Lethal Black Dress
Tenth in the Crime of Fashion series
My heroine Lacey Smithsonian loves decoding fashion statements in Washington, D.C., "The City Fashion Forgot." These range from the sublime to the ridiculous, and in Lethal Black Dress they include an exquisite recreation of a legendary evening dress and the not-always-self-aware style known as "Geek Chic."
Lacey's new adventure begins very elegantly at the famous White House Correspondents' Dinner, one of the most exclusive media events in Washington, and reputedly the most secure (because the President is the guest of honor). What could possibly go wrong?
On a personal note, when I was a working journalist in Washington I was delighted to attend this event three times, accompanied by some of my witty and knowledgeable news sources. (My tickets are pictured on the right.) Never did anything remotely like what happens in this book ever occur at the Correspondents' Dinner when I was there. Well, almost never...
...The dress was clearly vintage, but it was more than that. It was classic—even, Lacey realized, iconic. It was a copy of the gown worn in the famous Portrait of Madame X, painted by John Singer Sargent in 1884. The original gown in that celebrated and controversial painting was of black velvet and satin, with a tightly corseted waist, a deep plunging neckline, and thin jeweled straps. The dress had been copied many times and had inspired countless imitations.
Courtney’s vintage copy did not appear to be quite as old as the one in the Sargent portrait. The straps featured costume jewelry stones, and it was slit high on one leg to reveal a brilliant emerald green lining. In fact, Lacey realized, it might well be a genuinely vintage copy from the Forties.
But Madame X, the woman in the portrait, looked nothing like this brash, blond, twenty-first-century newswoman. The portrait’s model was a striking brunette, pictured with her hair pulled up and off her face. Her profile was haughty and sharp and she had eerily white skin, like a corpse. The stunning black dress and her scandalous portrait had been nothing but bad luck for Madame X.
“I know that dress,” Lacey said under her breath….
Adapted from Lethal Black Dress
by Ellen Byerrum, courtesy of the author
Copyright 2014 by Ellen Byerrum
Portrait of Madame X by John Singer Sargent, painted 1884. Reproduced from the Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain