Elizabeth Birkelund Oberbeck Dressmaker

ISBN 13: 9780099502876

Dressmaker

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9780099502876: Dressmaker
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Monsieur Claude Reynaud is known throughout France for his talent for making fabulous clothes. The most elegant women in Paris regularly undertake the pilgrimage to the cobbled village of Senlis to be charmed by the tailor in his cluttered studio by the century-old apple tree. Claude can take a measurement at a glance, stores everything in his head, and fashions each dress by hand. And, despite his ex-wife's protests, he refuses to be lured by the promise of the Parisian fashion industry. He is too old change and certainly too old to fall in love: his only passion is his studio. Then one afternoon, in a cloud of spring blossom, Mademoiselle Valentine de Verlay arrives on Claude's doorstep. She commissions him to create her wedding dress. But before the first stitch has even been made, Claude realises that for the first time in his life he has fallen passionately in love and, very quickly, the seams of both their lives begin to unravel...

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About the Author:

Elizabeth Birkelund Oberbeck has worked in book and magazine publishing, contributed a regular column to Cosmopolitan, and written for Travel and Leisure, Glamour, and Working Woman, among other publications. She lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, with her husband and four sons. The Dressmaker is her first novel.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
Blossoms fluttered everywhere that morning outside the dressmaker’s studio. They cascaded from above, settling at the base of the century-old apple tree like a pool of white satin at the hem of a wedding gown. Wedding gowns. Claude Reynaud had designed and sewn hundreds of them, but still, he thought, as he stitched on a lacy trim, they made him uneasy: the symbolism of the white dress, the secrecy of the veil, the surprise of the bride’s sudden appearance before the slow, irrevocable procession down the aisle. . . .
 
A fresh breeze from the wide-open window interrupted his thoughts. Drawing in the scent of apple blossoms, Claude studied the gnarly trunked tree that his great-grandfather had planted a century ago. The sap ran through this tree’s branches as surely as blood pulsed through his own body and those of the generations of gentle Reynauds before him, traditional dressmakers all.
 
But times were changing, as was Claude’s clientele. Thanks to a favorable article in a widely read French national newspaper and several devoted clients, Monsieur Reynaud’s talent had begun to attract sophisticated Parisiennes willing to drive forty minutes out of Paris to be “fitted.” They broke the speed limit as they entered the humble town of Senlis, situated twenty-nine miles north of Paris as the crow flies, on the rue Vieille de Paris, an ancient thoroughfare for textile merchants traveling from Paris to Flanders.
 
Claude Reynaud and his assistant, Antoine Boudin, often called Vite Boudin—fast Boudin—by Parisians who preferred speed over all else, produced a dress, suit, or gown every three to four days. Now that it was early spring, wedding-dress season was in full swing.
 
 
As he sipped his café crème and broke the brioche that his sister had dropped off that morning on her way to work, Claude reviewed his appointments for the day.
 
“Pédant,” he said, peering into the blinking green eyes of his tall, full-feathered blue-and-golden-fronted parrot, “we have a new client today. A Mademoiselle de Verlay. Referred by Madame de Champy. A July wedding.”
 
He reread the note scrawled next to Mademoiselle de Verlay’s name. The bride-to-be had given her dressmaker total freedom over the gown’s design. Claude had never been awarded such trust for a bridal dress. Most affianced young women arrived at his studio clutching wrinkled magazine photographs of brides, convinced their childhood dreams of a fairy-tale wedding would be fulfilled to the last detail.
 
A bird, he could not tell what kind, suddenly crashed into the closed upper portion of the window. When Claude looked up, he noticed that the wind had died down momentarily and the apple tree’s white gown of blossoms was complete.
 
Eleven a.m: a barely audible knock at the door. Despite the gentleness of the intrusion, Claude jumped. A woman entered, the wind urging her in from behind.
 
“Bonjour?” the voice called, out of the dark vestibule into the sunlit room.
 
Claude extended his hand. Long tapered fingers outstretched, a small face emerging out of a dark scarf, large smiling eyes, a pointed chin—these were Claude’s first impressions of his new client.
 
“Bonjour. I’m Valentine de Verlay. Pleased to meet you.” The words caught her breath in them; hers was a lovely, rich, windy voice.
 
Claude took her lightweight camel coat to the closet, noting as he did the dark brown sheath of hair resting just below her shoulders, the almond-shaped eyes, the smile on the corners of her lips. She strode into his studio with composed confidence, her head high. He scrutinized her attire: navy wool pants, wide-ribbed cappuccino cotton cardigan with sleeves that skimmed the knuckles of her hands, and another dark beige sweater, this one cashmere, tied around her neck. Simply elegant.
 
“Thank you for agreeing to design my wedding dress,” she said. She looked directly at him; then, as if the gaze were too intense, she lowered her eyes, her face suddently veiled under a blanket of shyness. “Charlotte says you are very busy, but she insisted I ask for you.”
 
“Bonjour! Bonjour!” Pédant’s words caught her attention.
 
“How delightful,” she said, now at the parrot’s side and smiling. “I love birds, but I’m not familiar with ones that speak. Bonjour to you!” She gently touched a blue feathered wing.
 
The front door slammed loudly and Antoine barged into the room. “Whom do we have here this morning? Antoine Boudin at your service,” he said, taking the mademoiselle’s hand in his own and bending in half to kiss it. “Shall I start pinning up?”
 
Claude had not prepared himself for Antoine. He wanted to experience his new client without interruption, to grasp her coloring, skin texture, shape, and personality.
 
Antoine Boudin had worked for him for two years, but Claude still felt the occasional urge to defend himself against the onslaught of Antoine’s full-throttled chest, wide domed forehead, and penetrating brown eyes. In his assistant’s presence, Claude felt small, like a shell-less escargot ready for eating. Claude imagined Antoine relishing the briny taste as he whipped the morsel around in his mouth.
 
As Antoine entreated the new client to accept a glass of water after the “arduous journey from Paris,” Claude’s eye lingered on the tilt in the long arc of her neck, her half smile.
 
“My notes indicate that you have no ideas, no preferences for this dress, mademoiselle. Is that correct?” asked Claude. Pédant made scratching sounds. Claude wished he had placed the distracting bird in the other room.
 
“Mon Dieu, Claude,” said Antoine, “why do you ask? Isn’t it obvious? Can’t you see her in a champagne satin gown with a robust bustle at the back? The bustle should have a long train, which would trail like a river down the church aisle.” Antoine stretched out his arms and waved them to create the effect of a flowing river.
 
“Did you have any dress in mind?” Claude redirected the question to the woman.
 
Mademoiselle de Verlay paused before turning to face Claude. “I was told that you, Monsieur Reynaud, would choose a design that would suit me.”
 
The spurned Antoine frowned and headed to his small sewing room.
 
Claude asked Mademoiselle de Verlay to step onto the platform that his grandfather had built a century ago, now a warped dark wood. She unwrapped the sweater she wore around her neck and took off her cardigan to reveal a white T-shirt: an unraveling. Within moments, Claude had memorized her measurements: square shoulders, small bust, wider curve at the hip, very long neck.
 
Delicately, Claude eased his worn yellow measuring tape along her neck, waist, arm length, leg, and torso. Unlike his father, who recorded every detail of a person’s size, Claude kept no client files. He never forgot a body. His photographic mind easily memorized the distances between wrist and collarbone, hip and hip, ankle and waist. He used the measuring tape as a distraction while he absorbed skin, hair texture, color, and the way his client moved.
 
His greatest talent—and what he was becoming renowned for beyond the small town of Senlis—was his ability to match a client’s natural colors with enhancing hues and textures. He obsessed over color classifications and names. Inadequate descriptions frustrated him to the point of fury. He would yell across his studio to Pédant, “That is not the color pink! Non! That is the color of dawn reflected on the yellowing marble steps of the Trevi Fountain.”
 
A beam of sunlight caught his client now—and the edge of his black work coat, upon which he noticed white dust. He thought of brushing it off but was afraid she would notice. She was squinting.
 
“There’s too much glare in here,” he said. “Shall I close a shutter?”
 
“No, please! Never too bright. I could sit in the sun all day.”
 
“Mademoiselle may be fascinated to know that our dressmaker is the sole surviving practitioner of the ancient art of the measuring tape,” yelled Antoine from the kitchen, where he was refilling his coffee cup. “In Paris, major design companies are using computers to record measurements in a matter of a few minutes. But our Claude, here, he swears by the ‘touch’ you get with a measuring tape.”
 
Claude heard his assistant but refused to listen to him. He sensed the growing warmth of his client in the direct sunlight and noticed that his fingertips were moist with perspiration.
 
“I think I have it.” He caught a glimpse of her smiling in the mirror at him. He stood up and rewound the tape into a tight circle. “I envision you in a white sleeveless tunic. A column of white to the floor, but not touching it, to accentuate your height, and white silk tulle, fluffy white tulle coming off the waist, flowing to the back of the dress, loosely floating into a pool of white at the back. No cream! Blanche, only the whitest of white. No thick veil, only a chignon, with a thin layer of tulle falling from a pearl comb and joining the pool on the floor. I must think more about the neckline.” He paused, looking out the window at the apple tree for answers, then back at Mademoiselle de Verlay. “It should be a bateau neckline, straight across the shoulders: no curves.”
 
“The veil! You must let me do the veil, Claude. I know the veil!” insisted Antoine, who now stood alarmingly close to...

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Elizabeth Birkelund Oberbeck
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Book Description Cornerstone, United Kingdom, 2008. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Monsieur Claude Reynaud is known throughout France for his talent for making fabulous clothes. The most elegant women in Paris regularly undertake the pilgrimage to the cobbled village of Senlis to be charmed by the tailor in his cluttered studio by the century-old apple tree. Claude can take a measurement at a glance, stores everything in his head, and fashions each dress by hand. And, despite his ex-wife s protests, he refuses to be lured by the promise of the Parisian fashion industry. He is too old change and certainly too old to fall in love: his only passion is his studio. Then one afternoon, in a cloud of spring blossom, Mademoiselle Valentine de Verlay arrives on Claude s doorstep. She commissions him to create her wedding dress. But before the first stitch has even been made, Claude realises that for the first time in his life he has fallen passionately in love and, very quickly, the seams of both their lives begin to unravel. Seller Inventory # AB99780099502876

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Book Description Cornerstone, United Kingdom, 2008. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Monsieur Claude Reynaud is known throughout France for his talent for making fabulous clothes. The most elegant women in Paris regularly undertake the pilgrimage to the cobbled village of Senlis to be charmed by the tailor in his cluttered studio by the century-old apple tree. Claude can take a measurement at a glance, stores everything in his head, and fashions each dress by hand. And, despite his ex-wife s protests, he refuses to be lured by the promise of the Parisian fashion industry. He is too old change and certainly too old to fall in love: his only passion is his studio. Then one afternoon, in a cloud of spring blossom, Mademoiselle Valentine de Verlay arrives on Claude s doorstep. She commissions him to create her wedding dress. But before the first stitch has even been made, Claude realises that for the first time in his life he has fallen passionately in love and, very quickly, the seams of both their lives begin to unravel. Seller Inventory # AB99780099502876

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Book Description Cornerstone. Condition: New. Monsieur Claude is known throughout France for his talent for making fabulous clothes. The most elegant women in Paris regularly make the pilgrimage to the village of Senlis to be charmed by the tailor. He is too old to fall in love. Then, one afternoon, in a cloud of spring blossom, Mademoiselle Valentine de Verlay arrives on Claude's doorstep. Num Pages: 400 pages. BIC Classification: FA. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 197 x 130 x 26. Weight in Grams: 268. . 2008. Paperback. . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Seller Inventory # V9780099502876

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Book Description Cornerstone, 2008. Condition: New. Monsieur Claude is known throughout France for his talent for making fabulous clothes. The most elegant women in Paris regularly make the pilgrimage to the village of Senlis to be charmed by the tailor. He is too old to fall in love. Then, one afternoon, in a cloud of spring blossom, Mademoiselle Valentine de Verlay arrives on Claude's doorstep. Num Pages: 400 pages. BIC Classification: FA. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 197 x 130 x 26. Weight in Grams: 268. . 2008. Paperback. . . . . . Seller Inventory # V9780099502876

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