Tag Archives: Paris

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

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Viva Jamie

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We like playing Pre-recession, Post-recession in this household. It’s all subjective, of course, but it’s fun once you get into it.

For example, Pre-recession destinations include Ibiza and Iceland.  Post-recession places include Norfolk and Paris (so un-trendy for so long, but now oddly desirable again).

Jordan is Pre-recession.  Fiona Bruce is Post.

TV shows in the Pre-recession category include everything associated with Gordon Ramsay, Grand Designs and Top Gear.

Jules Holland is Post-recession.  As is Glee.

You get the idea.

And I think, on balance, Jamie Oliver comes out as Post-recession too. And this is from a girl who rails against the cult of the celebrity chef.    Yep.  Hands up. I’ve done a U-turn about Jamie.  And I don’t think I’m the only one.

When he first came out and did that whole moped malarkey and became Sainsbury’s whipping boy, everyone got sick to the back teeth of him.  He was called a ‘fat-tongued ****’ if you remember.  A lot.

I never really believed he had all those ‘mates’ in his trendy loft apartment.  I always thought they called him the fat-tongued thing behind his back.

Nobody liked him.  In fact, I can recall a drunken night back in the last century when we burnt Mr O’s first cookery book in the garden.  Sacrilege for writers to burn books, I know and very mature, however our vitriol knew no bounds.

But credit where credit is due.  Jamie does so many thinks right.  Not least of all, his latest cookery show, where he’s been doing a whistle-stop tour around Europe and bringing us the best recipes.  And contrived though it all must be, many of the situations he gets into seem very real.

Most admirable of all, however, to my mind, is that he actually eats what he’s made on the show.  He’s not waiting for the lowly public to taste his creations, he actually shoves the just-cooked food in his own gob.  Inspirational.

We live around the corner from Jamie’s Recipease shop.  It’s pink.  Being a Dad of girls, I suspect one of his kids chose the colour.  But as a shrine to all things Jamie, it works. The staff there are uber-friendly, the food is delicious.  It’s also very handy for birthday and Christmas pressies.

They used to have pizza stations where you could take the kids to make a pizza and they’d wrap it up for you and you could cook it at home, but mercifully, the kids have been banished, such is the demand for cookery lessons.  Jamie, it seems, is not only good at putting his ideas into practice, he’s happy to adapt them too.

Perhaps Jamie should do courses in how to be successful, as well as how to cook the perfect risotto. Dave and Nick could pop along after work with the new cabinet. After all, Jamie survived the last government and came out on top with shed loads of wonga.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the new government could say the same thing too?

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