Kit may only be twenty years old, but his passion for sewing started as a boy watching his grandfather turn cloth into bespoke suits. With five years of experience working on Savile Row tailoring suits for the peerage of England, Kit’s ready to stretch his wings. And with the encouragement of his grandfather and his best friend, Kit applies to the hottest reality TV show in fashion: Runway Rivals. During the auditions, he meets an devastatingly handsome and superbly talented designer named Barker Wareham. No stranger to fashion and design, Barker helps give Kit a makeover from a fusty suit tailor to a jaunty news boy. Thankful for the help, Kit lends a hand when Barker’s showstopper dress for the audition suffers a last minute tear. Sparks fly when they meet up afterwards for a spot of tea.
Barker has been through a hell of a lot for only being twenty-three, but there’s not a lot of sympathy for someone the world sees as a poor-little-rich-boy. If only the public realized that when a parent is arrested for fraud, it affects the whole family. Now, Barker is hoping his education in design will pay off—literally, if only to keep the debt collectors at bay. Too bad his making the cut as a contestant on Runway Rivals is contingent upon him acting like a jaded bad boy. Those strings that make it near impossible for Barker to have any hope of actually continuing getting to know Kit. Not to mention the format of the show has changed so that the contestants are under nearly constant surveillance for the sake of ratings, so coming clean about his act is also out of the question. And as the pressure mounts on Barker and Kit from all sides, the unthinkable happens.
Behind the Seams is a contemporary romance that takes place in London. The story is built around the premise of a fashion design reality TV show, but starts with a good introduction to Kit’s world working on Savile Row and a tantalizing glimpse at Barker, who dresses to the nines, but will nick an uneaten cookie off someone’s plate. Personally, I think the book up to and including everything before the fictionalized TV series starts shooting was charming and engrossing. I loved Kit, a harried tailor desperate to make good on the promise he made to his grandfather to be on that TV show. I loved how Kit took a few different personal tragedies in stride and tried to persevere. I loved getting to see him prepare for the big audition with his best friend and cheerleader over tea and lots of toast. And I especially loved how Wakefield gave Kit a fabulous quirk: he will immediately size up the people he meets. It makes a lot of sense with the men he comes across. Kit instantly registers their height and chest, waist, and inseam measurements.
The initial meeting between Kit and Barker was absolutely thrilling as well. I just itched to watch how their romance would develop and, obviously, what would happen when they hit the TV show gunning to be the sole winner. And there was even a glorious moment where I thought perhaps only ONE of them would make their audition and they wouldn’t even compete against one another. I loved that short-lived possibility, though it gets resolved fairly quickly in the book.
That’s about where the charm of the book starts to run thin. For starters, the TV elements of the book were very touch and go for me. On the plus side, scenes that took place where the actual designing and fashion construction happened felt genuine to me. There was a mix of camaraderie, competition, and conflict. Not so great were scenes that took place at the house that all the show contestants shared for as long as they weren’t eliminated. Mostly, these vignettes seemed to highlight how Barker ran hot and cold. Yet no one—not the people demanding he put on the act and not the people on the show with him actually being subjected to this act—called him out on it or demanded answers. As a result, the Barker/Kit dynamic takes on a very noticeable mercurial quality for most of the rest of the book. Honestly, this on-again-off-again thing felt like a bit much for me, mostly because it was hard to pin down who or what caused the “on” and who or what caused the “off.” Sometimes it was Barker’s bad-boy deal, sometimes it was their blinding physical attraction, sometimes it was good old self-doubt the other guy really wants you.
Next, the story structure felt lacking. At first, I was excited to see where Kit and Barker would go based on their initial introduction. However, once the TV show took over the plot, all the story’s momentum went into spinning the made-for-TV drama wheels rather than driving our two MCs into learning about one another. That hot-cold dynamic I mentioned lacked any of the richness I expected to come from working-class Kit and wealthy Barker falling in love; it was reduced to mere sexual tension. Apart from Barker’s bad-boy thing, the story was also busy building up the show hosts’ own agendas, giving the mentor character a mysterious background and weird “he’s going to get Kit and Barker together for real” scene that came to nothing, and a producer who had no quibbles about kicking contestants off at any stage in the program for violating a list of rules (which the reader doesn’t even know about until a rule has been broken). All this left zero room for Kit and Barker to unpack the baggage that they’re clearing dragging with them during that delicious pre-show chunk of the book. For me, that was a huge let down.
Overall, Behind the Seams features a tantalizing premise: fashion designers vying for the top spot on a competitive TV show. I was thoroughly engrossed with the opening chapters and instantly loved Kit and Barker pre-show. Once the drama of creating television entered the plot, however, I was very turned off. Despite the rich potential for sweet-and-earnest-but-out-to-prove-himself Kit and unexpectedly-enrolled-in-the-school-of-hard-knocks (blueblood edition) Barker to unpack their baggage about why and what fashion means to them, it all gets washed down the drain as Wakefield struggles to coax their story into a reality TV format.