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Fabulously Fashionable

A Novel

About The Book

Twenty-eight-year-old Isabel Bookbinder has figured some things out:she’s moved in with her loving lawyer boyfriend, and despite her mother’s adoration of all things matching, she’s finally discovered her true calling—fashion design. After all, she knows her Manolos from her Louboutin, her Pucci from her Prada, and she’s always poring over fashion magazines (the celebrity pages of fashion magazines, that is). She’s even landed a position with Nancy Tavistock, editor at top fashion magazine Atelier, and creative muse to hot designer Lucien Black.

So learning from the very best, the future’s looking bright for Isabel Bookbinder: Top International Fashion Designer. Within days she’s putting the final touches on her debut collection, has dreamed up a perfume line (Isabelissimo), and is very nearly a friend of John Galliano. Yet nothing ever runs smoothly for Isabel, and fabulously fashionable as her life may be, it soon seems to be spiraling a little out of her control.

With her characteristic humor, charm, and tendency to stumble into sticky situations, Isabel Bookbinder is an irresistible heroine you’re sure to fall in love with.


In the Beginning


I woke up with the dawn this morning. At least, I thought it was the dawn. I’ve just bought one of those superintelligent artificial-daylight alarm clocks that wake you up exactly like a natural sunrise. Much better than being woken by a horrible unnatural alarm clock. It does all kinds of clever things with your metabolism, and your brain chemistry, and something called your Arcadian rhythms, and you jump out of bed feeling all calm, and well rested, and ready to face the day ahead.

I must have read the instructions wrong, though. The stupid thing started glowing radioactively at eighteen minutes past two, which only made me feel furious, and sleep deprived, and ready for absolutely nothing. I couldn’t make the horrible orange light fade back down again, so eventually I staggered into the bathroom, dumped it in the bathtub, and covered it with two large bath sheets. I think I must have gone back to sleep somewhere around half past three.

When I woke up again—just now—nice, proper, natural daylight has started streaming through the blinds. I do a couple of energizing yoga-type stretches, which ought to sort out my metabolism and my Arcadian rhythms very nicely, then I head into the kitchen to make my first strong black coffee of the day.

Now that I’m going to be a Top International Fashion Designer, strong black coffee is probably going to form the cornerstone of my diet. It’s very important to start as I mean to go on.

It’s quite difficult to actually enjoy strong black coffee, though. I did try to get into it once before, when I was going to be a bestselling Novelist, but all I ever ended up doing was drinking lovely yummy mochaccinos instead. But this time I’m going to be seriously disciplined. When I’m the public face (and figure) of my own fashion label, I won’t be able to get away with any extra poundage. My ideal customer—I just call her The Woman I Design For—is extremely discerning. Whatever will she think of me if I go about the place looking a little bit on the chunky side simply because I can’t resist the temptation of a delicious, frothy coffee?

I have to say, though, I think The Woman I Design For would be a bit of a cow if she wouldn’t even overlook one little mochaccino a day.

I mean, here I am, thinking of nothing but how I can make her look fashion-forward and fabulous, and she’s getting all uppity about a measly little two hundred calories of caffeine and sugar I need to kick-start my morning.

Actually, only a hundred and eighty-three calories, according to the packet.

You know, I think The Woman I Design For is just going to have to get over it. I’ll go for a jog round Battersea Park this evening. That ought to placate her.

Mug of yummy mochaccino in hand, I head back to the bedroom to get on with the most important part of my day so far: assembling my Signature Look.

I mean, where would Donatella Versace be without the leopard skin and the tango tan? Or Stella McCartney without the snazzy little tailored trouser suits? And look at Vivienne Westwood, with all that punky hair and distressed tartan. If I’m going to make it as a Top International Fashion Designer, the right Signature Look is absolutely vital.

OK. Well, obviously, I don’t own any leopard skin. My wardrobe is pretty thin on snazzy little tailored trouser suits, too. I think I have got a tartan skirt lurking in here somewhere, one that Mum ordered for me from the Boden catalogue several years ago, but it’s not distressed. Though I was pretty distressed when Mum gave it to me, if that counts. I mean, it had “Fun” colored buttons, for heaven’s sake.

Hang on a moment. Maybe Fun Buttons could be my Signature Look?

. . . Stunning Isabel Bookbinder dazzled at her close friend and mentor Valentino’s birthday party, in a black lace gown accessorized with her Signature Fun Buttons . . .

. . . high priestess of style Isabel Bookbinder looked cutting edge as ever at this year’s Glastonbury, working denim hot pants and a vintage Panama trimmed with her Signature Fun Buttons . . .


Perhaps not.

What I’m really after is something elegant and fabulous. Something that expresses my fashion personality. Something The Woman I Design For would sell her granny to buy. Some classic black trousers, perhaps, and this little stripy T-shirt, for easy Parisian chic? Then some high-heeled loafers, a long string of beads, and, for that final twist of Gallic je ne sais pas, this navy blue beret I picked up from Comptoir des Cotonniers last winter.

But when I turn to look in the mirror, I don’t look chic and Parisian at all. Shove a baguette under one arm and I could be on my way to audition for an ill-advised remake of ’Allo ’Allo! With a bit of white face paint and big black panda eyes colored in with eyeliner, I could be about to begin an ill-advised Marcel Marceau mime routine.

OK. Back to the drawing board. I suppose I could try mixing Designer, Vintage, and High Street. It’s what all the fashion magazines are always saying you should do. I’ll team my Stella McCartney pistachio green silk pleated skirt (the Designer bit) with an off-white Karen Millen blouse (the High Street bit) and this gorgeous rose pink brocade duster coat with bracelet-length sleeves that looks like it’s Vintage but is actually brand new from a mother-of-the-bride shop in Shepton Mallet. Well, if The Woman I Design For is anything like me, she’ll be too scared to go into proper vintage shops, too, so it’s a perfectly valid solution.

I love it. It’s cool, it’s cutting edge, and I’m pretty sure it’s got more fashion personality than you could shake a stick at!

Signature Look cracked, for now at least, I take a few mind-clearing yoga-style breaths, sit down at the writing desk in the corner of the bedroom, and reach for my Mood Book.

You know, I couldn’t believe my luck when I found out the way Top International Fashion Designers work. Only a couple of days after I’d decided I was really going to go for this fashion thing, I found this article about John Galliano in an old copy of InStyle. He went on about his “Process” a lot, and his “Fashion Vision,” but the most useful thing I learned was that he collects all his ideas for his new Collection on what he calls a Mood Board. What he does is, he starts out with a single word that sums up what he wants the Collection to reflect—Cabaret, say, or Tranquillity, or Brothel. Then he just gathers together all the things that inspire him and bungs them up on a piece of corkboard in his airy Parisian studio. Lines of poetry, scraps of fabric, pictures torn out of magazines, that kind of thing.

Well, obviously this is perfect for my Process, too! I’ve got poetry books rattling about the place somewhere. And I’ve got loads of unwanted clothes given me by Mum that I can hack up for scraps of fabric. And I tear things out of magazines all the time. It’s perfect!

I’ve gone one better than John Galliano, though, even though I say so myself. I mean, corkboard is all very well, but it’s not the most exciting thing you can buy. And seeing as I’m not yet in possession of my own airy Parisian studio, or any studio for that matter, I thought I’d need something a little bit more portable.

Smythson doesn’t actually do formal Mood Books—I did check—but they do have these really gorgeous little pocket notebooks that say Fashion Notes, which is perfectly suitable for the time being.

I open up my brand-new pink notebook, which is sitting on the desk in front of me.

Right. So. What one, single word sums up everything I want to say in my debut clothing Collection? I mean, one word is easy-peasy, isn’t it? Not like trying to write a whole novel, or something, where you have to write tons and tons and tons of them.

I pick up my special propelling pencil.

Then I put it down again.

Then I pick it up again.

God, I feel inspired.

I mean, really, really inspired.

Now all I need is a Debut Collection.


Stunning Isabel, 27, opens the door to welcome us inside. Clad only in a silk dressing gown that skims her slim skinny size 4 or 6 figure, her long, completely frizz-free hair pulled back in a low-maintenance but chic ponytail, Isabel is only just out of bed after last night’s fabulous launch party for her brand-new perfume, Isabel no. 5 Acqua d’Isabel Isabelissimo. Stocked exclusively at Harvey Nichols in London and Bergdorf Goodman in New York, waiting lists for the Top International Fashion Designer’s first fragrance have already run into the thousands. We settle down with the brunette dynamo in her fabulous living room, where, over strong black coffee, Isabel opens her heart about her fabulously fashionable existence.

HIYA!: So, we hear it was quite a party last night! All your Top International Fashion Designer friends were there to support you—Stella, Marc, Miu Miu Miucer Mrs. Prada, and Valentino, of course. . . .

IB: Dear Val. He’s such a great friend and mentor.

HIYA!: This was all to launch Isabelissimo—a wonderful mix of frangipani and white musk patchouli jasmine flowers and green scents. Tell us, Isabel, where did you get your inspiration for the fragrance?

IB: Well, as always, I found myself truly inspired by The Woman I Design For. I feel like I know her so well—a strong sassy free-spirited independent woman who isn’t afraid to be feminine alluring sexy glamorous.

HIYA!: And who also isn’t a miserable old body fascist.

IB: That too. Absolutely.

HIYA!: Fragrance may be your latest exciting venture, but clothes were where it all began for Isabel Bookbinder. . . .

IB: That’s right. I was just a girl with a portable Mood Book and a dream I don’t think I knew, when I started work on my first-ever Collection that sunny September morning in a one-bedroom flat in South London, just how big my brand would become.

HIYA!: But now your label Isabel B is feted by the fashion cognoscenti and worn by A-listers all over the world, while your newer diffusion line, Izzy B by Isabel Bookbinder, is finding a whole new generation of fans in Harvey Nichols and Selfridges!

IB: Yes, it is quite good, isn’t it?

HIYA!: Could you talk us through a typical day in your glamour-filled life?

IB: As a Top International Fashion Designer, there’s no typical day! I might be auditioning models for my latest catwalk show, meeting an Oscar hopeful to discuss her awards-show gown, pounding the streets of Manhattan to find the perfect Fifth Avenue location for my new boutique. . . . Of course, wherever I go, I’m always thinking about my latest Collection, jotting down a single word here or a single word there in my handy portable Mood Book. That’s a very important part of my Process.

HIYA!: Goodness, it sounds much harder work than we’d thought! Now on to your private life, if we may. . . . We’ve all heard the rumors about you and Daniel Craig. . . .

IB: Daniel and I met when I chose him to be the face and body of my new underpants menswear Collection. We’re just good friends.

HIYA!: So you won’t comment on the photographs of you two breakfasting on his hotel terrace at Cap-Ferrat?

IB: [blushing] I’m afraid not. The paparazzi can be very intrusive, and my Daniel is a very private man.

HIYA!: So, Isabel, what’s next for your luxury-goods empire?

IB: Well, I have three brand-new Emporio Bookbinders opening worldwide later this month, so there are lots of launch parties to arrange. I’m also hard at work coming up with a name for another diffusion line—at the moment, we’re thinking Iz by Isabel Bookbinder for Izzy B by Isabel Bookbinder. And if I have the time, I’ll design the bottle for another new fragrance, which will be an exotic blend of tuberose vanilla lemonbalm and scents.

HIYA!: While still hard at work on your new couture clothing Collection, of course!

IB: Of course. I’ve started assembling a new Mood Book already.

HIYA!: Isabel Bookbinder, thank you for your time.

IB: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

© 2009 Holly McQueen

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Fabulously Fashionable Life of Isabel Bookbinder includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Holly McQueen. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. 



Isabel Bookbinder, an aspiring Top International Fashion Designer, has many comedic encounters while pursuing her latest dream job. Initially considered a “failure” with no direction in life, she struggles to gain the respect of her family. Through lying to get her foot in the fashion industry’s door, she is able to get a head start on her career. Isabel uses the support of her friends to get through the hardships related to romantic and professional relationships. After having a rocky beginning, Isabel’s life starts to turn around and come together as she realizes the necessary steps she must take to obtain her dream.                  


Discussion Questions
  1. Throughout the novel Isabel talks about not wanting to become a “Stepford Wife.” How does this direct her decisions within her relationships with Will and Ben? What actions show their perspective on gender roles? Do you think social class plays a role in one’s attitude toward the opposite gender?
  2. Isabel is considered the black sheep of her family. How do you think this label affects her determination to succeed? Would you say Isabel changes her career goals in order to avoid failure and disprove her family’s judgments?
  3. Isabel continuously tries new careers in attempts to find something that brings her satisfaction. She strives to find happiness and respect through her career choice. How do you think this attitude affects Isabel’s persona? Do you believe the actions she takes to achieve this goal are justified?
  4. In order to begin her career in the fashion industry, Isabel fabricates the truth. “Oh, Mum’s fine now . . . her and my dad run their own organic farm in Somerset. Making . . . er . . . honey wine.” What consequences, both positive and negative, does that behavior have? Do you agree with her actions? How do you think she could have gone about the situation differently?
  5. Isabel desperately tries to fit in and conform to what she thinks other people’s ideals are. She changes her clothing style depending upon where she is going to be. Can you relate to changing aspects of yourself in order to be accepted? In changing the way you look or act, do you think you are losing your identity?
  6. In what ways is Isabel challenged while pursuing her new career choice? What obstacles does she overcome? Do you think she handles the setbacks appropriately? If you were in Isabel’s shoes, how would you have gone about starting a new career differently?
  7. Part of Isabel’s desire not to become a “Stepford Wife” drives her to become more independent. “But I think when he [Will] sees me all settled in my new place, he’ll realize how important it is for me to live on my own for now.” How do you think her newfound independence will affect Isabel’s self-esteem? Do you think it will help her grow as a person and create more opportunities in her future?
  8. Throughout the novel Isabel seeks out the approval of others. She longs to be accepted into the fashion industry’s exclusive circle. Do you agree that it’s okay to forfeit your own standards to gain the approval of others’? What other options did Isabel have?
  9. How does Isabel’s dysfunctional family life carry over into her personal and professional life? Do you find similarities between roles she has with certain family members and those with her peers?
  10.  What do you think is so appealing to Isabel about having a relationship with Ben? Would you say the way it made her look in the eyes of others affected her decisions during their short relationship? How did this relationship benefit her? What realizations was she able to make as an outcome of this relationship?
  11.  Which of the characters were you most able to relate to? Which one stands out most to you? What makes that character appealing?
  12.  Throughout the novel, Isabel tries to prove herself to both her family and peers. What events do you think made her succeed in doing so? At what point do you think she started getting her life together without the prodding of others?
  13. How do you feel Isabel’s expectations of success affected her chances of succeeding in the fashion industry? Ultimately, do you think her discouraging realizations about this industry will make her want to pursue a different, possibly more glamorous, career? If so, what career do you think Isabel would turn to next?


Enhance Your Book Club
  1. Isabel spends hours trying to come up with her own “signature look.” Have your book group come to a meeting wearing their own signature looks. Find something that each member feels represents herself and her inner fashionista.
  2. Isabel continuously follows her dreams. What are your dreams? If you could choose any profession that would make you feel your life is complete, what would it be? What would your life look like if you were to have followed and obtained all of your dreams?
  3. Hold one of your book group meetings at a location you think Isabel would go to. Submerge yourself into her fabulously fashionable, “cool,” and “glamorous” life style.


A Conversation with Holly McQueen

1. In a previous interview you stated that being a novelist was your dream job. How does it feel to have been able to make your dream come true?

Unbelievable! That said, on a day-to-day basis I don’t think about it too much—I’m normally too busy being in a panic about a deadline or getting frustrated that a character isn’t ending up on the page the way she is in my head. But when I stop to think about it (or, more often, if my marvelous husband reminds me) I can’t believe how lucky I am. 

2. In The Fabulous (Double) Life of Isabel Bookbinder, Isabel wants to be a writer, like yourself. However, in this novel, The Fabulously Fashionable Life of Isabel Bookbinder, Isabel wants to be a fashion designer. Do you have an inner fashionista of your own? Do her career aspirations correspond at all to yours?
I wish I had an inner fashionista! It’d be very useful to have her on hand to prevent fashion disasters. But the answer is no—I absolutely love clothes and I’m a bit of a handbag obsessive, but having spent some time working at Vogue I’m all too aware of how seriously true fashionistas take their clothes and how incredible they look. I’m in awe of the best designers’ and stylists’ creativity but I couldn’t possibly do it myself!

3. Isabel uses a mood book to write down inspiring ideas. Do you have a “mood book” of sorts for novel ideas?
As a stationery addict (one thing I do have in common with Isabel) I’m forever buying gorgeous little notebooks with the intention of scribbling down my ideas. But invariably I haven’t got one on me when inspiration really strikes . . . so I always end up texting myself the idea instead.

4. When you were creating the characters, did you base them on anyone in particular? 
Not deliberately, that’s for sure! I think I accidentally on purpose always end up putting bits and pieces of real people in my characters, so they’re generally hybrids. Either that, or I end up putting aspects of certain people into two or three different characters. My husband, for example, has inspired both Will and Barney (attractive and a coffee/food obsessive). And both Isabel and Lara have bits (the good and bad) of me and of several of my friends.

5. Isabel is not afraid to follow her dreams. What advice would you give young women about following their own dreams? Do you think there is a certain point in time when one should “give up” on her dreams if they did not work out and do something more practical?
It’s a cliché, but the best bit of advice I could give is to say that you should believe in yourself because if you don’t, nobody else will. And once you’ve done that bit, find somebody else who believes in you, too, and stick to her like superglue! Hard work doesn’t hurt either. And I refuse to believe that anyone should give up on her dream if it doesn’t work out. I’m not saying you can’t modify your dream a bit, maybe put it on hold, to deal with the practicalities of everyday life—everyone has bills to pay. But I think the world would be a much poorer place if people didn’t have the capacity to dream—against all the odds.

6. When writing your novels, what does “The Woman You Write For” look like?
The one thing I’m sure of is that she’s always glamorous, even if (especially when!) she’s at home in her pajamas with a streaming cold and bed hair. And she’s definitely young, whether she’s twenty-five or seventy-five (age is just a number). And the fact that she’s beautiful, inside and out, goes without saying. Young, glamorous, and beautiful. Just like Isabel’s imaginary clientele . . . 

7. Isabel was considered the black sheep of the family; what would you say is your role in your own family? Can you relate to the family dynamics described in your novel?

I think that in my family I’m the entertainer . . . I hope I’m not the black sheep, but maybe my family would tell me otherwise! I think it’s interesting that so often the role we take in our family is the role we take in the outside world, too. In Isabel’s case, I think the fact that she’s the black sheep in her family often makes her feel like the black sheep or the outsider in the real world. In some ways, then, I can relate to the family dynamics in the novel—though I’m much luckier than Isabel regarding my own parents!!—because I think, just as she does, that I take aspects of my behavior within my family and present those to the outside world.

8. What would you say your signature look is? What do you consider the unspoken “uniform” in the writing industry is?
Right now, sadly, my signature look is sweatpants and a hooded top. This is what happens to my “style” when I have a deadline to meet. Mostly, though, I’m a jeans addict, and because I feel ridiculous in anything frilly or boho, I stick to very clean, simple lines, often with a blazer on top. Oh, and I always carry a bag that I’m in love with, too. As for the writing world’s “uniform”—hmmmm . . . hollow eyes and a third Martini?

9. Creating a certain image is a major issue for Isabel. Is this something that you feel is important? What are your views about societal standards?

I think image is very important, though in some ways I wish it wasn’t! I think society is unhealthily obsessed with the way women look, and what I try to do with Isabel is to make it clear that, even in the fashion industry, there is far, far more to life than image. That said, I think one of the most wonderful things about being a woman is our ability to alter our image and our appearance, to present a certain “face” to the outside world. It is supposed to be fun, after all! I get very depressed by the societal standards that take all the fun out of it, by dictating to women that they “should” look a certain, very limited, way. 

10. Isabel has many issues with men, whether it is jumping to conclusions or not being treated as an equal. Did you include these issues to make them more noticeable in the public’s eyes?

I certainly didn’t include them deliberately—Isabel’s issues with men are very personal to her and her situation. However, I think many women of Isabel’s age are struggling to find their way through what is still very much a man’s world, and to find a way to do it without losing their own femininity. I do feel passionately about women feeling independent, but I also think that the kind of partnership of equals that Isabel is searching for is the most powerful thing of all.

11. To Isabel, having her own fragrance line would be considered the epitome of success. What would be the epitome of your success?
Here in the UK, we have a radio show called Desert Island Discs where well-known people choose eight music tracks they’d take to a desert island if they were stranded there. Long before I was ever published, I used to listen to the show and dream about how I’d be on it one day (I confess, I regularly daydream about the music I’d choose), so for me, appearing on that would pretty much be the icing on the very wonderful cake!! In the event that this doesn’t happen, however, I’d be pretty chuffed if I saw a stranger reading one of my books on the bus or the train . . . and smiling. That would be a pretty fantastic pinnacle.

12. What’s next for Isabel? Will we see her trying out yet another career?

Isabel never rests on her laurels—a wedding-planning career is, in fact, what awaits her . . . It’s proving incredible fun to write!

About The Author

Photo Credit: Holly McQueen

Holly McQueen is the author of four novels—The Glamorous (Double) Life of Isabel Bookbinder, Fabulously Fashionable, Confetti Confidential, and There Goes the Bride. She lives in London with her husband.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (May 25, 2010)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781439137963

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“Full of humor and spunk, this is a delightful installment in the misadventures of McQueen’s charmingly farcical character.” — Booklist

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