The Fashion of Poppy Denby by Fiona Veitch Smith

The Crystal Crypt cover, designed by Laurence Whitely.

I adore the Poppy Denby series. Not only are they gripping murder mysteries but they transport me back to the 1920s. Fiona Veitch Smith’s meticulous research into the period shines through and adds an extra dimension to the stories. Cosy crime but with an edge and a thoroughly enjoyable series it is too. We have now reached book 6 in the series and I am currently reading The Crustal Crypt. Am absolutely loving it but today, rather than posting a review I would like to present you with a rather fascinating guest post from the author herself. Fiona Veitch Smith chats about The Fashion of Poppy Denby. Enjoy, dear reader. Enjoy.

“What a bargain! It was a Lucien Lelong cocktail dress – one of Poppy’s favourite designers – in mauve georgette crepe. The calf-length skirt was gathered up on one side and tied to a scarf at the hips, causing the soft fabric to hang in flattering drapes. The bodice was loose, as was the current fashion, and sleeveless, with a cape of georgette flowing down the back to the waist. It was from Lelong’s 1924 spring collection – something she knew because Delilah travelled to Paris every year to see the new designs – and was now cut-price because it was a year old. Poppy didn’t care. It was new enough for her, and it was beautiful. She caressed the fabric, allowing it to cascade through her fingers and over her engagement ring. Daniel will love it, she thought.”

From The Crystal Crypt, 2021

From the beginning of the Poppy Denby books, starting with The Jazz Files in 2015, fashion has been very much part of the fabric of the series. I wanted to create a vivid visual backdrop for my readers to enjoy while they were solving the mystery along with Poppy. The ‘world’ of the 1920s, with its fashion, music, architecture, culture and social mores, is an indispensable part of the Poppy books and is almost a character in itself. 

This is an aspect of the books that most readers love, but I realise may be a turn-off to others. Just yesterday I spotted a 1 star review of the third book in the series, The Death Beat, in which Poppy and Delilah go to New York, which said: The author must like clothes. She describes them. A lot. And that was it! Obviously Poppy and her fashion was a distraction for this reader. Still, 1 star is a bit harsh… (!) But other readers love it.

After the release of the fifth book, The Art Fiasco, I was contacted by a fashion historian who said she loves reading my books because of all the authentic fashion. Another reader, an artist, contacted me to ask if I’d made up the outfits in the book that were so vividly described. She particularly liked Delilah’s dress and coat that she wore to the pictures and said she wanted to paint it. I told her that most of the outfits in the Poppy books are based on real designs. She was delighted to hear it. 

The Art Fiasco cover, designed by Laurence Whitely.

I go ‘shopping’ for Poppy and Delilah (a flapper) at the beginning of each new book, choosing an iconic outfit from the collections of real fashion designers of the time. A good source is the fashion collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. But I also have a paperback catalogue of French Fashions of the Twenties, edited by JoAnne Olian, former curator of the costume department of the Museum of New York. This very helpfully provides design sketches in chronological order through 1920 – 1929. I am working my way through the book.

The dress described in the opening paragraph of this article is the one in the middle [pictured] and the one on the right is what Poppy wore to the exhibition opening at the Laing Art Gallery in book 5, The Art Fiasco. I sent the sketch to the designer of the Poppy book covers, Laurence Whitely, who adapted it slightly for his own image. [pictured]

It’s not just the evening dresses that I draw from this catalogue. In book 5, Poppy and Delilah are invited to play tennis with two eligible gentlemen. I cheated a bit with this as the match takes place in late September 1924, but the outfits I chose [pictured] were actually from a summer 1925 collection (shhh, don’t tell anyone!).

That’s the first time I’ve gone forward in time with fashion. I tend to work one year back. Delilah is from a wealthy family and visits Paris for each season’s collection. She buys her gowns straight off the catwalk. Poppy is of more modest means and waits a year until the clothes are a bit cheaper. She bought the tennis outfit at Fenwick department store in Newcastle, and the Lucien Lelong georgette cocktail gown at Elliston & Cavell in Oxford [pictured].

Elliston & Cavell advert from Alden’s Guide to Oxford (1920)

Fenwick is still in Newcastle and Ellison & Cavell has now become a Debenhams. Those authentic touches of real dresses and real shops are what, I hope, brings a bit more sparkle to the average murder mystery. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do researching and writing them.

About the author: A lover of Golden Age mysteries and historical fiction, Fiona Veitch Smith’s Poppy Denby Investigates books are set in the roaring 20s. Immersed in the fashion, culture, politics and social challenges of the time, the novels weave intricate mysteries packed with whodunits and red herrings. Fiona, like Poppy, was formerly a journalist, and lives in Newcastle upon Tyne with her husband and teenage daughter.

Follow on Twitter @fionaveitchsmit

Facebook @FionaVeitchSmithAuthor

Instagram @FionaVeitchSmith_author

Thank you so much to the lovely team ay Lion Hudson for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and to Fiona for providing me with this fascinating post to share with you.

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