The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel


The Last Collection
 by Jeanne Mackin released in June in the Historical Romance genre.

Paris, 1938. Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli are fighting for recognition as the most successful and influential fashion designer in France, and their rivalry is already legendary. They oppose each other at every turn, in both their politics and their designs: Chanel’s are classic, elegant, and practical; Schiaparelli’s bold, experimental, and surreal.

When Lily Sutter, a recently widowed young American teacher, visits her brother, Charlie, in Paris, he insists on buying her a couture dress—a Chanel. Lily, however, prefers a Schiaparelli. Charlie’s beautiful and socially prominent girlfriend soon begins wearing Schiaparelli’s designs as well, and much of Paris follows in her footsteps.

Schiaparelli offers budding artist Lily a job at her store, and Lily finds herself increasingly involved with Schiaparelli and Chanel’s personal war. Their fierce competition reaches new and dangerous heights as the Nazis and the looming threat of World War II bear down on Paris.

An American woman becomes entangled in the intense rivalry between iconic fashion designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli in this captivating novel from the acclaimed author of The Beautiful American.

Penguin Random House – https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/531859/the-last-collection-by-jeanne-mackin/

This book was received from the Author, and Publisher, in exchange for an honest review. Opinions and thoughts expressed in this review are completely my own.

This is a non spoiler review, because you as reader need to read this book. Also, I feel sometimes I have in the past gave away to much of the plot line. This has diminished the pleasure for would be readers

-To give away further plot would be to lessen the pleasure for readers

Set to the turbulent Paris as tensions builds as Germany and Hitler were on the move towards France.  It was a dangerous time in history. 

The novel follows Lily Sutter, an American teacher who travels to Paris to visit her brother. With her discerning eye for fashion, and her details for color, she inspires to become an artist. An invitation from her brother puts her on a path that will change her future. She renews a friendship with Schiap, who hires her to paint backdrops and vibrant window displays. That is only to cause more feed to the fire with just steps away are Chanel’s boutique and the Hotel Ritz.

Wonderful rich atmospheric imagery brings the historical fiction to life. Lily is a great heroine and I loved her unwavering passion for art. The two iconic fashion designers leap of the pages.

This was an enjoyable reading experience.

At the ball that night there were people whose faces I recognized, a blur of memory from my first evening in Paris at the Ritz, and many more people whom I didn’t recognize at all, men with military posture, women covered with jewels, men in dresses, women in tuxedos, ingénues in pastel gowns. And Charlie and Ania, beautiful Charlie and Ania, so immersed in each other’s gaze they could have been alone rather than dancing through crowded rooms.

…Coco arrived around eleven, in a diaphanous green gown that looked like fern fronds moving in a breeze when she moved.  It was Coco, blending into nature, but still Coco.

Schiap arrived soon after, dressed, as she had promised, as a tree, covered in a rough brown cloth that looked like tree bark, with branches extending from her arms and the crown of her head. Several cloth and feather birds perched on her shoulders. Whimsical, humorous, always-make-it-look easy Schiap.  Schiap got the louder applause when she made her entrance, and I saw Coco’s smile fade.

Who knew what was going through Coco’s mid that evening? Perhaps she had dreamed the night before of the orphanage, the father who had abandoned her and the mother who had died.

Perhaps she wasn’t thinking at all but only reacting, the way dry wood reacts when a match is put to it.

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Jeanne Mackin ‘s latest novel, The Last Collection, A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel takes the reader to Paris, just before world war II, and the intense, dangerous rivalry between the two queens of fashion. Her previous novels include A Lady of Good Family, the award winning The Beautiful American, The Sweet By and By, Dreams of Empire, The Queen’s War, and The Frenchwoman.

Her historical fictions explore the lives of strong women who change their worlds…because we know the world always needs a lot of change! She has worked all the traditional ‘writers’ jobs’ from waitressing to hotel maid, anything that would leave her a few hours each morning for writing. Most recently, she taught creative writing at the graduate level.  She has traveled widely, in Europe and the Middle East and can think of no happier moment than sitting in a Paris café, drinking coffee or a Pernod, and simply watching, while scribbling in a notebook.

A Tale of Two Dresses

by Jeanne Mackin

Use your mind’s eye, as I describe two dresses to you. No visual aids here.  Just you and your sense of body and that layer we put over it that we call clothing.

The first dress is white, a straight column that ends just below the knees with a subdued swirl of bias panels.  It’s sleeveless and the neck is a modest scoop. The waist is dropped to the hips and accented with a slim fabric tie. “Simplicity, says Coco Chanel, “is the keynote of true elegance.”

The second dress is also white, with a slightly squared neckline, a fuller skirt, large cummerbund just below the bust line to accent it. It is hand painted with a large reddish-pink lobster dangling down the front of it, and if the wearer of the dress in this photograph gets that the lobster is a phallic pun, Wallis Simpson doesn’t give it away in her expression. “Ninety percent of women are afraid of being conspicuous,” says Elsa Schiaparelli. “They should dare to be different.”

The Last Collection is a story of two dresses, and the two very different designers behind the dresses, women whose intense and dangerous rivalry was the stuff of legend even in their own time, that very fraught time of Paris just before World War II.

Because Elsa Schiaparelli’s upper class Roman family already had a very beautiful daughter, this second child was hoped and meant to be a boy, someone to carry on the family name.  Trevor Noah titled his autobiography “Born a Crime.”  Elsa could have titled hers “Born a disappointment.” Her parents were so uninterested in the second daughter that when they got to the font for her baptism, they hadn’t even bothered to think of a name.  Elsa, whispered her German nanny. Elsa it was. Or so Elsa Schiaparelli writes in her autobiography, Shocking Life.

The irony, of course, is that this second, supposedly unwanted daughter, grew into such a force of nature and ambition that she did indeed preserve the family name of Schiaparelli. 

She invented the themed fashion show, culottes and split skirts, the boutique concept; she added color and playfulness to fashion and was, for a brief time, even more famous than Coco Chanel. Elsa Schiaparelli dressed everyone who was anyone: Mae West, Greta Garbo, Wallis Simpson. She helped turn unknowns into stars: Katherine Hepburn believed that being dressed by Schiaparelli was the making of her career.  Schiaparelli ruled Paris fashion, which was to rule fashion worldwide.

Her rival, Coco Chanel, was an orphan with roots in the French peasantry. A few years older than Elsa, she was born in 1883 in a poorhouse in southern France, one of five children of peasants, homeless, and soon motherless when her mother died of tuberculosis.  The father, an itinerant peddler with little family feeling, hired out his sons to farmers; the three daughters, including Gabrielle Chanel, he dropped off at an orphanage.  Coco later told people that he had promised to come back for her as soon as he could. Most people assume that was one of Coco’s  inventions.  He never reappeared but I’ve always hoped that at some point before he died he learned what a rich and famous woman his daughter had become and what a louse he had been.

Coco made clothes that were, above all else, practical: the little black dress, the pantsuit, inexpensive costume jewelry. She valued elegance over humor, practicality over whimsy.

So which dress would you choose?

Website: www.JeanneMackin.com

FB: www.Facebook.com/JeanneMackinauthor

Twitter: www.Twitter.com/JeanneMackin1

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