Phoebe Swift is working as the head of the costumes and textiles department at Sotheby’s when a tragedy results in a leave of absence, and she decides to change the direction of her career and open her own vintage clothing shop, “Village Vintage”. Buying stock mostly from other dealers, auctions and French markets, she is sometimes asked to look at pieces or collections that some have held in their wardrobes for years, and this is how she comes to the flat of the elderly Mrs Thérèse Bell who has a collection of her dresses to sell. There is one piece, however, she is unwilling to part with, and as the tale of the coat unfolds, could it be that Phoebe’s quest to help Thérèse will also provide her with a release of her own?
The cover of this book would make you think this is a standard, fluffy chick-lit novel, even down to the tagline the publishers have added, “Do fairytale dresses bring fairytale endings?” This is far from the truth. While there are romantic elements to the story, the main themes are regret, loss and friendship, and central to this, is the relationship that develops between Phoebe and Thérèse. Both women feel a sense of responsibility for the fate of beloved friends, and this book shows how they deal with the weight of these emotions that they have placed on their own heads, and the author uses the vintage clothing bring together their tales and those of the other women Phoebe encounters on her journey.
Isabel Wolff’s style of writing flows so beautifully with ease, that I found myself swept up in the story, and finished it in two sittings. Fans of chick-lit should be happy with the romantic elements that have their place in the book, but I was more captivated by the relationship between Phoebe and Thérèse. It was also, for me, a satisfying conclusion, and although not perhaps the expected one for this genre, it was the right one in my opinion.