The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby
Published by Virago
5th June 2014
On a sunny morning in November 1963, President and Mrs Kennedy were greeted by ecstatic crowds in Dallas, Texas. By the end of the day, Mrs Kennedy was a widow, and her bloodstained pink suit had become the emblem of a country's horrified grief.
Kate is an Irish immigrant, working as a seamstress at Chez Ninon, an exlusive Manhattan atelier responsible for much of Mrs Kennedy's wardrobe. Kate and the First Lady share roots on Ireland's west coast, and although their lives could not be more different, Kate cannot but feel they have a connection. After all, Kate knows every tuck and pleat the beautiful clothes require to create the illusion of perfection.
Then comes the dreadful day when pictures of the suit, spattered with the president's blood, are beamed across the globe. Kate's already fragile world, divided between the excess and artistry of Chez Ninon and the traditional values of her Irish neighbourhood, threatens to rip apart.
The Pink Suit is an engrossing, elegant novel about clothes, history and the stitches that anchor our lives and our dreams.
Nicole Mary Kelby tells of what is possibly the most infamous and iconic suit of the 20th Century - the pink suit that was worn by Jackie Kennedy on November 22nd 1963, the day her husband, John F Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America, was assassinated. The suit has lasted in memory, principally for the reason that Mrs Kennedy allegedly refused to change out of the blood-stained garments, in order to "let them see what they have done".
The Pink Suit tells of the seamstress who made this garment, albeit in a fictional sense, for the seamstress was called Kate, but the details in this book are of historical fiction based on facts. The Kate in The Pink Suit is an Irish immigrant in America, working for Chez Ninon, an exclusive company based in Manhattan, who dress only America's finest - including the First Lady, or as she was known 'the Wife'. What I didn't realise is that many of the garments that Chez Ninon produced were actually copies of French designs, not the actual article themselves. This was an accepted procedure, with Chez Ninon paying a fee to the respective design house concerned. In the case of the classic Chanel suit, the toile and fabric are sent over from France, but constructed in America, thus giving the feel that Mrs Kennedy is wearing American, not European clothing.
The book features the suit as a character, but it is Kate, the seamstress, who takes the central role, of how hard she grafts and of her life outside of Chez Ninon. Of her growing friendship with the butcher Patrick, and of the fire that will ultimately change her life. This book isn't about the Kennedy's per-se but about the people of America who were involved in shaping their personas. I found it to be a fascinating read.