Loretta Chase’s latest book, Vixen in Velvet, comes out on June 24. Ms. Chase was kind enough to agree to an interview and to offer ten lucky readers galleys of her new book. To be entered in the running for a copy, all you need do is make a comment below. The contest is open  until midnight on Sunday, June 22nd. (This contest is now closed.)

Dabney: Ms. Chase, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. You are, as I’m sure you know, one of our readers’ favorite authors. (Lord of Scoundrels has been picked as the top romance in every top 100 poll we’ve run since 2000.)

LC:   I’m honored to be talking with you.  AAR has been such an important voice for romance as well as so supportive of my work—and I’m deeply grateful to your readers for showing Lord of Scoundrels (as well as others of  my books), so much love, poll after poll.

Dabney: I very much enjoyed Vixen in Velvet, the third (and final?) book in your Dressmakers series. In this book, as in the others in the series, the clothes your heroines design are extraordinary. What gave you the idea to write about a trio of dressmakers?

LC:  I’m so glad you enjoyed it!  I did too, once I’d wrestled it into submission.  As the third book, it needed to complete the story arc about the Noirot sisters, and that proved more challenging than anticipated.   As to the dressmakers idea, I have to give credit not only to my historical nerdiness but also to my agent.  She was (probably numbly) aware of my fascination with the fashions and ladies’ magazines of the time, and when we started talking about what would follow the Carsington series, she said, “What about dressmakers?”  I said yes before she could finish the sentence.

Dabney: At the end of the book, there’s a glossary of different kinds of fabric. You write that you gathered information from the milliners and mantua makers of Colonial Williamsburg. Are there practicing milliners and mantua makers there?

LC:  Yes, it’s for real!  The first time I visited with my blogging partner and friend Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott, I was astounded.  The people who work in the Margaret Hunter Shop (tailors, milliners, and mantua makers) are historians, and—like others at CW—they live in that world.  They start as apprentices and work their way up.  They use the same tools and materials their counterparts would have used in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Though Colonial Williamsburg focuses on the era of the American Revolution, the tailors and mantua makers make clothing from other time periods.  That’s where I got to see and touch a historically correct early 19th century corset.  And that’s how I learned just how tight men’s breeches could be.  They have a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Margaret-Hunter-Shop-Milliners-and-Mantuamakers/121002921252887 ) where you can see photos of them at work, and get an idea of the projects they do. The tailors have a page, too (https://www.facebook.com/TailorsOfWilliamsburg)).  We blog about them often at Two Nerdy History Girls. (http://twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.com/).   I cannot say enough about them. Whenever I have clothing-related questions, I turn to them, and they’re unfailingly generous with their knowledge.  This was the case with all the Colonial Williamsburg historians.  They love their work and it shows.

Dabney: You write that “The detailed fashion descriptions (not those written from a man’s point of view) are taken/adapted from ladies’ fashion magazines of the time. The women’s clothes are based on fashion plates.” What magazines did you use? Where did you find the plates? I’d love to see some of the dresses–the gowns the women wear are so complex, I have a hard time imagining them!

LC:  Many early 19th century ladies’ magazines—like La Belle Assemblée/The Court MagazineThe Ladies’ Pocket MagazineAckermann’s Repository, and others—are now online at Google Books and the Internet Archive.  Not all have fashion plates, alas, because some people cut them out and sell them.  Because of a limited supply of 1835 magazines with color (or any) fashion plates, I also used images from the Casey Fashion Plate collection at the Los Angeles Public Library.  Unfortunately, the site doesn’t have the fashion descriptions (or if it does, I couldn’t find them).  The good news for fashion history sleuths is that magazines stole from one another.  Eventually, I found some of the same images (black & white, or different colors and/or reversed) elsewhere, with descriptions.  These days readers can find illustrated guides to my books on my Pinterest page (http://www.pinterest.com/lorettachase/)

There are more images at our Two Nerdy History Girls Pinterest Page (http://www.pinterest.com/2nerdyhistgirls/)  At the Two Nerdy History Girls blog, I post historical fashion plates once a month.  When a new book comes out, you can expect to be inundated with attire from the time period.

Dabney: Did you have a favorite gown from the book?

LC:  It’s very hard to choose.  There’s the ensemble Leonie wears to Hyde Park.

(http://www.lapl.org/sites/default/files/visual-collections/casey-fashion-plates/rbc1818.jpg ) I love the style of it, and the pose is so saucy.  But the dress she wore to Vauxhall for the poetry reading is deliciously insane. (http://www.lapl.org/sites/default/files/visual-collections/casey-fashion-plates/rbc1830.jpg)

Dabney: Your heroine Leonie is a whiz with numbers. She uses math and finance as a way to make sense of the world. Did you imagined her as a native mathematician or are her skills a product of training and/or education?

LC:  That’s a spot-on analysis of the psychology of Leonie.  When I started the series, I decided each sister would bring her own special talent to the business.  Marcelline was Art & Design; Sophy was Marketing & Promo; Leonie was Finance—the CFO/financial whiz.  I saw her as having a native ability, and developing it with training and practice.  It was also important to offer perspective on the family dynamic, and the way she has become The Responsible One.

Dabney: In Vixen in Velvet, each chapter begins with a snippet taken from a magazine or guide. All of the quotes came from actual publications. You must have spent hours reading 19th century media. How influential were the publications you cite? Did all the ton read these guides and magazines?

LC:  Thank you for taking the time to read those epigraphs!  I did try to relate them to the specific chapters.  I probably spend way too much time reading those old magazines, but they offer so much more insight into the times than history books do.  As to influence, author Candice Hern can no doubt tell you, since she offers workshops on Regency-era magazines.  I can only make an educated guess based on the amount of piracy.  (Godey’s created a huge controversy when they had the audacity to copyright their material!)  That cheaper magazines stole from the more expensive ones tells me a lot of women wanted an affordable way to read the poetry, fiction, and other reporting as well as see the latest styles.  Another clue is that every magazine had a column devoted to reports from a “Paris correspondent,” and dressmakers and others bragged in their ads about having the latest Parisian styles.  Since some of the magazines were quite expensive, one assumes they were intended for the ton.  Certainly the gossip in the Court Journal indicates an intimacy with the inner workings of the aristocracy.  Because of the lack of other media, I suspect they were more influential than magazines today.

Dabney: Your hero owns the (now famous) Botticelli “Venus and Mars.” Why did you pick that painting?

LC:  Because it’s my favorite painting in the whole world? Because the first time I saw it, I almost fainted?  Because I wanted to stay there all day, staring at it, the way Leonie does?  Because it stuck in my mind for decades?  Yes.  And because of all the elements Leonie & Lisburne talk about.  It’s beautiful and intriguing and funny.  It tells a story, but we’re not exactly sure what that is.  I’m not an art historian.  My reaction is emotional.

Dabney: Is Vixen in Velvet the last book in this series? If so, what can readers look forward to next?

LC:  It’s the last of the trilogy about the three Noirot sisters, but a spinoff, with Lady Clara in the starring role at last, is in process.  At present, the new book only has idiotic working titles, depending on my mood that day.  I’ve invited visitors to my website to suggest titles.

Dabney: Thank you again.

LC:  You’re most welcome!  And thank you for asking the Nerdy History Girl questions I most love to answer!

Dabney Grinnan

Vixen in Velvet is available as a pre-order from Amazon and other sellers.