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hepburn

A girl never forgets the first time she sees Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I was in my late teens and absolutely enchanted by the story, the characters… but most of all, the style.

Audrey Hepburn’s black dress, which she wears at the opening of the film, is probably the most famous of all time, and I have no doubt it sparked the ‘little black dress’ (LBD) trend that endures to this day.

Did you know the original dress was designed by Hubert de Givenchy? He and Audrey were close friends, and he loved to design for her. But when Audrey took two copies of the dress to the film studio Paramount, they were rejected for showing too much leg (there was a slit reaching to the thigh), and the skirt of the dress was subsequently redesigned.

In 2006, actress Natalie Portman modelled Givenchy’s dress for Harper’s Bazaar, and that dress then sold at auction for nearly half a million pounds.

To this day, women embrace the sleek elegance of the little black dress (albeit, one hopes, with a far less hefty price tag than Audrey’s Givenchy!). In my novel Masquerade, an LBD with simple accessories gives Luz the confidence to sail into a meeting with the attractive and powerful Andrés de Calderón:

She had slipped on a black silk-chiffon dress with ruched shoulder straps and a figure-hugging bodice flaring into a delicately draped skirt, and wore towering heels. A twenty-two-carat gold ridged cuff adorned her wrist, while oversized but dainty gold hoops hung from her earlobes. She debated whether or not to put her hair up and finally opted for a straightforward ponytail. Her make-up was minimal: a hint of eye shadow, a stroke of mascara and a tinge of tinted gloss applied to her cheekbones and lips. The copper tan she had acquired on the beach deepened the blue of her eyes, making them look wider and more vivid. She satisfied herself that she had achieved a glamorous look, without being overdone…

Back in 2010, LOVEFILM conducted a survey of the ‘greatest female screen outfits’. Audrey Hepburn’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s dress topped the poll. But interestingly, she appears again at number six on the list, with this outfit from My Fair Lady:

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Such fabulous style for the races! It was designed by Cecil Beaton and sold at auction for an amazing $3.7 million.

Of course I couldn’t put my heroine in something so flamboyant, but I did dress her all in white for one party:

All eyes turned on Luz as they entered the room. She wore a white jersey figure-defining long dress with a plunging neckline and a large cutout at the back. The shimmering white material accentuated her copper tan and her irises appeared almost dark blue beneath her black lashes. The gown was accessorized with a bib necklace of hammered gold circles which lay over her décolletage; by intimating rather than exposing, the jewel enhanced the mystery, allowing a glimpse of the curvaceous hollow between her breasts. Her hair was piled high on the crown of her head, showing off her graceful, swanlike neck, the perfect oval of her face and her delicate features. As usual, without intending to, Luz stole the show.

For me, a little white dress can be just as powerful and glamorous a style statement as a little black dress.

What do you think of these dresses? Would you love to wear one of Audrey’s gowns? Do you have a trusty little black – or white – dress?

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Having read the title of this blog post, you may be thinking: Modern and courtship? Now there are two words that don’t belong together. True, courtship conjures up a picture of times gone by, before the Jazz Age heralded a shift to ‘dating’, but it’s valid today to describe the period of time in a couple’s relationship that precedes their engagement, marriage or lasting partnership.

The word caught my eye this week in a fascinating Vulture interview with Outlander author Diana Gabaldon. She discusses the difficulties she’s faced in the genre categorisation of her Outlander series. The first issue is that the books don’t sit neatly in one genre: they are romances, but also historical and fantastical (time travel). The second issue is that the romance scope in Outlander doesn’t match up with the norm in the romance genre; Jamie and Claire’s story extends far beyond the courtship phase.

Diana says: ‘A romance is a courtship story. In the 19th century, the definition of the romance genre was an escape from daily life that included adventure and love and battle. But in the 20th century, that term changed, and now it’s deemed only a love story, specifically a courtship story.’

She further explains: ‘[I]n romance novels, those are courtship stories. Once the couple is married, that’s the end of the story… I’ve never seen anyone deal in a literary way with what it takes to stay married for more than 50 years, and that seemed like a worthy goal. On one level, this series is telling the story of how people stay married for a long time.’

Have you ever noticed this about romances – that they focus on first love, young love, the courtship phase only? I wonder what has created this modern preoccupation with the courtship phase. Is it that we long to remain forever young and in that first flush of love? That as we age we escape by going back in time, rather than sidestepping? That we need to escape our current time? That we only value new love, not love that endures? That the young displace the old, and as women age we disappear, as suggested in this recent article on Lit-Hub: ‘On the invisibility of middle-aged women’?

Writing my Andalucian Nights series really opened my eyes to love stories that continue beyond the courtship phase. Indiscretion, the first book of the series, focuses on Salvador and Alexandra in the early days of their love. In the second book, Masquerade, the next generation is the focus (their daughter, Luz), but Salvador and Alexandra are part of the story too. After many happy years of marriage, they are still beautifully in love. Here’s a peek at them in a scene where Luz receives a letter:

‘There’s nothing like a romantic note to entangle a sensitive woman’s heart,’ Alexandra declared as she gazed lovingly at her husband, clearly remembering the days of their courtship.

Salvador laughed. ‘We Spaniards are masters in the language of love, is that not so, mi amor?’ He picked up Alexandra’s hand and kissed it.

I thoroughly enjoyed writing the Salvador and Alexandra scenes in Masquerade; I could quite happily have written many more. I was very glad to be able to stretch the limits of the modern romance genre to include this ‘older’ love story as well. In many ways, I wish I could write the entire story of Salvador and Alexandra’s love, from start to finish – and the full love stories of Rafe and Coral in Burning Embers and Paolo and Venetia in The Echoes of Love. An author always finds it difficult to leave her characters behind.

What do you think of the current scope of romance stories? Would you like to see more variety in terms of when the story ends? Do you love epic stories like Outlander that span many years? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Lipstick, powder, compact, hairbrush, breath freshener, eau de toilette… the contents of a woman’s handbag are myriad and many. Now, according to a recent study reported in the media, if the woman in question wishes to be attractive to a potential mate, her handbag arsenal needs an essential addition: a book.

Dating app My Bae released a report indicating that those users who put reading-related tags in their profiles are more likely to find a match. Tags relating to books have created more matches than those relating to music, films and TV, and the profiles of users who declared reading as an interest were viewed for longer by potential matches.

The conclusion reached by My Bae, based on the findings, is that ‘the more you read, the more attractive you are to potential partners’. A slight generalisation, perhaps, but one can see the logic to it. My Bae also found that specific books bring people together (for example, a shared love of Game of Thrones), and that the most ‘attractive’ genres in terms of number of matches are psychological thriller, travel and – you guessed it – romance.

Honestly, this report doesn’t surprise me in the least, because when a person identifies themselves as a reader, a book lover, they are saying so much about themselves. They are saying, ‘I am a reader; ergo I am…’

* intelligent

* imaginative

* thoughtful

* focused

* cultured

* interested in the world around

The latter strikes me as particularly important. We all ultimately want to be with someone who is open to the world around them, and readers continually explore relationships and psychology and the big questions of life through stories and educational books.

Much has been written in recent years on the correlation between reading and mental health, to the point that some doctors now prescribe books to improve wellbeing. So it strikes me that reading is also an attractive quality for this reason: it suggests an ability to take time out and recharge, and to look after oneself.

Interestingly, My Bae reports that 64% of women users define themselves as readers, and only 39% of men. Is this a true reflection of readership? I suspect, in fact, some men simply don’t list reading as an interest, for fear that it makes them unattractive.

If that’s the case, perhaps this news will go some way to encouraging openness over reading. The article has sparked a lengthy debate over on Reddit (more than a thousand comments), with young men in particular considering the idea. (The comment ‘Good to know chicks dig books’ says it all.)

What do you think of this report? Do you agree that a love of reading is an attractive quality in a potential partner? Are there any books you’d be put off by? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Earlier this week I blogged about how high heels can infuse a woman with a sense of style and confidence. While researching the book, I was led on a meandering and enthralling course, which culminated in a wonderful new discovery: the Fashion Fairy Tale Memoir series.

Is there any better feeling than discovering a new book – indeed, books in the plural, in this case – that you adore? I am sure I am not alone in feeling thrilled; and also a little bereft that I had not known of the books before now (as good a motivation as any to perpetually be on the lookout for new books!).

The Fashion Fairy Tale Memoir series was launched by the publisher HarperCollins at the start of this decade, and so far it includes three books. Each fairy tale is reimagined by fashion writer Camilla Morton (American Vogue, The Wall Street Journal) and is illustrated by an idol of the fashion world.

The Elves and the Shoemaker is illustrated by one of my all-time favourite shoe designers, Manolo Blahnik.

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Fabulous French fashion designer Christian Lacroix takes Sleeping Beauty into stunning new haute couture territory.

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Finally, Diane von Fürstenberg, the designer who introduced me and countless other women to the wrap dress, brings to life ‘a grown-up fairytale that teaches women how to feel creative and empowered’ in The Empress’s New Clothes.

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I love this idea of matching writer with artiste to create unique and inspirational books. I wonder, with the growth of visual mediums like video, will text-only books soon be rarities? Will all books have a visual element beyond the cover art?

I would love to create illustrated versions of my own novels, especially Masquerade, in which the theme of Surrealism is of paramount importance. I can imagine the palette of vivid colours, and the abstract interpretations of key scenes with the characters, such as the masquerade ball.

What do you think of illustrated fiction? Have you read the Fashion Fairy Tale Memoir, or do you intend to? Do you agree that fairy tales are not merely for children, but adults too, and that beautiful works like these belong on any romantic, art- and fashion-loving individual’s shelf? I would love to hear your thoughts.

I am a keen follower of https://www.ted.com/: the website devoted to ‘ideas worth spreading’. Recently, the following video, entitled ‘My year reading a book from every country in the world’, caught my eye:

From the description:

Ann Morgan considered herself well read — until she discovered the “massive blindspot” on her bookshelf. Amid a multitude of English and American authors, there were very few books from beyond the English-speaking world. So she set an ambitious goal: to read one book from every country in the world over the course of a year. Now she’s urging other Anglophiles to read translated works so that publishers will work harder to bring foreign literary gems back to their shores.

I am very fortunate to speak several languages, which allows me to read books from a range of countries in their original language. But I do also read translated works. From my armchair in Kent, England, or my patio overlooking the Med in the South of France, I can travel the world and learn about its peoples, and I am certain that doing so makes me not only a better writer but also a better person.

Would you follow Ann’s challenge? What world literatures most interest you? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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An unforgettable passion ignited in the heart of Africa. A fragile love tormented by secrets and betrayal. Coral Sinclair, a beautiful but naïve young photographer

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The Echoes of Love is a touching love story that unfolds at the turn of the new millennium, set in the romantic and mysterious city of Venice and the beautiful landscape of Tuscany.

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Secrets, danger and passion under the scorching Spanish sun. Set in the wild landscape of Andalucia, Indiscretion is a compelling story of love and identity, danger

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