A few weeks ago I came in contact with Katarina West, the Finnish Author who has just recently published her first novel titled Witchcraft Couture. She sent her book for me to read and review, which I of course was very happy to do. A short interview with West will follow later this week, but for now here are my thoughts on the book. I am trying to avoid spoilers, but of course bits and pieces of the story will inevitably come forward.
Witchcraft Couture tells the story of Oscar Pellegrini, an incredibly talented Florence-based fashion designer who has to deal with one big difficulty; his own critical mind. He suffers from creative blocks, like most creative people do, but unlike most creative people, he has not figured out a way to cope with them.
After he starts working for his former girlfriend (at the fashion house of his late mentor) he suffers a major creative crisis that seems so endless that he escapes to St Petersburg, Russia. It is there where he finds a 'magical' machine that helps him through that crisis. He gets fired from his job, but is so inspired that he starts his own brand. Very successfully at the start, but soon thereafter things go differently.
I used to read fantasy quite a lot and I love fashion, so this book seemed interesting to me from the very beginning. I thought the combination was a bit odd, but I was more than willing to just read what Katarina came up with. Having just finished Witchcraft Couture I think she succeeded in writing a very interesting and relevant novel. Calling the book fantasy is however not entirely right. I feel that above all this novel is about the difficulty of dealing with creativity under pressure. Specifically pressure in the fashion industry. The fantasy elements turn out to be not exactly what they seem to be at first and are - as I interpreted them - a metaphor for something far deeper.
The story of Oscar Pellegrini is the story of a troubled perfectionist with a rare talent, who obviously cannot handle the pressure he is under. His story immediately reminds of Alexander McQueen's and John Galliano's. The first tragically committed suicide, the latter was arrested for his much talked about anti-semitic rant. Both are considered fashion geniuses, but seem to be victims of the ever increasing pressure in the fashion industry. With up to 8 collections per brand, the creative job of a major fashion designer (who often leads mulptile brands) has become almost impossible. The clear connection with what is happening in reality, makes Witchcraft Couture very relevant. If not for the general public, than at least for people who are into fashion.
The fact that West has her facts straight and references brands, designers and general fashion jargon on the right moments strengthens that feeling of relevancy. It is a pleasure to read a book about fashion, without constantly finding references that are not in place or do not seem to add anything to the story at all. Just describing characters and scenery is another tool that is used very well. Katarina's words help you form an image to go with the story. Set in Florence (one of my personal favourite cities) and the Chianti Area (who doesn't love Tuscany?!), that image is a very nice one.
Being an architecture student and blogger, creativity and dealing with creative blocks is something I personally recognize. To me that made the book all the more interesting. Although Oscar's case is hardly a common one, the way in which he has a good idea or inspiration one moment, that seems to simply vanishes the next, is instantly recognizable. Let's just hope that I will not become a victim of pressure myself...