If you want to know what got me into these books in the first place, why, it's Marcia Miller's 1967 masterpiece Designed by Stacey, which, for what it lacks in accurate depiction of the fashion industry, more than makes up for with wild plot twists, vague anti-Semitism, and amazing 60's clothes. I would call DBS the gateway drug of career romances: lite on career, heavy on bizarre, and one hell of a subway page-turner. Lies, deceit, slim satin suits and matching pumps — after the jump!The Heroine: Stacey Harrison, a young woman so beautiful, so charming, so talented, so poised, everyone is awestruck by her amazingness. We are treated to many descriptions of her "slim height, the smooth and shining chestnut hair, swept high on her head above large, dark-lashed gray eyes...the tawny skin with pale gold freckles across the bridge of the tipped nose, and the well-shaped mouth parting over even white teeth." Stacey is returning home to San Francisco and her newly-married, successful architect father, after studying design in Paris. The Industry: Stacey works for Madame Ninon, a top couturier. (Mme is French, wears "moss-colored" suits and has a severe chignon) with an exquisite atelier. She starts sketching ideas for clients who come in for custom fittings. "
'Line is everything,' Madame said emphatically in one of their sessions. 'A good couturiere can visually translate a woman into many different women, and this is done by line, not ornamentation. A couturiere must be like a writer and say what must be said in as few words as possible.'"
"'Most top designers are distinctive. Some like the draping, or fluid line; some, the tailored or the bouffant. And each house has its own style of mannequins...a good mannequin can give a couturiere an exact picture what a garment will look like.'"
Ninon's has three moddles: the "skeletal," "beige-haired" Lily (formals, furs and peignoirs); dark, dramatic Yvonne ; and the undisciplined gamine Gaby, "friendly as a kitten but very lazy," retained because of the dash she brings to playclothes and sport ensembles. The Hero: The sullen, furious David MacLean, Madame's ward, who stands around smoldering most of the time because his mother abandoned him when he was young. Decoy Hero: Kirk Dawson, a likable young lawyer with a weak personality. The Villain: Stacey's stepmother Kay, a "cool and poised blond" with mysterious motives for keeping Stacey and her father apart. The Plot: Stacey designs a gown — "the sheath is slim and long and of silvery turquoise lame. The overdress, loosely flowing from the shoulders, is brown chiffon; the beading across the top is of brown spangles" — that so enchants Madame Ninon that they have it made up, call it "Dusk" and give it its own launch party. But when Stacey shows up modeling the gown — lo and behold, their arch rivals Roxley have ripped it off! How? Then Stacey learns that her father has unexpectedly died. In short order, we learn that Kay was for unclear reasons concealing Con's ill-health from Stacey; that she's from a low-class (read: Jewish) background; that she had stolen Stacey's idea from her descriptions and leaked it to Roxley, and that Kirk is under her spell. David MacLean shows up, smolders, spirits Stacey away and confesses his love. The Clothes:Think suits. A "smart, fawn-colored suit"; a "navy suit of thin wool lined in pale yellow with an overblouse of the same pale yellow silk. Her slender-heeled pumps navy and so was the big supple leather bag." At other points she sports a plum suit, "a slim brown satin suit with a gold satin lining and overblouse, and brown satin pumps," and various housecoats. The Decor: Stacey lives in a brand-new apartment complex, The Towers, "a great spire of concrete, steel and glass" with "an arcade with excellent shops, maid service and transportation to any point in the city."
On either side of the foyer were two closets, one for linens, the other to be used by guests. A compact, glistening kitchen in copper and pale yellow was behind the louvered doors. The spacious living room was carpeted in pale lilac, and draperies of a deeper lilac framed wide glass doors at the far end of the room that opened out onto a wrought iron balcony and a panoramic view of the city spread far below. The tufted couch and chairs were of a green as pale as a new leaf, and the tables, lamps and bookcases were of off-white. To the right of the living room was a good-sized bedroom and another pair of big glass doors that opened onto a second balcony where there were a blue chaise and a small white iron table . The bedroom draperies were of a coarse weave of blue silk which let in under-water light. Adjoining was a second closet, this one a walk-in, and a glistening bath in blue tile."
The Verdict: For sheer lurid, page-turning, superb 60s descriptions, fanciful career notions, Designed by Stacey may well be the best book ever written. That is all. Earlier: Career Romance For Young Moderns: Patti Lewis, Home Economist •A Career Romance For Young Moderns: Weddings By Gwen •Career Romance For Young Moderns: A Measure Of Love •A Career Romance For Young Moderns: Lee Devins, Copywriter