London, 1947: Besieged by the harshest winter in living memory, burdened by onerous shortages and rationing, the people of postwar Britain are enduring lives of quiet desperation despite their nation's recent victory. Among them are Ann Hughes and Miriam Dassin, embroiderers at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell. Together they forge an unlikely friendship, but their nascent hopes for a brighter future are tested when they are chosen for a once-in-a-lifetime honour: taking part in the creation of Princess Elizabeth's wedding gown.
Toronto, 2016: More than half a century later, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of a set of embroidered flowers, a legacy from her late grandmother. How did her beloved Nan, a woman who never spoke of her old life in Britain, come to possess the priceless embroideries that so closely resemble the motifs on the stunning gown worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her wedding almost seventy years before? And what was her Nan's connection to the celebrated textile artist and Holocaust survivor Miriam Dassin?
With The Gown, Jennifer Robson takes us inside the workrooms where one of the most famous wedding gowns in history was created. Balancing behind-the-scenes details with a sweeping portrait of a society left reeling by the calamitous costs of victory, she introduces readers to three unforgettable heroines, their points of view alternating and intersecting throughout its pages, whose lives are woven together by the pain of survival, the bonds of friendship, and the redemptive power of love. (From HarperCollins)
"If you look at the aftermath of the war in Britain, indeed all of Europe, what you're looking at is smoking ruin across the entire continent. People were confronted with cities and livelihoods that had been destroyed. Apart from the human casualties and the emotional devastation, the economy was in ruins. The treasury was empty. Rationing became worse after the war. Clothing was heavily rationed.
I was really interested in delving into the contrast between the very grim reality of ordinary life and the glamour and stardust of this royal wedding. - Jennifer Robson
"I was really interested in delving into the contrast between the very grim reality of ordinary life and the glamour and stardust of this royal wedding. It was the contrast between the two I was interested in, but I also wanted to get as close to the royal wedding as possible — to go behind-the-scenes. We love going behind-the-scenes of these things. I think everyone does."
From the book
Barking, EssexEnglandJanuary 31, 1947
It was dark when Ann left work at a quarter to six, and darker still when she reached home. Normally she didn't mind the walk from the station. It was only half a mile, and gave her a chance to clear her head at the end of the day. Tonight, though, the journey was a cheerless one, for the midwinter cold had burrowed through her coat, setting her shivering, and the soles of her shoes were so worn that she might have been barefoot.
But tomorrow was Saturday. If she had any time after queuing up at the butcher, she would visit the cobbler and see what he had to say. She didn't have enough coupons for anything new, and these had been resoled twice already. Perhaps she might be able to find a half-decent used pair at the next WI swap meet.
From The Gown by Jennifer Robson ©2019. Published by HarperCollins.