australian Fabienne Bissette attends the New York exhibition of her grandmother's fashion line Stella Designs. She also has a chance encounter with a two people she feels strongly attracted to. Somehow the lives of Estella and Fabienne are intermeshed with secrets that people have kept buried until it is almost too late.
The story is one of dark secrets and family shame, but also of drive and achievement by strong female characters, set in the context of a burgeoning fashion industry in America during the war and post-war years. The historical background has clearly been thoroughly researched and author Natasha Lester, previously a marketing executive for L'Oreal, shows her inside experience of the fashion world and her knowledge of fashion history. Also, her intimate knowledge of those iconic cities, Paris and New York, shines throughout the novel. Less detail is provided about the third city in the story, Sydney, but it is refreshing to read a historical novel set in Europe and America with Australian characters leading the story.
The novel maintained my interest throughout with its mix of romance, war history, fashion world, and mystery. It would appeal to readers of historical fiction, but especially to those interested in fashion.