The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang. First Second, 2018. 9781626723634.
In Paris during the Belle Époque, fashion is at its height and gorgeous gowns are the norm. Frances works as a seamstress in a shop that is suddenly overwhelmed with orders after the announcement of a ball in honor of the very eligible Crown Prince Sebastian of Belgium. She takes the order of a woman who will only be attending because her mother is forcing her to, and who announces that she doesn’t care what she looks like. “Make me look like the devil’s wench.” Frances makes a dress that is gorgeous, shocking, and has all of Paris talking. The next day, a servant comes to the shop: Frances is hired by an anonymous client as her personal dressmaker. Frances meets her new employer (her face hidden) to talk about what she should design — dresses with romance and drama that everyone will remember. Then a minor slip reveals the true identity of the employer: Prince Sebastian, who enjoys going out as a woman but can never allow his family to find out.
The story follows Frances’ dream to become a famous designer, plus the growing friendship between Frances and Sebastian. Among the beautifully drawn and colored scenes showing the drama of Paris nightlife and the bustle of the city are page after page of stunning gowns. I liked that the complexities of a relationship between an aristocrat and his employee was not glossed over even though he trusted her to keep his secrets. I also liked that Frances’ hope to become a designer played out during a huge change in the fashion scene brought on by the opening of a department store that would bring elegance to the masses. Overall, the book feels like a new sort of Disney romance with subtlety and complexity while it’s still quite sweet and hopeful.