Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Designer, by Marius Gabriel: a review by Diana Milne.

About the book:

In 1944, newly married Copper Reilly arrives in Paris soon after the liberation. While the city celebrates its freedom, she’s stuck in the prison of an unhappy marriage. When her husband commits one betrayal too many, Copper demands a separation.

Alone in Paris, she finds an unlikely new friend: an obscure, middle-aged designer from the back rooms of a decaying fashion house whose timid nature and reluctance for fame clash with the bold brilliance of his designs. His name is Christian Dior.

Realising his genius, Copper urges Dior to strike out on his own, helping to pull him away from his insecurities and towards stardom. With just a camera and a typewriter, she takes her own advice and ventures into the wild and colourful world of fashion journalism ... can Copper make a new, love-filled life for herself?


The Designer, by Marius Gabriel, is a triumph of story telling. I have read many books by this accomplished author and always been amazed at the depth of research that is put in to everything he undertakes and the enormous intelligence of the man, but this latest book takes Gabriel to new heights of professionalism and spell binding narrative.

In his customary way, Gabriel takes a simple idea and through his expert hand and with the benefit of hours of meticulous research, turns the ordinary into the extra-ordinary, leaving no stone unturned in his quest for the perfect novel.

This latest addition to his catalogue of titles, takes this technique to a whole new level, artfully blending fact and fiction in an exciting, at times challenging and deeply moving story, set at a time in our recent history which the author is particularly skilled at representing with the written word.

The impact of the story starts at the first page, just after the liberation of Paris, where we meet Copper and her seemingly cold hearted war correspondent husband, Amory, who is a about to witness the 'frontier justice' punishment of a collaborator by the Resistance.

Without bogging the reader and the narrative down in lengthy descriptions, Gabriel paints a vivid picture of post-occupation France, effortlessly transporting the reader to that place. It flows really well and is deceptively easy to read for such an intense and complex story, multilayered and searching on every level.

Copper's meeting with Christian Dior (1905-57) a shy, unprepossessing man who died far too young, and a later further encounter with him in La Vie Parisienne, a club which is so vividly portrayed that I am sure that I could smell the Gauloise and hear the jazz thumping, provides the basis for a tale of unimaginable decadence, luxury, poverty and fascination, woven artfully around the lives of the surrealists and the Parisian fashion industry. The guest list around that table reads like a 'who's who' of the leading names of the French demi-monde and the design and art industries and it was with a vivid sense of shock, perhaps tinged with grudging respect, to learn how many of them would have been considered collaborators during those dreadful war year, when they, like many, did what they needed to do just to survive.

The female protagonist, whose nickname 'Copper' is on account of her cinnamon hair, is a naive and yet surprisingly complex character and the perfect foil for the licentiousness of the surrealists. Throughout the story we see her emerge and spread her wings and as a butterfly emerges and flies, we see Copper emerge and take on difficult life choices and mature in her own glory.

Although not a comedy book, The Designer includes the most hilariously funny account of a funeral imaginable! How I would love to see this portrayed on the big screen! Gabriel's account of the coffin not fitting actually had me laughing out loud.

The dialogue throughout is realistic and fast paced, moving the story on and adding greatly to its rich tapestry: 

He glanced at BĂ©rard who had started to snore loudly. " They're distinctly bohemian for the most part, aren't they? And I, by contrast am distinctly bourgeois. That has become something of an insult lately. In the mouth of Monsieur Giroux, for example, "bourgeois" is the vilest of epithets. But I know what I am and I am proud of it. I come from solid Norman stock. What else can I be, but solid and Norman?" 
"Your friends say you are a genius," she replied.
He hesitated. " Clothing comes between our own nakedness and the world. It can be a disgise, a fancy dress costume, a fantasy. Or it can express one's true self more acurately than any words. For men like me . . . " He didn't finish the sentence. " Are you really going to divorce your husband?"

A totally brilliant book that is hard to put down. I cried. I laughed. I despaired. I cheered the characters on and urged them to make the best decisions. They - and the book - became a part of me that will live on in my memory. Forever.

What other people say:

By b a on 4 September 2017
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

Most women have a fascination of the world of haute couture. Most of us will never experience that glamorous world first hand, but we gaze at the impossibly sumptuous creations with the thought 'one day - perhaps!'
This novel covers the 're-emergence of Paris fashion in the dying days of World War 2. The need for something new after the deprivation of the war, the political struggles for supremacy and the rising star of Christian Dior in all his ambiguous glory, form the backdrop to the emergence of Copper as a journalist and as a fulfilled happy woman.
Read it!

ByFerbson 10 September 2017
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

...found this book to be an interesting perspective of what went on in the final stages of war as it's from an American woman and focuses on fashion. I know it's fiction based on fact - but I enjoyed learning more about haute couture and it sparked further reading about Catherine Dior and the resistance. Worth a read!

About the author:

Marius Gabriel (born 13 November 1954 in Mafikeng, South Africa) is an international romance and mystery writer, and artist. Under the pseudonym Madeleine Ker, he is a popular writer of over 30 romance novels since 1983. As Marius Gabriel he has written four mystery best-sellers and two historical novels. He has also written and illustrated children's books, including Smartypig, the tale of a genetically modified piglet.

He has lived in Cairo and in London.

You can read more about Marius Gabriel in this wonderful 'Diana Talks ...' interview by clicking this link Diana Talks to Marius Gabriel 

A scribbler for bread :-)

© Diana Milne September 2017


  1. This sounds like an interesting read, would love to win a copy

    1. Will you message me (Diana Milne) on Facebook so I can arrange to get your book to you?

  2. I really love post-war novels. This sounds interesting :)

  3. Will you message me (Diana Milne) on Facebook so I can arrange to get your book to you?