More competently informed period bubbly by the author of The Sugar Pavilion (1994) and umpteen others. Laker here devotes as much appreciative enthusiasm to the vagaries of fashion's haute couture--from the S-shaped clingers of the Edwardian era to the emerging postWW I flapper sheaths--as she did to high-style comfits in Sugar Pavilion. Romance, though, takes first place as a young woman's career in Paris and Venice is enveloped by the love of a man. Young Juliette Cladel, fresh from a convent school, arrives in Paris on a ``sun-dappled'' April day to seek independence and a career--this after refusing the marriage prospect offered by her fierce, successful sister, Denise, founder of the fine fashion house Maison Landelle. Purring along in a Rolls in Paris that very same day is Russian aristocrat Nikolai Karasvin. Across a crowded hotel lobby, their eyes lock in ``deep recognition.'' While romance discreetly simmers, Nikolai pursues his sculpting, and Juliette becomes a Maison Landelle trainee. She also tries her wings as a designer; her first clandestine effort a ``Delphos gown'' based on the miraculous costume work of the renown Mariano Fortuny. Through the years the Delphos gown--simple, sensual, ``fine enough to pull through a wedding ring''--will become a talisman for Juliette, a reminder of her passionate affair with Nikolai, who returns her love but must go home to Russia and an arranged marriage. Juliette, meanwhile, gives birth to Nikolai's child and, for the baby's sake, marries a good if traditional Venetian merchant named Marco. War erupts; there are more children; Juliette perfects her skills in clothing and textile design; and the Russian Revolution threatens. But Laker handily solves the problem of reuniting lovers without firing a shot. Conversation here, as in Laker's others, is a shade stiff, but her vision of beautiful clothes is admirably researched and pastry- sweet.