BOOK CLUB: The Paris Seamstress

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Natasha Lester is an Australian author who goes from strength to strength. We have been following her here at Beauty and Lace since A Kiss From Mr. Fitzerald was read and loved for book club in 2016.

Historical fiction can be a little touch and go for me but Lester writes a compelling tale that encompasses dual time periods and crosses generations. The Paris Seamstress is a historical novel but some of the characters were actual people, and a select few events actually happened. History was never my strong point so none of this was information I knew until I read it in the Author’s Note.

Estella Bissette is a young woman in Paris, working as a seamstress and dreaming of the day she can work for herself. The Germans are approaching and war can be felt in the distance, its reach affecting the citizens of France while still being far enough away that life can go on. Until the war comes a little too close and Estella is pressured to leave France for Manhattan, taking her sewing machine, one suitcase, and her dreams.

The Paris Seamstress is historical fiction with elements of romance but the dual generations offer a perfect opportunity to weave a thread of suspense through the narrative as well. The story unfolds slowly, with each piece revealing itself and causing a time shift in the narrative.

Lester has told the tale of a courageous and feisty young woman willing to fight for her place in the history books. Estella made it out of France while her country, and her countrywomen, were still recognisable. Returning briefly a year later she discovers a country she hardly recognises.

This story was stunning, it was captivating and the fashion focus was fascinating. The work Estella and her mother did was work they were passionate about but it didn’t bring in big bucks so Estella was working on the side to make extra money and that was where I found it really fascinating, the whole way that Paris couture fashion found itself in production in America. The entire American fashion industry and its opinions fascinated me, to tell the truth.

The Paris Seamstress is set in the 1940s when life for a woman was very different to what it is now, even in the midst of a war women were extremely restricted in their freedoms and that made it hard for them to carry on while most of the men were off fighting a war. Even women’s fashion was dictated by men.

In 2015 Fabienne Bissette has just taken a new job as Head Curator of Fashion in a Sydney Museum, though her grandmother would love it if she went to work for her. She is spending some time in New York with her Grandmother before returning to Australia and starting her new job.

There are so many elements of this story to love that I’m struggling with where to start. Dual timelines allow the slow reveal of the mystery at its heart. The way Lester has told the story meant it wasn’t until late in the book that we discovered how things in the 1940s had played out. Estella’s first showing didn’t go to plan, she was devastated and on the verge of giving up but we know she turned that around somehow as she is still the head of a fashion empire. We aren’t sure how she built it or who she shared it with but we know she got there.

Fashion in the 1940s centered on France, and French fashion was much more focused on couture pieces. Fashion wasn’t for the masses and it wasn’t necessarily functional. Estella Bissette wanted to combine her French fashion roots with a line that is much more functional and can be embraced by all women.

The focus of the story is the characters and their relationships, and Lester has written them beautifully. We explore the characters and the struggles they face with their life dreams in the times they live. The story is set in Paris in the 1940s, as the Germans are set to invade and occupy France; this is a time when French citizens put themselves at risk to do what they could to help. Smuggling people out of the country, protecting injured soldiers, and passing information to allies were ways that citizens could help, and risk calling lethal attention to themselves. The way this was explored was entertaining as much as it was heartbreaking. Lester has written a well-researched and devastating look at life during the war.

The Paris Seamstress is the story of two strong and talented women, separated by a generation but sharing a strong bond, who had to grow into their faith in their talent to become the women they were meant to be. It is a tale of love in all of its incarnations and a tale of family.

Natasha Lester has captured the timelessness of truly gifted designers and given us a tale of fashion and the building of empires, of war and its ravages, of love and lunacy and strength and resilience. It also tells a beautiful tale of friendship that lasts a lifetime.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves a good story, and who could go past the gorgeous cover. I am enthralled just looking at it.

The Paris Seamstress is book #19 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2018.

Thanks to Hachette 10 of our Beauty and Lace Club Members will be reading The Paris Seamstress so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments.

If you like this book you’ll love The French Photographer.

11 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The Paris Seamstress

  1. I loved this book. It was such an enjoyable read. This is a must read for anyone who likes historical fiction. I particularly enjoy books that move between 2 different time periods- it makes the story unfold in a different way. While the courage of Estella (main character), was uplifting, some of the events were heart breaking. To read how humans can treat each other, is just awful. It is a good reminder of the horrors of wars, which we need to remember to avoid more in the future.

    When you read this book, expect that the washing will pile up, and the dishes won’t get done until you have finished it! 5 Stars!!!

  2. It’s 1940 and Estella Bissette a fashion seamstress escapes Paris just prior to the German invasion at her mothers wish. She travels to America to hopefully start a new life as a fashion designer. She meets Sam on the boat over to the States and they strike up a friendship based on their love of fashion and design. Estella struggles to keep any job while in Manhattan due to her outspoken and honest ways. Her talent is at odds with what the work offers. At one of the many design houses she is working in she meets Janie a beautiful blonde Australian girl who is a house model. The two become close friends and share a room in the Barbizon Hotel for Women.
    The trio Sam, Estella and Janie make a decision to create their own fashion house The House of Stella. Sam will cut the design that Estella creates and Janie will model.

    Fast forward to 2015 and Fabienne Bissette granddaughter of Estella is recovering from the death of her father. Fabienne is very close to her grandmother despite living in Australia and her grandmother living in Manhattan. They speak often and Fabienne visits every year. There is a Met Gala of an exhibition of her grandmothers work – the leading designer of ready to wear clothing.
    It is her grandmothers dying wish that Fabienne take over her business but Fabienne has her own career goals as a curator.

    The lives of Estella and Fabienne are intrinsically bound together through a complicated history . A mysterious woman, Lena that is identical in looks to Estella; a handsome man, Alex who Estella meets in Paris before leaving for America and then meets up with him again at a party in Manhattan. They all share something in common and this is where the book really becomes interesting.

    The Paris Seamstress is the story of Estella and her heritage. Complex, complicated with lots of secrets and drama.

    I loved the telling of the story – the war, the resistance fighters in France , the hardship of women and the love that can override everything. There were parts of the story that I thought were a little far fetched to believe or too contrived but overall it was a great read.


  3. An engaging historical romance fiction!

    Natasha Lester has written a remarkable fictional story around some true facts.

    “The Paris Seamstress” is the story of Estella Bissette who in 1940, had to flee France due to the outbreak of war. Her story is told combined with her granddaughter, Fabienne Bissette in 2015 where both central characters are brought to life, and we read about the special relationship they share whilst the truth is slowly uncovered.

    With love comes sacrifices and sometimes tragedy but sometimes, events of the past can help heal and shape the future.

    I found I had to reread a few pages so as not to get confused but overall, I recommend this book as a great, entertaining read that is very hard to put down.

    Thank you Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to review this book. Well done, Natasha

  4. I adore Natasha Lester! Her writing style is exquisite. I’ve read all of her books, and even though historical fiction is not my favourite genre, Natasha’s stories captivate me every time, making it a genre that I now have a greater interest in.
    In The Paris Seamstress, the story begins with Estella Bissette, a young seamstress living in Paris with her mother in 1940. As the Germans advance, her mother arranges for Estella to leave France and head to Manhattan with nothing more than a suitcase, a sewing machine and the dream of owning her own atelier one day.
    She meets a young man named Sam on the journey to America, and the two form a friendship, especially as Sam also shares a love of fashion, as he is a fabric cutter.
    Upon arriving in Manhattan, Estella meets Janie, a stunning blonde model from Australia. The two live together and along with Sam, they plan to open their own fashion house.

    The story then introduces us to Fabienne Bissette. The year is 2015, and Fabienne is an Australian curator who attends the Met Gala to witness an exhibition of her dearly beloved grandmother Estella’s work.
    But as she finds out more about her grandmother’s past, Fabienne discovers that Estella had to face many tribulations and make many sacrifices in her life.
    The story unravels slowly, with the two main characters (Estella and Fabienne) sharing their stories in alternating chapters, spanning generations, until the reader discovers how things play out late in the story.

    I loved reading about the fashion industry, and both Estella and Fabienne were strong-willed and courageous women.
    I’d happily recommend this book to those with a love of fashion and historical fiction.
    Thank you to Beauty & Lace and Hachette Australia for the opportunity to add this to my book collection.

  5. As a seamstress myself the tile of this book had me straight away!
    Then it arrived and the cover is Beautiful, so I got me tea and sat down to read and I couldn’t put it down. A beautiful story that shows us that we don’t always know what our family has been through in their lives Nd the fashion industry well for me it was amazing. I give this book a 10 out of 10 a fantastic read xxx

  6. I love historical fiction, and The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester was a perfect read for me!

    The novel switches between two different time periods while following the lives of Estella and Fabienne, and their special relationship, not only in a familial sense, but also in the fashion world.

    Natasha’s writing style is beautiful and descriptive, and flows easily between the different time periods of Estella and Fabienne, and between the streets of Paris and New York with ease. The story-line and characters are captivating and engrossing.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this novel (I literally read it all in one night!) and highly recommend it.

  7. There is the old adage, “Never trust a book by its cover”. I saw this book being promoted long before I received it and happily judged that with such a stunning woman on the cover and a beautiful title, this was a book that I would read again and again. I think the cover art is stunning and I was certainly not disappointed when I began to read. Natasha Lester is a very talented writer and her novels are delightful.

    This book encompassed a tangle of characters whose lives are intertwined with decades between them. The characters are beautifully described and one can just imagine the personalities and relationships of these individuals. The language used throughout the book also ensures the reader is captivated by the page-turning story line:

    ‘Estella hurried out of the courtyard and into the street, the maps whispering like rumours in her pockets, unable to stop thinking of all the stories she’d heard….’

    ‘Soon after midnight, Estella heard the words, ‘Alex is back’, whispered around the party, accompanied by smiles from the women and the kind of frisson that an unexpected riff on a saxophone might bring.’

    ‘… vases scattered around the room, things of brilliance in themselves: orb-shaped, with speckled aquamarine enamel making them shine like a tropical sea.’

    This book was a joy to read and I am very grateful to the talented Natasha Lester, Hachette Australia and Beauty and Lace Books for the opportunity to review such a wonderful book.

  8. I enjoy Historical fiction, especially when it involves Australia and a European nation. This is the first Natasha Lester novel I have read and I enjoyed her true-to-form style and accuracy in depicting certain events.
    Crossing generations, society’s boundaries and international turmoil, The Paris Seamstress shows the special relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter as they attempt to heal the past. I like that the characters are/were strong-willed, determined and intelligent, I was able to empathize with them a little and saw a few parallels between my own grandmother, who fled war-torn Europe in the early 1950s and myself, although unfortunately I didn’t inherit her talent for fashion or design.
    Thanks for allowing me to read this Beauty & Lace and Hachette publishers.

  9. I loved this book – historical fiction at its best. You feel for the characters – your heart breaks for them. I was so relieved for the happy ending for Fabienne.

    I have one question though – unless I missed it – I would have liked to know why Xander ended up in Australia and who Fabienne’s mother is. When she was from Australia I thought it might have something to do with Janie since she was from Australia.

    I didn’t want the book to end.

  10. Firstly thank you to Beauty and Lace and Hachete for the chance to read and review this amazing book.

    I am ashamed to say that I had purchased another one of Natasha Lester’s books beforehand but had never gotten around to reading it.

    However I soon devoured The Paris Seamstress (even in the midst of moving house) as I love historical fiction and especially those that flip between the present and the past.

    Natasha’s writing is fantastic and the plot twists kept me hooked and guessing. I would definitely recommend this book and I will be going back and reading the author’s back catalogue!!

  11. I really enjoyed this book, The Paris Seamstress..
    The twist and turns kept me hooked.
    I loved the different time periods. In saying that I did have to flick a little back and forth to keep on track, maybe I just shouldn’t have put it down heheh

    Thanks again Beauty and Lace

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