I grew up playing Barbies. More accurately, I grew up dressing Barbies. If we wanted to play a game, we were more likely to act it out ourselves. Dolls were all about the clothes and boots and bags and scarves. All the accoutrements of the grown-up world that we weren’t really yet a part of.
By the time high school rolled around, the dolls were long gone but I had other ways to play. I went to high school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and sometimes strolled down Madison Avenue where I people watched and pretended to window shop. Weekends we went to the Village to enjoy the cool, slightly seedy '80s scene. And I read fashion magazines—Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, W, Glamour, Cosmo, anyone remember Mirabella? If I was feeling especially flush, I would spring for the French and British magazines. I would study the pages. Not the words (although Vogue really does have some great articles); it was always about the clothes, the accessories, the photos. And living in New York, from time to time I would see the models and their huge black portfolios and the occasional photo shoot in the wild. I slurped up books like Judith Krantz's Mistral’s Daughter—all the passion and romance dressed up in amazing clothes? I’m always on board for that. Naturally I adored The September Issue even more than The Devil Wears Prada.
It’s not really a purposeful thing, but I’ve collected a fair number of romance novels that take place within (or on the outskirts of) the fashion world. Designers, models, photographers. I don’t have a fashion magazine editor yet, but I think someone needs to write Wintour a happy ending for me.
Lucky for me, there are plenty of authors who share my fascination and the choices range from Parisian couture shows to charity fashion shows, photographers to public relations.
Judging by my bookshelf, handmade, high-end jewelry is taking over. Sarah Mayberry’s Within Reach features a heroine with a successful small business. I love the details of the tools and techniques of jewelry making. Her craft has little to do with the plot of the romance, but Angie’s drive and dedication are evident. When she cuts herself while working on a ring, before she’s even bandaged her cut, she’s worried about the scratch on the metal of the ring. Her work matters that much to her.
Another Australian author, Kelly Hunter’s Bedded for Diamonds (the UK title Priceless is so much better) centers around desperate-to-make-it jewelry designer Erin’s quest for the perfect gemstones. This heroine is just starting out but she is just as driven, even driving a taxi to make ends meet while she gets her business established. Her search involves a road trip, adventure and finding the love you never knew you always wanted.
One of the oldest books on my romance shelf is Metsy Hingle’s Flashpoint. Heroine Kelly returns home after years making a huge success as a fashion photographer for all the right magazines. She’s got everything I ever dreamed of in the fashion world—fame, money, and fabulous clothes courtesy of the designers who want to hire her. Plus the book’s got a nice zing of suspense to keep me turning the pages and plenty of heat on the pages.
H&H’s own K.M. Jackson knows plenty about the fashion world, and Through the Lens rings with authentic peeks into the working lives of the hero Alejandro and heroine Mika, a pair of fashion photographers—demanding editors, beautiful locations, insecure models and the pressure to get the perfect shot. I loved the gritty, real details of a photographer’s life. It’s equal parts obsessive organization and attention to detail and crazy inspirations that end up with a beautiful picture. And Jackson gets bonus points for having her hero working in the industry too!
Love Me by Bella Andre’s heroine is the archetypal free spirit designer. Creative and pushing boundaries, Janica brings all that passion to her personal life as well. This one doesn’t spend too much time on her work, but instead focuses on the relationship.
On the other hand, Sarah from Megan Mulry’s If the Shoe Fits (available in July) is all about the work. She even lives upstairs from the studio where she designs and sells her glorious shoes—think Manolos or Jimmy Choos. Sarah is a realistic mix of creative and practical that makes me believe she could really run a serious business. Trying to get access to the best Italian leathers for her shoes, she turns a date into a business meeting. But don’t worry. Devon keeps her from being all business all the time.
The last book on my list is a book I haven’t read, because it isn’t available for sale in the US (pouts at Harlequin). The Highest Price to Pay by Maisey Yates is one I got excited about when she was writing it and talking about the characters on twitter. Her heroine designer Ella has a boutique, debts and insecurities. I love that part. The creative people I know are so vibrant and passionate that if you’re not looking carefully it can be easy to miss that vulnerability. Putting yourself out there artistically can be scary stuff.
Just like falling in love.
Julia Broadbooks writes contemporary romance. She lives in the wilds of suburban Florida with her ever patient husband and bakes ridiculous amounts of sugary treats for her teens' friends. Find her on Twitter @juliabroadbooks.