What an absolute delight! The Prince and the Dressmaker, a gorgeous graphic novel set in late 19th century Paris, has everything I want out of a fairytale: creativity, fabulousness, whimsy, unique and courageous characters, and just enough darkness to make the happy ending both a joy and a relief.
Prince Sebastian is into wearing dressers, and Frances is into making them. When Sebastian catches a glimpse of Frances’s newest design, he hires her to be his personal seamstress. While his father tries to marry him off, he and Frances are busy becoming friends and carousing around town together—Prince Sebastian, aglow in Frances’s beautiful and daring dresses, as Lady Crystallia, who takes the Paris fashion scene by storm. Of course it’s not all a frolicking good time: Sebastian’s secret weighs heavy on his shoulders, and Frances longs for a place in the spotlight as a fashion designer. Ultimately, these two young people help each other discover themsleves and realize their dreams.
This book is a beautiful celebration of fashion, fabulous dresses, friendship, the joy of sharing your true self with the people you love, and the courage it often takes to share your true self with the world. It’s also a poignant exploration of what it might have been like for someone whose gender was not easily definable at a time when there were not a lot of available options outside of boy and girl. I loved watching Sebastian and Frances navigate their relationship, sometimes across rocky terrain, and what also they wanted—from within themsleves and from each other. It was a beautiful, gender-exploding coming of age. With amazing dresses.
The story was a perfect mix of serious and silly. I laughed out loud, but there were also some tough scenes in which Sebastian faces ridicule and transphobia. Wang combined real world problems and injustices with a fairytale aesthetic in a way that felt authentic and honest. The balance of characters who loved Sebastian and Frances for who they were outweighed the ones who didn’t. This was lovely; there was more celebration than rejection.
The art was also exquisite. The drawings of dresses and fashion were especially fantastic. I felt completely immersed in late 18th century Paris. I also loved the how the characters came to life in the drawings: the drawings of Lady Crystallia overflow with joy, as do the drawings of Frances while she’s working.
I did feel that the ending was a bit rushed, and the way everything came together a bit too theatrical. But overall, this was an utter delight of a story. It busts up gender stereotypes and norms, and it also neatly axes the notion that anyone is just one thing or another. We are all many things, and when we dare to see each other that way, we expand the world.