Book Review: The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby

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A novel based on the true story behind Jacqueline Kennedy’s iconic pink suit… 

The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby is about the making of the Chanel-esque pink suit and matching pillbox hat Jackie Kennedy wore to the parade in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963.  Much of Jackie’s wardrobe, including the pink suit, came from the New York boutique Chez Ninon where a young seamstress, an Irish immigrant named Kate, worked behind the scenes to meticulously craft many of Jackie’s memorable outfits.  It was a favourite suit of Jackie’s, which, stained in her husband’s blood, became a symbol of innocence destroyed. The US vice-president’s wife, Lady Bird Johnson, remembered it as “a bundle of pink, like a drift of blossoms, lying in the back seat”.

The Pink Suit taps into our enduring fascination with what women in the public eye wear. Whilst penning her novel, Kelby discovered that two of the dressmakers at Chez Ninon, the Park Avenue atelier that made the suit, were Irish. Kate Sheridan, an emigrant from Co Mayo, did the finish work among the other “mice of the backrooms”. While little else is known about Sheridan’s life, Kelby’s sharp detailing of her toil over the raspberry-pink bouclé fabric gives a certain nobility to that more frivolous side of politics – what presidents and first ladies wear.

Book Review: The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby

While the two never met, Kate knew every tuck and pleat needed to create the illusion of the First Lady’s perfection. And when the pink suit becomes infamous, Kate’s already fragile world – divided between the excess and artistry of Chez Ninon and the traditional values of her insular neighborhood – threatens to be torn apart.

A very unusual take on the Kennedy assassination and the icon that was Jackie Kennedy. This book very much focuses on the time, money and effort that went into creating and maintaining ‘the wife’ as the nation’s sweetheart. The story barely involves the wife at all, choosing instead to focus almost entirely on the design and creation of the iconic pink suit that was worn on that fateful visit to Dallas. The novel is based on the actual Irish seamstress who was integral in crafting the suit in question as well on the fashion house Chez Ninon. The author makes it clear that although Kate and the fashion house were real people the image of them presented here is her own fictionalised take on their lives and attitudes, however for the most part she does an incredible job of breathing life into these characters (with some lovely little cameos from Coco Chanel and Martin Luther King).

the pink suit

As with Nicole Mary Kelby’s previous work, White Truffles in Winter this is a gorgeously sensual novel. The textures, scents and weave of each fabric becomes integral to the plot and characterisation here. The subplot surrounding Kate’s own love affair with her homely butcher allows Kelby to draw in more of the wonderful descriptions of food that made White Truffles such a delight.

The Pink Suit is a fascinating look at politics, fashion, and some of the most glamorous women in history, seen through the eyes of a young woman caught in the midst of an American breed of upstairs/downstairs class drama.

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