I love historical fiction, especially stories that are related to World War II. “The Paris Dressmaker” is one of those stories, set in 1939 Paris and throughout the German occupation on the city, until the day it’s free again in 1944.
With the war about to spread all over Europe, the Parisian haute couture is spending their nights at the last parties. The French are positive that even if war actually happens, there is the Maginot Line out there to protect them. So, when the Maginot Line breaks and the Germans start their occupation in France, Paris is no longer the city it used to be. All big fashion houses shut down and along with the closure of Maison Chanel, dressmaker Lila de Laurent is out of business. Now she has no income and no way to stay alive during these awful times. But then, out of a sudden, Lila de Laurent finds herself a new job and a purpose. She joins La Resistance with the hope to find everything she can about one certain gentleman that has stolen her heart and is in outmost danger. From that point on, she infiltrates the Nazi elite, becoming the dressmaker of all those women that keep company to the Nazi high ranking officers that are spending war in the Hotel Ritz suites, the heart of the Nazis’ Parisian headquarters.
Some years later, in 1943, Sandrine Paquet is cataloguing priceless works of art that were stolen from Jewish families. All valuable art was to be boarded to trains heading either to the Fuhrer’s museum or other significant places in Germany. At the same time she is secretly foraging information for the French resistance, while looking forward to receiving news about her husband’s fate. One day, a crate comes in with a beautiful Chanel gown. One that hides a cryptic message that may tell the fate of a vanished dressmaker.
Two normal life, next door women, who are so similar and so different at the same time. The fate of those women that risked their lives, risked everything for their country, for freedom, for fighting an evil that took over a whole continent. Just like Lila and Sandrine, so many other women and men, fought for what they believed. While the men joined the army and took to their rifles, women armed themselves with the weapons they had. Hiding in plain sight and playing dangerous games infiltrating German ranks, drinking champagne at their parties and playing spy games without the enemy even noticing.
To those who believe that women are interested only in fashion and having a good time, this would make a great response. Making that same fashion work as a cover, as a weapon, as a means to get into places no ordinary person would, Right into the Nazis’ boudoirs, into the pockets of their uniforms and right next to their desk drawers, while their ladies were changing for a gown fitting.
I really liked how it all worked out. It was pretty obvious that the stories of the two women were interweaved somehow. All I had to do was read it through and find out what made them so different and so similar at the same time, until I reached that point that everything fell in place. I liked how the two main characters came from so different backgrounds. The one was a young single woman, a woman in love but with not much hope for this love, seeing her dreams being shuttered because of the war and then seizing that one opportunity to do good, to fight and maybe find redemption. The other was a married woman, a mother, that had to think of her son and her parents in law and how they could all survive these devastating days, not knowing if her husband was alive and whether he was going to return to them.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.