Friday, July 1, 2022

Book Review - A Dress of Violet Taffeta by Tessa Arlen

My Review

A Dress of Violet Taffeta is a historical novel based on the life or Lucy Duff Gordon.  Lucy divorced her cruel  husband in the late 1800's and needed to find a way to support herself and her young daughter Esme. She had a gift for design and slowly built a business as a fashion designer. Over the years her business expanded to a design house with a ballroom and models. She met a wonderful man, Cosmo Duff Gordon, and found personal happiness again ... before a fateful trip on the Titanic.

Lucy Duff Gordon

Dress designed by Lady Duff Gordon, 1918

I wanted to read this novel because I love historical fiction and enjoyed the Poppy Redfern mysteries by Tessa Arlen. I also am interested in the Titanic (and long ago ship travel in general), so that added to my interest.

This was a fascinating novel!  I loved the glimpse of fashion design in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The descriptions of embroidery, beading, and especially colors, was so evocative -- I could picture the fashions described so vividly.  It was also interesting how Lucy worked toward a more natural (and comfortable!) silhouette for women, away from the rigid corsets of the 1800's.

Lucy was a wonderful protagonist. She was strong and caring and looked out always for her daughter and mother.  I enjoyed her relationship with her often outrageous sister, Elinor Glyn (who created the idea of the "It Girl"). I also liked the way Lucy treated her employees, including a close friendship with her shop assistant, and assuring good work conditions and a positive shop experience for all the other employees.

I also enjoyed the story of Lucy's slow moving romance with Cosmo.  He was a unique man for the time in his loving support of his wife's career goals.

The Titanic story was vividly evoked, and the story of the lifeboat escape was harrowing -- especially as the survivors witnessed the devastation of the ship at such close range.

I found A Dress of Violet Taffeta fascinating, and recommend it for other fans of historical fiction.  Readers with an interest in fashion history or the Titanic will especially enjoy it.

Book Synopsis

A sumptuous novel based on the fascinating true story of La Belle Époque icon Lucy, Lady Duff Gordon, who shattered the boundaries of fashion with her magnificently sensual and enchantingly unique designs.

Lucy Duff Gordon knows she is talented. She sees color, light, and texture in ways few people can begin to imagine. But is the male dominated world of haute couture, who would use her art for their own gain, ready for her?

When she is deserted by her wealthy husband, Lucy is left penniless with an aging mother and her five-year-old daughter to support. Desperate to survive, Lucy turns to her one true talent to make a living. As a little girl, the dresses she made for her dolls were the envy of her group of playmates. Now, she uses her creative designs and her remarkable eye for color to take her place in the fashion world—failure is not an option. 

Then, on a frigid night in 1912, Lucy’s life changes once more, when she becomes one of 706 people to survive the sinking of the Titanic.  She could never have imagined the effects the disaster would have on her fashion label Lucile, her marriage to her second husband, and her legacy. But no matter what life throws at her, Lucy will live on as a trailblazing and innovative fashion icon, never letting go of what she worked so hard to earn.

Author Bio

Tessa Arlen writes historical fiction when she is not toiling away in her garden. She is the author of the Edwardian mystery series: Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson; the Woman of World War II mystery series. Poppy Redfern. And two standalone historical novels: In Royal Service to the Queen, and A Dress of Violet Taffeta.