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The Prince And The Dressmaker

The Prince And The Dressmaker The Prince And The Dressmaker The Prince And The Dressmaker The Prince And The Dressmaker

The Prince And The Dressmaker back

Jen Wang


Page 45 Review by Jonathan

Well, it happened again... A graphic novel made me cry on public transport... I thought I had it under control and then just as the i4 started ascending Derby Road I could feel the old tear ducts start to tingle... Must have been the altitude...

Jen IN REAL LIFE Wang returns, this time on art and writing duties, just as she did with her excellent KOKO BE GOOD, with another captivating story that as before deep in its bold, beating heart is all about identity. Here she explores the nature of public and also familial prejudice against a particular type of person, plus the intolerable pressures they themselves endure from keeping their secret under wraps. Except, in this instance, it's that the person in question likes wrapping themselves up in their secret... For Prince Sebastian likes to wear dresses, and indeed makeup, to present himself as a lady.

Which is a tricky one for the lad, because his father is the King of Belgium and determined to marry the Crown Prince off and get him popping out heirs and spares to continue their lineage as soon as unreasonably possible. Which is why he's brought Sebastian and the family to Paris: to throw a grand ball and introduce him to society, and hopefully a few eligible female members of the European aristocracy. It's not that Sebastian doesn't like the ladies, for he does, it's just that he can't imagine any future Queens possibly wanting to marry one...

In any event, he's getting a little fed up wearing the somewhat staid and outdated ball gowns he's managed to purloin from his mother's wardrobe and has decided to seek out a seamstress with talent (and, of course, discretion) to design him some killer outfits worthy of a Lady. For Lady Crystallia is the name by which Sebastian chooses to go when dressed up in finery for a covert night out on the tiles. The only person at court who is aware of his liking for court shoes is his trusted aide-de-camp Emile, and it is to Emile he entrusts the task of finding him such a skilled dressmaker.

This is how Frances enters Sebastian's very small circle of trust. For her, it's a dream chance to escape her life of drudgery working for a pittance at a local sweatshop and she seizes it with both her talented hands. Before too long Lady Crystallia and her glamorous gowns are the hot topic of the Parisian social scene. Frances doesn't just hurry Sebastian's wardrobe up to an à la mode status, soon she's setting the trend as knock-offs of her creations start to appear on the streets.

But whilst that is as immensely satisfying to her personally as Sebastian's newfound confidence in his alter ego and her evening appearances, Frances is also a little frustrated that their private arrangement means that no one can ever know she is responsible for the dresses. For Sebastian is convinced that if anyone were to realise that Frances was also Lady Crystallia's personal seamstresses as well as his own, it wouldn't be long before someone stitched the pieces together and outed him. As the tension begins to build in their professional affiliation, both start to realise there might be another burgeoning aspect to their relationship which neither of them are prepared to admit to themselves, never mind each other...

And that's all waaaay before I got to the bit that made me teary!

What a fabulously modern tale this is, dropped into a period class-strictured setting. That conceit actually makes the central theme all more the powerful and relevant, if one takes the view that Sebastian's parents are also a representation of society at large, in addition to being his mum and dad. Particularly when you get the pay-off... Get your monogrammed hankies at the ready!

Jen's art lends itself to gold-leaf encrusted ballrooms just as well as it did to Chinese virtual goldfarms in IN REAL LIFE. And some of the outfits are truly wondrous. The one that brings Frances to the attention of Sebastian early on, which she creates for a Lady Sophia for the grand ball to make her look like the devil's wench... had as genuinely a jaw-dropping effect on me as it does to all the dazed debutantes. My favourite, though, was probably the dappled and dimpled orange creation with which Lady Crystallia makes her own stunning debut and wins the title, and three cases of Maldon's finest preserves, of Miss Marmalade in a sponsored beauty pageant. I genuinely think Jen could make a living as a dress designer if she ever gets bored of creating comics. Which, I really hope she doesn't.

Actually... that dress is probably my second favourite. My favourite would have to be the one that made the waterworks start trickling. It's just not one which Sebastian is wearing...