Writing a Different Novel on Fashion
Much can be said about fashion, but no one can deny that it is big business nowadays. The fashion industry is a world of its own, employing people in textile design and production, or design, or retailing and marketing, or media – and household brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci are part of global conglomerates that are no different from multinationals like Pepsi or Microsoft.
So, fashion is huge. But when it comes to fiction on fashion, the weird thing is that it isn’t as varied and wide-ranging as the world it depicts. We’ve got great romantic comedies on fashion, like The Devil Wears Prada and Bergdorf Blondes, and all kinds of deliciously entertaining chick lit novels. But we haven’t got any serious novels on fashion; no novels that portray the fashion world the way it really is.
And yet there’s also a darker side to the fashion world. The pace of the industry is ruthless, and fashion designers are pressed to churn out as much as eight collections a year. Many can’t handle the pressure, and so behind all the glitter and glamour you hear rumours about rehabs or alcohol and drug abuse. Not to mention such big personal losses like the suicides of Alexander McQueen and L’Wren Scott, or the downfall of John Galliano after an anti-Semitic rant.
That was my starting point when I began to write my debut novel Witchcraft Couture. I wanted to say something about the fashion world, the way it really is, but since my genre is magical realism – loosely speaking at least – I wanted to transform the reality of today’s fashion business into a wonderful, magnificent fable. And that’s how I invented a story of a talented yet pathologically insecure fashion designer who in the midst of his umpteenth creative block finds a magic machine that turns all his designs into sartorial triumphs. He starts to use the machine secretly, without telling anyone, and becomes one of the hottest names in Italian fashion (because yes, my novel is based in Tuscany, where I live). But his dark secret has a price, and so my protagonist finds himself a prisoner of a never-ending nightmare that merely worsens as the story moves on.
Witchcraft Couture is a fantasy story on creativity and creative work, and as I don’t have a background in fashion, writing it meant three things: reading, reading and reading. I read about anything and everything that had to do with fashion: about the industry, about famous brands, about designing clothes. I even studied manuals for setting up your own label and the latest research on textile technology! Plus, for a long time books on fashion history were my favourite bedtime reading, not the least because I love the fashion of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. The designs were so beautiful, and there were so many larger-than-life fashion designers, like Elsa Schiaparelli, or Balenciaga, or Vionnet, or Coco Chanel. One of my favourite books in this category is Shocking Life, Elsa Schiaparelli’s autobiography, which is a great read because her life was simply astonishing. One day someone will undoubtedly make a movie of it!
I also interviewed fashion designers. That was fairly easy to organise, because I live in Italy and fashion here is everywhere: on the street, in shop windows, in the evening news, in everyday life. This was one of the most inspiring parts of my research, and our conversations were enlightening to say the least. All in all, I can’t but feel deep admiration for fashion designers, for their sheer ability to live and work with such hectic speed.
Now it’s almost a year since Witchcraft Couture came out, and I’m just about to publish my second novel, Absolute Truth, For Beginners. It tells the story of a twenty-something woman who falls in love with a world-famous mathematician – so, a story miles apart from catwalks and red carpet evening gowns. There’s no rational reason for me nowadays to follow fashion blogs or read about the latest Milan fashion week. But so deeply ingrained in me is the habit of following fashion – and so fascinating is it to follow it – that I still do it, out of sheer curiosity.
And who knows. Maybe one day I could write another story about the glimmer and glitz of international catwalks, and the labyrinthine reality behind it.
Oscar Pellegrini is a talented fashion designer with a deadly enemy: his own critical mind. He destroys much of what he designs and has been drifting for years, gradually retreating from the fashion business he loves but holding on to his dreams of success.
A chance meeting with a former girlfriend triggers a creative crisis so deep that Oscar escapes to Russia, where he drinks and despairs like never before. Just when he thinks he has lost everything he discovers a magical machine that turns ordinary outfits into irresistible sartorial triumphs. Oscar takes the machine back to Italy – and before he knows it, he has become famous for his designs, and celebrities and socialites are fighting to be first to wear his gorgeous garments.
But the happily-ever-after ending for the fashion messiah turns into a nightmare
when his dresses acquire a life of their own, gaining energy and evil as time goes on. Haunted by his creations, a dark secret he is no longer able to hide, Oscar finds himself fighting for his life and sanity, and searching for the answer to a question he never knew existed.
Is there such a thing as stolen genius, and if there is, can it turn against the very person who stole it?
About the Author
Katarina West is the author of Witchcraft Couture, her debut novel, and Absolute Truth, For Beginners (to be published in December 2015). Katarina was born in Helsinki, Finland, into a bilingual family that in addition to humans consisted of dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, canaries, rabbits and – thanks to her biology teacher mother – stuffed owls and squirrels.
She spent time travelling in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and went on to study at Queen Mary and Westfield College in London and the European University Institute in Florence, where she completed a PhD in political science and published a book based on it, Agents of Altruism. During those student years she started work as a journalist, and continued writing for various Finnish magazines and newspapers for over ten years, writing on various topics from current events and humanitarian issues to celebrity interviews and short stories. She also briefly worked as a university lecturer on humanitarian issues in Northern Italy.
Katarina lives in an old farmhouse in Chianti with her husband and son and when not writing, she is fully immersed in Tuscan country life, from jam-making and olive-picking to tractor maintenance.
You can visit her website at http://www.katarinawest.com, read her blog at http://www.katarinawest.com/things_I_know_about_life and follow her on Goodreads, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter @WestKatarina