Secrets of the Lavender Girls by Kate Thompson [Hodder Paperbacks, 2021]
This utterly charming story follows the fragrant history of Yardley, and the remarkable stories of the women who worked there. A fictional account, author Kate Thompson always undertakes a great deal of research, and her genuine fondness for the real life women she found (and who shared their tales with her) truly shines through. In the novel, though World War Two is still raging across Europe, for the Lavender Girls (the nickname for the workers at the Yardley cosmetics factory in East London) the challenges they face are also on the home front. Battling their own demons while striving to put a brave face on it (and wearing Yardley’s wartime-named lipsticks to keep their spirits up, because it was rumoured Hitler hated women who wore red lisptick!) we meet newly married Esther, trying to juggle her home life while being a working woman for the first time. West End starlet Patsy has many secrets to hid from her controlling mother, and works at Yardley by day while shining in the spotlight at night. Lovely Lou, meanwhile, is hiding a forbidden love that’s tearing her apart – something that’s forcing her to choose between happiness and her own family. ‘Can she be brave enough to forge her own path in the chaos of a war? One thing is certain: the Lavender Girls need one another more than ever if they are going to survive.’
What you really take away from this novel is how vitally important fragrance and makeup and making the best of things (yourself included) was for these women, during the most violent and devastating time. They found courage and pride in working for a company who helped boost women’s confidence, and the scents of April Violets and Freesia and many of the other classic Yardley fragrances would literally waft a scent of courage for them.