Tag Archives: Joanna Rees

The dancing dress that inspired a novel

There’s no doubt that in these lockdown days, one of the things I’m missing most is wearing a frock.  I can’t wait for the moment I’ll be able to crack one out and flounce up to town for a fancy lunch, or shimmy my way to a night of dancing.

I have some lovely dresses, but there are four that have major historical significance.  The first is the midnight blue shot taffeta affair which I wore to a May ball in Cambridge in 1988 and felt utterly fabulous.  Then there was my wedding dress that I based on a fifties dress of my aunt’s and the glamorous dress I had designed for my Platinum book launch, complete with rhinestones and a slit up to the thigh.  And now this beauty – the dress that inspired a whole book.

When I was writing The Hidden Wife, which is set in Paris in 1928, I needed my character Vita to be immersed in the world of fashion and to learn the ropes from a real-life couturier.  I didn’t want it to be Coco Chanel, as everyone knows so much about her, so I was very pleased when I came across an article in an old copy of Vogue about a designer called Jenny Sacerdote.

Looking up the company, I realised they still had a website and wrote, explaining that I was an author and asking for more information.

I had the most fantastic reply from Anne Vogt-Bordure, the CEO of La Suite Jenny Sacerdote and I jumped on the Eurostar to Paris to meet her.

Anne met me at the Gare du Nord and we hit it off immediately.  She took me to Dreyfuss, the incredible material emporium I feature in the book and then to the Champs-Élysées where Jenny’s once famous salon is now a Marriott Hotel.  Over lunch in an achingly cool terrace restaurant with a view of the Eiffel Tower, she told me Jenny’s story.

The Marriott hotel now
How it was in Jenny’s day

Jenny Sacerdote

Jeanne AdèleBernard was quite a woman, it seems. Born in 1868 to a single mother, she showed early promise. Being very bright, she followed a path to academia, but at the of 39 she decided to open her own fashion house and styled herself as Jenny Sacerdote. 

By the mid 1920’s Madame Jenny produced as many as 800 pieces a year, including coats, daytime dresses, wedding dresses, bathing suits and lingerie and it was actually Jenny who invented the ‘little black dress’ before Chanel.  By 1928, she’d become a worldwide celebrity, and won the coveted Grand Prix de l’Elegance. 

The women who made Jenny’s dresses. It was easy to see my character, Vita, fitting in with them.

Everyone who was anyone came to her modern salon on Paris’s famous avenue, where I had my character Vita, looking in awe at the beautiful gates and then blagging her way inside for an interview.  Vita even spots Hollywood starlet Mary Pickford, who was a big Madame Jenny fan. I have Vita looking through the visitors book, which really did include the cream of Parisian society, along with the sister and mother of Fred Astaire and even the Empress of Japan.

It was so brilliant to have these images and to be able to write Vita into this wonderful world. This is the sofa where she first meets debonaire Irving King, who Vita thinks might be the solution to all her problems (he’s not!).

In 1940 when the war came, Jenny, who didn’t have any descendants, closed the business and left Paris. It was the end of an incredible era.

But, inspired by Jenny’s fashion legacy Anne Vogt-Bordure revived the brand and in 2018 formed La Suite Jenny Sacerdote paying tribute to her name. Just like Jenny – movement is at the heart of the design.

Behind an unassuming door in one of those large Parisian buildings, Anne showed me into a flower garlanded courtyard where she has her studio. She showed me lots of old pictures of Jenny’s designs and her modern interpretations of them. The resulting dresses were just glorious.

Anne Vogt-Bordure, CEO of La Suite Jenny Sacerdote with one of Jenny’s original designs
This pink tennis-inspired dress appears in the book

This black dress was so chic, but I fell for this beautiful silk dress that is simply made for dancing.

It inspired the plot of the book, because in it, I have Vita at her interview with Jenny who asks Vita to decide where the braiding should be placed on this very dress.  It’s a test that Vita passes and she joins Jenny’s team.

The original dress in 1928 which I featured in the book
The dress now. I chose the red one.

Writing my Stitch In Time trilogy has been such a good excuse for me to channel my inner-flapper girl.  What a treat is is to have a dress that will always remind me of Vita and Paris. All I need now is a party…

For more information on these amazing dresses, please visit http://www.jennysacerdote.com

You can follow on Instagram @jennysacerdote

The Hidden Wife, by Joanna Rees is published by Pan Mac 18th March 2021. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hidden-Wife-Stitch-Time/dp/1529018870/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1615909106&sr=8-2

Leave a comment

Filed under Joanna Rees, Uncategorized

‘A Twist Of Fate’ is out now!

It’s August, and ‘A Twist Of Fate’ my latest novel hits the shelves.  Hooray.  I’m very excited that it’s finally out.  That said, it’s always a bit strange around the time of publication, as there’s a big build-up and then nothing actually happens.  It feels like one of my babies is starting school and I can’t help pacing anxiously, waiting to hear news – whether someone’s spotted someone buying a copy in Asda, or if there’s been a nice review, or, most importantly, if anyone’s actually reading it.

 

Fortunately, publication week has started off well with a fabulous 5 star review in Heat.  This is what they had to say:

 

‘It’s 1971, and in a snowy forest two baby girls are handed over to East German gangsters.  One is sent to an orphanage on the Polish border where she can be certain of hard work, hunger and abuse; the other is sold to a moneyed American couple and destined for a life of mega-privelege in the West.  For more than 40 years, their paths cross without either one ever knowing the truth about their start in life.

 

It’s perfect beach-bag fodder, with drama on just about every page.  As the girls grow up, they face and endless stream of betrayals and tragedies, and even the occasional good day. It’s classic Jackie Collins territory, by which we mean it’s freakin’ ace.  Evil stepbrothers!  Double-crossing, drug-dealing hookers!  Secret babies!  Yachts!  Blackmail!  It’s got the lot.

 

Pack it in your hand luggage and expect to spend a day of your summer hols reading…and refusing all food, drink and conversation.’

 

Even better, my fabulous publishers, Macmillan have hooked up with Champneys for an amazing promotion, where you can win a luxury two night spa break, with loads of treatments in a Champneys resort.

 

Plus, there’s loads of samplers available in Champneys spas and resorts.  If anyone is in Brighton on 28th August, I’ll be in Champneys doing a special event at 6pm, so come along.

 

Here’s the details of the CHAMPNEYS COMPETITION, which I urge you to enter:

 

 

Details of my event: http://www.champneys.com/Day-Spas/Event

Click on the cover above to order or click HERE

Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I loved writing it.

 

5 Comments

Filed under Jo Rees

Why work-at-home parents work much longer hours than those in regular jobs

Despite the revolution that the internet has brought about, allowing so many of us to work at home, let’s be honest – culturally, we’re not all quite there yet on how it should work.  How many times to you hear people say, ‘Yes, but I work one day a week at home’ in that apologetic tone, as if they think everyone else suspects them of being a slacker?  If you work at home all the time, then the chances are you feel like you have to prove yourself to everyone else all the time, too.   Nobody ever says to the work-at-home parent, ‘Oh my God!  You must be frazzled.  You must work so hard.’

But that’s the truth. Whilst working at home gives welcome flexibility to many careers and allows many women like me to work after having children, those of us bashing away at our laptops in the kitchen, or trying to make a call in the freezing loft-conversion study, are actually working much longer hours than we would do if we commuted to an office.

The work guilt seems to be much stronger in the work-at-home parent (although this might be termed a work ethic).  We work through lunch because breaks don’t really exist.  And if you do happen to make a sandwich in the kitchen, it also involves clearing up breakfast and unpacking the dishwasher.  There’s no leisurely company expenses lunches in swanky restaurants, or an hour of mooching around the posh shops, or gym-trips like my friends in offices have.  I found myself snarling at a friend who was flying business class to New York, but happened to have conveniently booked a ‘me-time’ day on the company either side of her actual meeting.

OK, so it’s not all easy for her.  She might get the glory of being a career girl in a highly paid job, but she also has to pay a nanny most of her salary to pick up her kids and help with their homework.  But the trade-off for working at home and actually being there for your kids is not that easy either because quite often you neither do your job in the most effective way possible, nor parent terribly well.

You can always tell the work-at-home parents because they turn up consistently late to the school gates with a five-mile stare, and the anxious frown of someone who hasn’t even got half way through today’s to-do list.   As a writer, I’ve often just got into my flow by the time I have to leave for the school run, and having just written a murder or a sex scene suddenly find myself presented with a painted egg-box, or a handful of gluey pictures to inspect from my five-year-old and have to react appropriately. It’s jarring to say the least.

The problem too is that, with your home as your work environment, there’s no switch off and work seeps into home-life no matter how much you don’t want it to.   The amount of times I spend shushing my children as I try to write a pitch, or burn the teatime fish-fingers whilst I’m on a call to my agent, or am furiously mouthing for the kids to creep quietly through my study to the garden, when all they want to do is play, are too many to count.  With no shut off comes no planned down time and work seeps into evenings, weekends and even holidays.

People with office-based careers seem to earn automatic respect and many do, I’m sure, work long hours and find it depressing that they’re not at home.  But they also get the camaraderie of work colleagues and the mental switch off of walking out of the house to a new – and probably cleaner – environment for the day.

As more and more women change their careers to opt for working at home, I would caution them to check over the fence to really make sure that the grass is greener on the other side.  Because they might just find themselves in their kitchen at lunchtime in their tracksuit bottoms, mourning for their powersuits and Pret-A-Manger.

My new novel ‘A Twist Of Fate’ is published by Macmillan 2nd August. Perfect holiday reading. Order now.

2 Comments

Filed under Jo Rees