Book review: The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby

posted in: History of fashion | 4

I read a review of this book on Ooobop’s blog, and decided it would be a nice holiday read. It was! Who would have thought of basing a whole novel around the topic of making a ladies suit, but what a suit, and for what an occasion – Jackie Kennedy wore this one the day her husband was shot in Dallas on 22 November, 1963. The suit, complete with blood stains, has since been boxed and stored for the nation.

Jackie Kennedy, following the assignation of JFK
With Robert Kennedy, after the assignation

Amazon reviewers, wanting more on the topic of Mrs JFK or the assassination found it a bit of an odd book, but if you enjoy making clothes this is a luxurious read.

It is a work of fiction, based on fact. It covers the story of Kate, an Irish immigrant tailor, who works for Chez Ninon in New York. They buy couture in Paris and then copy it in the States. Such was the feeling of the American public (and the garment workers union) against foreign imports that Jackie Kennedy was slated for buying the work of French designers. So the copying was actually endorsed – wearing American made clothes with a Chez Ninon tag – was a political necessity. The suit on the left, shown here in a darker shade, is the one Jackie ordered.

four suits by Chanel, 1960s
Chanel Suits photographed in Paris

So this book tells the story of how the toile for this suit came from Chanel, the fabric from Linton tweeds in England (a raspberry boucle) and all the trimmings from Chanel herself. The toile is not just the pattern – it is made up so that the exact “line by line” construction method can be followed exactly. The suit is made entirely by hand, and in this case was fitted on a body double. The story of the hat is also included.

Jackie Kennedy in the Pink Chez Ninon suit
Jackie Kennedy in the Pink Chez Ninon suit

The book is also a love story of how the tailor falls for a butcher so you get quite a lot of information on cuts of meat which I could have done without, but otherwise a fine book.

I really enjoyed reading about the other “knock offs” that Chez Ninon made for the First Lady and others. Here she is in a copy of a Nina Ricci evening gown from 1961. The original was made up in brown and yellow, but JK’s version was made up in black instead.

JK in 1961 copy of Nina Ricci dress
JK in 1961 copy of Nina Ricci dress

Kelby also mentions a further Chez Ninon number worn by Jackie on Valentine’s Day in 1962, this time a red two-piece dress

JK 5 December 1961 in Red Chez Ninon dress
JK 5 December 1961 in Red Chez Ninon dress

A French site elaborates some of Jackie’s couture choices. It’s a good book, which I recommend. But mostly I recommend having a good look at Jackie’s choices – she really understood what suited her and rarely got it wrong. I think she loved the Pink Suit, and felt really good in it. Here is another picture of her in pink – isn’t that the most perfect shade – set off by the yellow sofa and white windows? This picture shows that a great fit and the most flattering neckline, with a good shade of lipstick draws you attention to her fascinating face with her widely spaced eyes. It is almost irrelevant that she is also accessorised with a President.

JK in Pink dress and Pearls. With JFK
JK in Pink dress and Pearls. With JFK

4 Responses

  1. Stephanie

    Oh agree – she is spectacular in the last photo (and it’s irrelevant that she is accessorized by a President! Ha ha!). Love the lines of that dress as well. Completely agree about Jackie’s choices. My favourite photos of her are probably photos of her in casual wear on vacation in Corsica. Even in cigarette pants and a head scarf and sandals she looked exquisite. All that said, I don’t know if I can read this book. I was seriously traumatized by a teacher at school who was a well-known (even in the US) researcher of conspiracy theories regarding the Kennedy assassination. He travelled around giving archival presentations on the subject and when I was in high school (maybe 13 or 14) we were treated to the two-hour presentation. I saw the footage of the assassination repeatedly, as well as the aftermath, evidence, etc., and it was seriously traumatizing! I know this book is about clothes but still… 🙂 (PS The line about cuts of meat also had me laughing!)

  2. Joyce

    I have read this book too. ( recently) I enjoyed it as well, and could have done without the love story completely……but that’s just me. Ha.
    What a wonderfully written post Kate……. thanks for the pictures too , they compliment the book perfectly.
    I also have a book called “What would Jackie Do?” fact-rich as well. Written by Shelly Branch and Sue Callaway – (An inspired Guide to Distinctive Living.) = I recommend reading both in sequence to any one who has not read them yet.
    Happy reading ——– its a long winter ahead of us. Good books and sewing projects (and a great blog in your favorites bar) make you want to sing “let it snow ,let it snow, let it snow.”

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