Jade Beer’s The Last Dress from Paris is a historical fiction novel filled with fashion, Paris, food, intrigue and more. I’m thrilled to have Jade Beer join me for an interview.
Check out the Synopsis for The Last Dress from Paris by Jade Beer
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 heart…no 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.
About Jade Beer:
I am an award-winning editor, journalist and novelist who has worked across the national press, women’s glossies, weeklies and digital channels for more than twenty years. Most recently, I was the editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Brides, where I headed up the market-leading print title, consistently the UK’s No1 best-selling bridal brand. I oversaw all the digital channels – with a total social following of nearly four million – and the events, including the largest live event, Brides the Show, all of the seasonal catwalk shows and the new Brides Beauty Hub.
One of the most satisfying elements of the job was the huge variety of brands that I worked with, helping to promote their businesses through well-thought-out creative projects that we knew our readership would immediately respond to. I loved getting close to the dedicated and loyal readership, couples all over the country who trusted us to guide them through one of the most important stages of their lives. After eight years in the job, it was still just as fascinating and inspiring . It also helped me to achieve the long-held dream of becoming a published author. June 2018 saw the launch of my debut novel, The Almost Wife, with a follow-up, What I Didn’t Say, published in October the same year.
I split my time between London and the Cotswolds where I live with my husband and two daughters.
Author Interview: Jade Beer
Jade, I’m so excited to talk to you today about The Last Dress from Paris, out June 21st, 2022. Thank you for joining me for this Q & A.
Can you tell me about the inspiration behind The Last Dress from Paris?
When the Christian Dior, Designer of Dreams exhibition opened at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum in 2019 I was too busy to go. I had an invitation but not the time. I was going to stay at my desk on the sixth floor of Vogue House where I was editing Conde Nast Brides, and finish reading the huge pile of magazine proofs that had built up. I was, thankfully, talked out of that decision, and went, slightly annoyed that it would mean a later night in the office again.
This exhibition’s arrival in London was highly anticipated since its original earlier opening in Paris to mark Dior’s 70th anniversary. It contained over 500 exhibits, including 200 original pieces of haute couture fashion. But there were also rare design drawings, fashion illustrations and photography. I loved the way old film footage was cleverly spliced together with coverage of the modern-day runway spectacle. I loved standing in the toile room, looking at all the prototypes of the dresses they would become.
Now I knew I wanted to write a story about a dress, one that was so powerful it might flip the course of a woman’s life in a different direction. It couldn’t be a wedding dress. I had written about them before. But it had to be special and important and impossible to rival. That led me very quickly to the world of couture. And if it had to be couture, then it had to be set in Paris. And if that was my location, well then of course it had to be Christian Dior. The man who, 75 years ago, showed his first Spring/Summer collection in the capital and in doing so redefined the way women looked. After so many years of wartime deprivation, he made women feel beautiful again. Utilitarian dressing was gone, and in its place came Dior’s exaggerated silhouettes of the female form. He designed clothes for flowerlike women. In his words there were ‘rounded shoulders, full feminine busts, hand-span waists above enormous spreading skirts.’ I wanted to meet these women on the pages of my novel.
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I can’t wait to meet Alice and Lucille. Can you tell us more about them?
When we first meet Lucille, it’s her 32nd birthday. At this point she is coasting through life, not standing up for herself and what she wants. She’s allowing herself to be taken advantage of by an obnoxious boss, she’s tolerated a boyfriend who doesn’t excite her, she’s ignored and forgotten by her own mother who has forgotten her birthday for the past five years. But she has ambition and intelligence and knows she is capable of much more – and crucially so does her grandmother Sylvie who buys her a ticket to Paris and sets her the important challenge of returning a couture Dior gown that she wore there, back in the 1950s. Sylvie had lent it to a now-deceased friend and would dearly love to be reunited with it.
Alice is 25 years old when we meet her and the only daughter of very socially ambitious British parents who are thrilled with themselves for marrying her off well.
She is newly married and not long returned from her honeymoon in Italy with her husband Albert, so at the very beginning of the novel we see her adjusting to life in Paris as the wife of the British ambassador to France. She lives in the government residence – widely recognized as the most impressive of all the British ambassadorial residences abroad. She has staff, a very generous clothing allowance and we see her set about her role of hosting very glamorous and important parties for her husband’s associates.
She is highly intelligent, beautiful and ambitious but finds herself in a world where her life is very tightly defined, not least of all by her own husband who appears to have lost interest in her since the honeymoon ended.
She has an incredibly enviable lifestyle from the outside, but as the story unfolds, we will start to see the truth rapidly reveal itself.
Author Interview: Jade Beer – Paris, Fashion & English Breakfast
I love Paris as a setting because I love Paris in general. Can you tell us some of your favorite Parisian things?
Much like London and New York, I think Paris is a city best explored on foot. You would miss so much of what makes it great if you spent all your time there underground on the tube or in the back of a taxi – in particular the way its history butts up so tightly against the fashionable modern day; beautiful old buildings sandwiched next to slick fashionable boutiques.
Parisian food features quite frequently in this book. Anyone who hasn’t tasted the hazelnut financiers at the Hotel Plaza Athenee or the thick hot chocolate at Brasserie Lipp, should add both to their bucket list. A lot of the destinations that Lucille explores in this story are also my favourites: the Eglise Saint-Germain des Pres, one of the oldest and most richly decorated churches in the city; the Jardin du Luxembourg for its authentic slice of Parisian life and the Monet Waterlilies exhibition at the Musee de L’Orangerie which is just breathtakingly beautiful.
Can you talk about your research for The Last Dress from Paris?
Being there and walking its streets and neighbourhoods was very important to me so I could accurately convey the sights, sounds and smells of everything Lucille would encounter in the (almost) present day timeline. Christina Dior himself provided a lot of what I needed to know about the early 1950’s part of the story. The Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition that came to London in 2019 was the absolute starting point of this novel. The Victoria and Albert Museum study centre, where I was able later to go and personally examine most of the dresses in this book was also a vital part in bringing the story to life. It wasn’t until I was standing over the dresses, seeing the craftsmanship in the internal construction and corsetry, that I was able to picture the kind of woman Alice was and the life she would lead. Dior liked to think of his pieces as being constructed like buildings.
What really appealed to me was his idea that from the outside the dresses would give the impression of simplicity while all the elaborate work was going on underneath, out of sight. I loved the way his collections were aimed unapologetically at a very specific woman – one who was extremely elegant and with a love of great luxury. The House of Dior was in his words a ‘craftsman’s workshop, not a clothes factory.’
The Last Dress from Paris contains dual timelines, female leads, Paris, fashion, a scavenger hunt and more. Do you have any favorite scenes or pieces of this novel?
I have re-read this book many, many times, again quite recently so all the details are fresh in my mind ahead of speaking about it to journalists. Chapter 23, when we finally meet the last dress from Paris, still has the ability to shock me which I know sounds odd when I wrote it, but by this point in the book, as a reader, I am completely invested in this one moment that is going to change everything and answer so many outstanding questions.
It’s hard to pick a favourite piece of Dior but if I had to perhaps it would be the Debussy. What happens the night it is worn, marks a significant shift in Alice’s life, one where the repercussions are going to be felt decades into the future.
Author Interview: Jade Beer – Writing & More
Do you have any favorite snacks, music or rituals for your writing? For instance, are you blasting music or need complete silence?
There are a few key things that will always ensure the writing part of my day is more productive. For a start, I write much better in the mornings. I will only ever write later into the day and evening if the deadline dictates it has to be that way.
Regardless, any writing session will be fueled by English breakfast tea and Digestive biscuits. I wish I could write with the radio on, but it has to be silence, sometimes with earplugs in if I am really immersing myself in the scene. I do like to have nods on my desk to the project I am working on. At the moment it’s roses cut from the garden which I know Alice would appreciate!
Also, on my desk right now is the 30 Montaigne candle from Dior, named of course after the address of the designer’s first boutique and where Alice attends her first Dior salon show, plus a beautifully illustrated menu from the French Brasserie Zedel in London.
I am also using a room fragrance from Diptyque called 34, named after its original Parisienne boutique at that number on the Boulevard Saint Germain. The smell is pure Paris to me, very elegant and understated.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
Fully commit yourself to the role of writing. When I wrote my first two books, I had a fulltime day job editing a magazine at Conde Nast. I would create diary entries for my book writing sessions so that nothing could clash with them, the time was already accounted for.
Try to keep up to speed with the business of book publishing. It’s great to have an idea of who is who and what is being published as this may well inform the path you take. Reads lots, particularly in the genre you are writing in. I also find it good for the brain to do other types of writing too – in my case the occasional freelance piece for the national press or some content creation for a commercial client. I find it makes returning to the task of writing the current book even more exciting.
The Last Dress from Paris is a great summer read! What books are on your TBR?
The three books on my bedside table currently are:
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
The Birdcage by Eve Chase
The Push by Ashley Audrain
Who is the perfect reader for The Last Dress from Paris?
When I left the Christian Dior exhibition that day back in 2019, there was only one question that all the exhibits had failed to answer: What would the women, Dior’s clients, say if they had been there with me that day? What would they tell me about the occasion on which they wore these incredible dresses? Alice’s story answers what they couldn’t say but what my imagination dreamed up.
The Last Dress from Paris is an emotional read that I really hope will move readers and perhaps touch on some of their own deeply buried secrets and insecurities. It’s perfect for anyone who likes to explore the complexities of female relationships or anyone who has ever stood looking at an exquisite dress, debating how much better their life might be if only they could wear it.
Connect with Jade Beer
Thank you again for taking the time to speak with me, Jade! How can readers best connect with you?
Thank you so much for your interest in this book. Readers can reach me via Instagram @jadebeerbrides or on email firstname.lastname@example.org
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