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Posts Tagged ‘Isabel Wolff’

I’d like to think of my clothes as vintage chic, but, really, they’re just old ordinary. I do have a hat that belonged to my grandmother, its wide brim now more yellow than the original cream. Also a darling if impractical little black Kate Spade purse I discovered on a junking expedition with Cousin Gail. My best find ever is a knock-off designer bracelet from a consignment shop that looks so much like the real thing I have people wondering who’s my sugar daddy. Oh, and a cameo ring I found in a Georgetown thrift store…

So, ok, maybe I would venture into the London resale boutique at the center of Isabel Wolff’s diverting novel A Vintage Affair. Heroine Phoebe Swift, who feels bad about the recent death of a close friend and her own subsequent runaway bride act, has opened the new business hoping to find customers who love pre-owned designer duds.  A write-up in the local paper by a cute rookie reporter helps, as well as a request by elderly widow, Mrs. Bell, to sell her fine wardrobe. But not the child-sized blue coat of an earlier era still in perfect condition. It’s NFS.

Phoebe, who used to work at Sotheby’s, believes every article of vintage clothing has a story, and she eventually convinces Therese Bell to share the history of the blue coat. It’s entwined with that of a childhood friend in France who was caught up in the Holocaust. In turn, Phoebe confides her own guilt about her late friend.

Still, even as Phoebe hand-sells the lovely clothes in her shop (the vivid “cupcake” prom dresses are a big hit) and is flattered by the attentions of an older man with a spoiled teen-age daughter, she remains haunted by the story of the coat.

Wolff is at her best describing the couture clothes and the varied customers who come in looking for the perfect dress or silky scarf. The cupcake dresses are a bit reminiscent of Ann Brashare’s traveling pants, somehow capable of transforming each girl or woman who tries one on. Through Phoebe’s expertise, Wolff also offers tips on the care of vintage garments and fabrics.

But the sad and serious tale of the small coat doesn’t really fit into the frothy world of the pretty frocks and Phoebe’s shallow romances and misplaced guilt. Then there’s the subplot about Phoebe’s parents’ divorce — her 60-year-old mother is thinking facelift while her father is dealing with diapers. Chick-lit can have have depth, but A Vintage Affair too often shows its seams. Pleasant off-the-peg patchwork but not ready for the runway.

Open Book: I bought the e-book edition of Isabel Wolff’s A Vintage Affair (Random House Publishing Group) at the discounted price of $9.99, but it’s not part of nook’s “Lend Me” program so I can’t pass it on. Pity.

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