On 22 November 1963, Jacqueline Kennedy accompanied her husband to Dallas, Texas, wearing a pink suit that was one of his favourites. But as Jackie was greeted by ecstatic crowds that sunny morning, nobody could have dreamt just how iconic the suit would soon become.
In The Pink Suit, Nicole Mary Kelby has written a novel imagining the life of the garment that became emblematic of the moment the American Dream turned to ashes. Kate is an Irish seamstress working in the back room at Chez Ninon, an exclusive Manhattan atelier entrusted with creating much of Jackie’s wardrobe. Kate and the First Lady share roots in rural Ireland, and although their lives could not be more different, Kate honours their connection by using the muslin toiles for each piece she sews for Mrs Kennedy to fashion an identical garment – in a different fabric – for her own niece.
Then comes the terrible day that pictures of Kate’s handiwork, splashed with the president’s blood, are beamed all over the world.The Pink Suit is a fascinating novel about politics, fashion, history and the people who have a hand in it – from the backrooms of a Manhattan dressmaker’s to the Blue Room at the White House.
What I Thought:
The Pink Suit is an interesting book as it comes at a universally known historical event from a unique angle. The JFK assassination has been examined in intimate detail, so to find this way of tying it into the mundane and everyday is quite a feat.
Similarly to the assassination, hundreds upon hundreds of lines have been written about Jackie Kennedy, but this book never explicitly mentions her by name, calling her only ‘The Wife’ and instead draws parallels between her and the seamstress who sews the now-famous pink suit, based on a Chanel original.
Kate is an Irish immigrant, who has come to America to make her fortune, doing so in the back room of Chez Ninon, but we meet her at a crossroads in her life – should she continue on and chase her American Dream, or should she return to Ireland and settle for life there?
This is where the assassination works as a mirror of Kate’s life, as the glitz and glamour of the JFK presidency comes abruptly and violently to an end, almost marking an end to the post-war optimism of the 1960s, so Kate’s own love affair with America is slowly waning.
The novel works well on several levels; historically, it is rich and full of period detail, and it is also full to the brim with a passion for taking material and creating something beautiful out of it. The fictional characters never seem out of place in 1960s New York – except perhaps Kate herself, who is intentionally forward thinking.
Although things began to fizzle a bit towards the end, overall The Pink Suit was a compelling read, particularly for a history buff such as myself!
The Pink Suit is published by Little Brown.
Note: I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.