Grace Woods was born and raised on a sheep farm in Australia, but was deeply influenced by her mother, Olive, who had a keen eye for fashion. Together they would flip through the pages of Vogue, obsessing over the latest styles from Paris. It’s one thing to fantasize about living in Paris, but Grace feels the pull to stay in Australia. When a local boy, Jack Osbourne, leaves to fight in World War II, Grace agrees to wait for him and they correspond regularly.
When he returns, they marry. But the Jack she knew before the war, the sweet local boy who reminded her of the famous stars she saw in the movies, has changed. He is silent, brooding, and drinking too much. He becomes aggressive, even violent, when they have sex. With her father, Alfred, now dead, her mother, Olive, hiding secrets about the past, and her honorary uncle Siddy, believed to have died in the war, Grace makes the decision to leave her loveless, abusive marriage, and follow her dreams to Paris.
Australian Alexandra Joel, the former editor of Harper’s Bazaar and Portfolio, Australia’s first magazine for working women, visits Paris frequently. Her knowledge and background make her the perfect author for The Paris Model, a novel that sprang from a true story but is a combination of fairy tale, society tell-all, and spy thriller. In other words, the pages keep turning.
Grace’s path as a Christian Dior Paris model actually begins in Australia and is fact-based, as Joel says in her Author’s Note. “Christian Dior’s headline making New Look was initially shown at David Jones in Sydney on the night of July 31,1948. Astonishingly, this was the first time the collection had been modeled outside Paris.” Grace models in that show and with her stunning looks – dark hair, green eyes, and a model’s figure – she attracts attention. When she presents herself at Dior’s salon in Paris, she’s hired as one of the house models and renamed Mademoiselle Dubois.
While other European countries were destroyed during the war, France, because it was invaded by Germany early on, escaped destruction. As a result, post-war Paris is thriving, becoming a hub for famous artists, actors, writers, and politicians. The women who visit Dior’s salon to purchase their wardrobes include well known names from society and royalty. Grace, who possesses that special talent to connect with others, quickly becomes a favorite. When she models a dress or gown, sales quickly follow.
While Grace left behind her good friend Charlotte – “Lottie” – in Australia, she bonds with the other models, Victoire, Thérèse, and Brigitte. Visiting some of the most famous haunts in Paris, the models attract attention and suitors. Grace finds herself the recipient of expensive gifts – huge floral arrangements and jewelry – which she routinely returns. She tells no one she is still married and feels guilty about even entertaining a new relationship. All that changes when she meets Philippe Boyer who rides a motorcycle and dresses in leather jackets and boots. Soon she’s shunning her ball gowns in favor of jeans and sneakers and riding with him. She also asks him to help her locate Siddy, having never accepted his death. In exchange, Philippe enlists Grace’s help in a mission of his own, one that will place her in grave danger.
Joel’s descriptions of the places Grace visits, the fashion she wears, and the people she meets, including recognizable names, make for a lively read. With fashion shows scaled down or cancelled and travel to Europe or Australia banned for Americans, Joel’s novel is perfectly timed. Put on your best dress, pour yourself some French wine, and devour The Paris Model.
The Paris Model
Author photo by Juli Balla
Top photo: Bigstock