The Designer

Written by Marius Gabriel
Review by Ann Chamberlin

Shortly after the liberation of Paris in 1944, while war still rages, Copper Reilly arrives in Paris with her husband of eighteen months, a reporter. His infidelities, and leaving her to clean up after an alcoholic friend who bleeds to death in their home, finally encourage our heroine to set off on her own in the City of Lights. She is wooed by Hemingway, a white Russian count—“as if anybody cares about that sort of thing anymore”—and the notorious lesbian Suzy Solidor. “Lesbianism,” one character tells us, “has been a public spectacle in Paris since the 1850s. It’s practically a profession. One of the performing arts.” The most consistent character in her life, who probably should have been the hero, however, is the eponymous designer, Christian Dior, who is no love interest at all.

The author, we learn, put himself through postgraduate school by writing steamy romances. This novel is certainly of the same stripe: the requisite English-speaking heroine seeking “freedom” and the attempt to shoehorn haute couture and the whole Second World War into that format. Copper herself may be based on Carmel Snow, editor of Harper’s Bazaar, of the same Irish-American, five-sibling brand.

Readers should be warned of a hint of racism. I would also say this is proof that our genre is censured in that a gay man could not be the hero—when he ought to have been. “Sex and shopping,” we are told, are guaranteed to sell books, and at this Gabriel is competent, if that’s your poison. We have to wait until the author’s note at the end to get a solid picture of what ought to have been the focus—the conflict between the deprivations and horrors of the war and the pretty unconscionable extravagance of the lavish Dior line.