|The Prince & The Dressmaker / Jen Wang|
NY: First Second, c2018.
This charming teen graphic novel follows the title characters as they develop a friendship across class boundaries, thanks to the skills of Frances the dressmaker and Prince Sebastien's desire for drag.
This book was a delight to read. Frances designs a shocking dress as an underseamstress in a tailor's shop, and is then hired by a private client to design dresses exclusively. It turns out to be Prince Sebastien, who loves to dress in full drag and go out on the town. Frances designs for him in his character of Lady Crystallia, making him feel more fully himself, and they develop a deep friendship as they work together in secret.
Because of course the Prince can not tell anyone that he likes to dress in women's clothing. And this need for secrecy finally strains their relationship to the breaking point; Frances' ambition is to be a designer, but how can she do that when she can't claim any of her now fashionable dresses? And when she gets the chance to meet her idol, ballet designer Madame Aurelia, and the chance is snatched away thanks to Prince Sebastien's fear that someone will put two and two together, she knows it's time to go.
The book is set at a time when princes and kings are making way for department stores and modernity, and it's unabashedly a modern story set in a fairy-tale like past. The fact that Sebastien is accepted fully by his parents once his secret comes out, and that he and Frances end up romantically involved, are both unlikely but satisfying in this context. I really loved that Sebastien just likes to dress up in gowns and makeup and go out, but he isn't gay, this is just part of him. And Frances is independent and focuses on her own needs to fulfill her ambition, but she still loves Sebastien for who he is. I also enjoyed the simple drawing style of the book, and all the talk of designing and sewing and so forth, although I do think it's rather amazing that Frances can design and sew a huge ballgown, on a treadle machine, in two days...
In any case, this is a wonderful read about clothing and its power to represent us, and how it allows for our personalities and creativity to flourish. And it's also a sweet love story. Really enjoyed it.