Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
Studio Saint-Ex is about a a fictional aspiring fashion designer in love with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry but maneuvered into a prickly relationship with his wife Consuelo. In 1942, exiled from Nazi-occupied France, Saint-Exupéry lived in New York and wrote The Little Prince, the tale of a boy from a distant planet whose travels teach him about love. It would become a children's classic, one of the three best-selling books of all time.
Mignonne Lachapelle, the young fashion designer in Studio Saint-Ex, is determined to launch a career despite two serious obstacles: wartime restrictions on women's clothing, and Madame Fiche, a teacher who viciously criticized and then stole designs Mig created as a student. Madame, struggling to make her own studio successful, offers Mig a job, a precarious step toward a fashion career. The beautiful, self-centered Consuelo tantalizes them by admiring Mig's designs. Mig, who fell in love with Antoine the year before while tutoring him in English, rekindles her feelings for him while courting his wife as a prospective client.
The Saint-Exupéry marriage was troubled; in New York they lived in separate apartments in the same building. The plot of Studio Saint-Ex turns on this circumstance, but not in the way readers drawn to the story of a love affair might expect. The really exciting moments involve fashion. Consuelo tells Mig about her favorite designer's work: "Valentina works with only the most exquisite, most sensual fabrics, and shapes them with the sparest of seams. . . . When I speak of real design, this is what I speak of. One can only submit fully to it. Under a Valentina, one must wear nothing, only bare skin." The central characters, with their ambitions and passions, are the women, each one vivid and distinct: Mig, Madame Fiche, and Consuelo. Antoine remains elusive and distant.
Studio Saint-Ex includes some "spoilers" for The Little Prince, so if you've missed out on the children's classic, you may want to read it before picking up the novel. (2013, 350 pages)More about Studio Saint-Ex at Powell's Books, Amazon.com or The Book Depository