Nicole Mary Kelby‘s novel The Pink Suit tracks the life of Jackie Kennedy‘s iconic pink suit from its creation by Irish seamstress Kate to the back seat of the Presidential cadillac as it made its way through the streets of Texas on 22nd November 1963… Here she explains how she weaved together her extensive and detailed research to form a unique take on a familiar story.
- plus, we have a chance for you to win a fantastic Janome sewing machine.
This particular yardage was reckless, improbable, and not merely pink but a tweed of pinks––it was ripe raspberry and sweet watermelon and cherry blossom running through an undercurrent of pink champagne. In full light, it was like a vibrant wall of fuchsia growing wild in the Mexican sun. In half-light, it reminded Kate of Japanese peonies blooming in the winter: its iridescence was intense but fleeting. It was like the memory of roses; it was the kind of pink that only the heart could understand.
––The Pink Suit
My plan was to begin The Pink Suit with Mrs. Kennedy, but not as she appears now––a near-mythic creature known mostly as The Wife or Her Elegance. Those were the names given to her by the fashion industry and they define her as an archetype, not a real woman. This was not to be a novel about her impact on the world––at least, not at first. In the first draft of the opening scene, which was based in fact, I wrote about a very human and exceedingly pregnant Jackie, drinking and smoking with a female reporter during a photo shoot for Life magazine. A nor’easter had just ripped the roof off of the Kennedy beach house. The power was out. Little Caroline and her menagerie of pets had finally fallen into a terrified sleep. It was a stressful situation and so the two women both drank a good deal of wine. The scene ended with Jackie showing the reporter her designs for the pink suit. Mrs. Kennedy was a very talented fashion designer and often modified couture clothes that she was interested in.
To write this segment, I’d done a good deal of research. I’d even found the reporter who was there that day, Gail Cameron Wescott. Now eighty-one years old, Gail remembered smoking cigarettes and drinking wine with Mrs. Kennedy while the storm hit the house. Jackie was pregnant with John-John at the time. “It was a different time, mothers didn’t know what could harm their kids,” Gail said. “We sat on the couch together drunk and gossiping like schoolgirls.”
Gail also told me that the President had sent flowers to his wife and called while she was there. It all sounded to me as a good way to begin this book. And so, I took the bits of dialogue Gail remembered and wove them with facts I knew about what was happening on that day. For instance, I’d discovered that it was the Kennedys’ wedding anniversary the day Gail was there, but the President was out of town. So I assumed that the flowers Jack had sent were to mark the occasion. I asked Gail but she didn’t know either way. Since it seemed logical, that’s the way I wrote the scene. It begins when Jackie hangs up the phone from Jack and Gail hands her a yet another glass of wine.
“Jack was brilliant in Texas, even if he said so himself,” she said. “‘I believe in an America where all men and all churches are treated as equal’––it was all very moving.”
“That’s good, then?”
She shrugged. “It is. It’s wonderful.”
“It’s our wedding anniversary. He didn’t mention it. Or the storm.”
“At least he sent flowers.”
Jackie looked at the flowers as if she’d never seen them before. In the candlelight, her elegant face betrayed nothing. It lost none of its incandescence. She lit up another cigarette. “Our wedding was a circus. 1,200 guests. Two hours in the receiving line. “I Married an Angel,” that was our first dance. You know that song?”
“Before my time.”
“Before mine, too. Jack loves musicals. Rodgers and Hart. It’s about a disillusioned man marries a woman who can’t be dishonest.”
“For the first dance at a wedding? Sounds dire.”
“I think he just liked the tune.”
Jackie put out the cigarette. Drank the last of her wine. For a moment the two sat quietly in the candlelight. The wind still raged. Without a roof, the rain poured into the upstairs bedroom above them and the dripped down from the ceiling into the room onto Jack’s favorite chair. The reporter leaned over and touched Jackie’s hand gently. “It’s my birthday tomorrow.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“I have no idea.”
“More wine, then?”
The more I gathered information about the making of the suit, the less convinced that Jackie should be a real person in this book. I know this sounds silly for a novelist to say, but it felt disrespectful. This Jackie didn’t appear to be the same woman who inspired a country, perhaps even the world, with her grace and composure in the face of such unbelievable tragedy. She became mythic in her grief.
“What a strange power there is in clothing,” Isaac Bashevis Singer once wrote. The more research I did, the more I realized that for many there was something powerful about the pink suit. Many people told me, sometimes erroneously, that they were connected to it. Their parent, or favorite aunt, or neighbor who sang in their church choir or neighbor who had miraculously survived Auschwitz ––had designed or fabricated or fitted the suit. These were stories that had been proudly told for generations––and even though they were not always factual, they were heartfelt.
Story by story, I began to understand why the suit matters so very much. And if you watch the Zapruder film, you’ll see it too. That last moment when the President turns to his wife, as if to whisper something, as lovers often do. The answer is in that moment. The pink was, after all, the kind of pink that only the heart understood.
Nicole Mary Kelby, for Waterstones.com/blog
Win a Janome Sewing Machine
The Pink Suit by Nicole Mary Kelby is this summer’s must-read novel – an enthralling novel based on the true story behind Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis‘ iconic pink suit, that she was wearing on the day of her husband’s assassination.
To celebrate publication of The Pink Suit we are giving away this fantastic Janome Sewing Machine, voted a WHICH? Magazine Best Buy in consumer testing.
The 525S features 24 stitches plus a fully automatic one step buttonhole and a built in needle threader. It offers both stitch width and length adjustment and a drop feed facility for freehand embroidery and free motion quilting. It also has an auto-declutch bobbin winder and is supplied with a two speed foot controller and a hard cover.
Here’s a few more features for the techinically minded:
- 24 Built-in stitches
- 1 step buttonhole
- Automatic needle threader
- Adjustable foot pressure
- Variable stitch length and width
This competition has now closed. The winner will be notified by email.
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