The Last Dress from Paris

Written by Jade Beer
Review by Gail M. Murray

Inspired by the Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition (2019), Beer has crafted an engrossing and heartfelt historical mystery-romance. The dual timeline alternates between London and Paris in 2017 and Paris in 1952. Dying, Sylvie asks her granddaughter, Lucille, to retrieve her missing haute couture Dior dress called Maxim. In 1952, a young woman named Alice, newly married to Albert Ainsley, British Ambassador to France, attends glamorous embassy functions.

Can an item of clothing hold a memory, transporting us to a long-ago place and time? Clearly yes, with Beer’s fluid prose, vivid descriptions of Paris, and sensitive character development. Lucille contacts Veronique, whose grandmother was loaned the Maxim; there are eight Dior dresses in all. She tracks it down, meeting Leon, who aids in her mission. A tender romance develops as the mystery unravels. Each dress represents a rendezvous between Alice and Antoine, the sensitive art student she encounters at her first embassy function while wearing the Cygne Noir, a luxurious strapless evening gown of silk, satin and velvet. As Alice experiences romantic love, Lucille visits that site in the ensuing chapter, moving from Église Saint-Germain to the Jardin du Luxembourg to the Orangerie, where Alice wears Debussy as ethereal as The Water Lilies.

Beer creates sympathy for Alice, whose husband set out to win her assuming she’d be the perfect political wife: obedient, charming, and utterly beautiful. What he did not count on was that his philandering and neglect, which escalates to abuse, would be challenged as Alice grows in confidence, thriving in the deep love she experiences with Antoine. Lucille also discovers life-changing truths about herself. Parent-child relationships and motherhood are secondary themes. This bittersweet story delights with a surprising and satisfying ending. Highly recommended.