The storage drawers for couture at the Powerhouse Museum

The Books Starts With …

The Paris Secret opens with my contemporary protagonist, Kat Jourdan, finding a wardrobe full of sixty-five Christian Dior gowns hiding in her grandmother’s abandoned cottage in Cornwall. Kat’s a fashion conservator, so she knows exactly what she’s looking at: one dress for every year dating back to the very first collection in 1947. Kat has no idea how her grandmother could have come by such an astonishing collection of haute couture – and nor does she know why her grandmother would keep it in a derelict cottage.

So I Needed To …

The gowns play a really important role in the book. And while I went to lots of different museums to look at Dior dresses from across the decades (more on that in another blog post!), none of those museum exhibitions allowed me to look inside one of the gowns to see how it was constructed: how it achieved its shape, how the famous New Look line was achieved, how design and technique came together to create something extraordinary.

So I set myself a goal: to look inside a Dior gown from the late 1940s. If my main character was a fashion conservator, she would be used to handling couture from that era. Thus, when she wore her grandmother’s gowns, she would see them in a different way to how you or I, with less technical knowledge, would see them. If I was going to write her point of view authentically, I needed to get my hands on a Dior dress. But how?

Getting ready to touch a Dior gown from 1949

And Here’s What Happened …

My motto is: if you don’t ask, you won’t get; but if you do, you might. So I asked!

I sent an email to the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, which has the best fashion collection of any museum in Australia. In my email, I explained that I was writing about a fashion conservator and I would love to meet with a fashion conservator from the museum to find out more about what she might do – and that I would love to see any Dior gowns they had also!

As luck would have it, at the exact moment that my email landed in the inbox of the fashion conservator at the Powerhouse museum, she was reading one of my previous books, The Paris Seamstress! So she knew who I was and was more than happy to help me.

I donned a pair of rubber gloves and descended with her into the depths of the museum. She explained all the many different methods conservators use to store precious old gowns and items of clothing. Then the conservator pulled open a large drawer. Nestled inside in acid free paper was the Christian Dior Moulin à Vent, or Windmill dress, from 1949! 

Image via the Met Museum

The interior of the dress was an absolute marvel – I had no idea how many hook and eye closures were used by couturiers like Dior to ensure a dress shaped itself properly around a body, nor that covered lead weights were sewn into such pieces so they would hang correctly. It was just as interesting to see the internal construction of the dress as it was to marvel at its stunning exterior.

The interior of another Dior gown at the Powerhouse

So, I hope you enjoy meeting Kat in The Paris Secret and I hope you enjoy spending time with all the different Dior dresses she wears throughout the story.