Excerpt from Murder In The Rue Cassette:
Paris, April 1874
Carmela and Tessa followed Ricci to a desk in the corner of the workroom where a woman of some years sat looking through half-glasses at a book brimming with swatches of fabric and Ricci introduced them to Madame Josephine Joyeuse. Pieces of felt lay on her desk as did some peacock feathers, strands of horse hair, netting and lace. At the sound of Ricci’s voice she rose, a tall woman, slender. She was commanding, with Gallic features, and she smiled at them. Her graying hair was pulled up, pinned, curled and arranged in an elaborate French coiffure.
“My friends have come from Sicily on behalf of my uncle.”
Carmela cut in. “And I’d love it if you could design a hat for my friend, Madame Joyeuse,” gesturing to Tessa who wore her teal day dress but was hatless.
“Certainly,” she said, gazing at the hat Carmela wore, a small black pillbox with a spray of dyed feathers and a veil draping slightly over the top and circling down one side. Before they left this morning, Carmela had taken time, fussed with it, angled it just so. It gave her height and dignity, she felt.
“Please call me Madame Josephine. Everyone does. I’m afraid our showroom is a little crowded this afternoon. We must have our clowns,” she said, cocking her head in Ricci’s direction and pursing her lips, “but perhaps we can find a corner where we are not disturbed. This way.”
She led them into a private room with a table and mirror where several hats already created were sitting on a rack with a few more scattered around an overstuffed chair in the corner. She asked them to excuse her and returned in a few minutes with several basic shapes, a pillbox, a cloche, a beret, and a straw. In her apron she carried some loose flowers, fruit, feathers, and veils. She dumped these on the table in front of Tessa and began by having Tessa stand still while she her, feeling the fabric of her dress, turning her around, and asking her to sit in front of the mirror.
Madame Josephine glanced at Carmela. “You’ve been to our other stores, I see,” she said as she began designing Tessa’s hat, her fingers like the wings of birds in flight, her head turned to the side.
“Your hat. Designed for you at our store on the Rue de la Paix, no? Let me guess the designer, I’ve trained them all, you know.”
“I brought this from home. I made it myself.”
Josephine Joyeuse stopped, straightened. “Lovely work. I applaud your skill.”
She continued creating Tessa’s hat, placing and shaping the felt just so, rejecting it, picking up a deep cadmium red pillbox instead, pinning, prodding, fussing with speed and dexterity, a hatpin between her teeth. She stepped back to appraise her work, adjusting the angle of the hat, her touch transforming the material, shifting it slightly, pulling it backward, forward, refitting the hat on the head, trying a different veil until she was satisfied. Her hands reminded Carmela of how the voice can inflect words to change their meaning. They were the hands of an artist.
“Now, stand please,” she said to Tessa.
Tessa was astounded. The hat revealed who she was. “Like a painting,” she said.
Madame Josephine straightened her apron. “Now step back slightly from the mirror.”
Tessa did, and once again saw a change.
“You see how the whole outfit ‘turns’ when you step back, the same way a painting does. That’s how you know the hat works for you.”
Photo: La Modiste Sur Les Champs Élysées, Jean Béraud, Public Domain.