ABOUT THE BOOK:
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.
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.
LISTEN TO AN EXCERPT:
The Last Collection: A Novel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin is a 2019 Berkley publication.
Interesting, highly absorbing look at the lives of two fashion icons
Lily Sutter, an art teacher and grieving widow, accepts her brother, Charlie’s invitation to visit him in Paris. Once there, meets Charlie’s girlfriend, Ania, a woman who is trapped in a loveless marriage. Through her, Lilly finds herself involved with both Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, two highly competitive fashion designers.
The two women couldn’t be more different. The rivalry between them is very intense, even violent on occasion. However, the encroaching war spotlights their political disagreements as both prepare themselves for undeniable change. Lily finds herself caught up in their intrigue, narrating the story from her first- person perspective.
The author did a great job at weaving the political climate into a story centered around headstrong women and the colorful world of fashion. The sadness and fear that permeates Paris is palpable, which gives the story an extra layer of tension and poignancy.
To be honest, I’ve never had much interest in learning about the lives of fashion industry icons. I know book have been written and movies have been made about Coco Chanel, and like many other women I keep a bottle of Chanel 5 on my dresser. Other than that, I knew very little about her, but had heard rumors that she was a Nazi sympathizer- but never pursued the rumor.
Schiaparelli? I’m afraid I was only vaguely aware of this designer, and I think I may not be totally alone in that. For me this novel was fascinating, and I quickly found myself absorbed in the tactics the two designers resorted to in order to one up the other one.
While the antics of the Chanel and Schiaparelli is interesting- I can’t say I felt much compassion or empathy for them, although I did find their characters enthralling. I did, however, emotionally invest myself in Charles, Ania, and Lily’s segments of the book, which I thought was the most compelling part of the story.
As to the historical accuracy goes, I feel the author has done her homework, but because this is fiction, many of the inner thoughts provided are most likely speculative. As with any historical fiction novel, I’m also sure that some liberties were taken. However, because I’m so unfamiliar with the topic at hand, I can’t speak to that.
What I do know is that I found this story engrossing and thought provoking and enjoyed the approach the author took, giving Lily a chance to embrace her artistic nature and maybe find a second chance at love in the aftermath of so much tragedy and turmoil.
This was a very nice change of pace from the usual world war two inspired historical fiction that has become so popular this year. Even if you are not interested in fashion, the history, politics, and Paris location will soon draw you into the story and keep you engaged and invested in the drama from beginning to end!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jeanne Mackin is the author of The Beautiful American and A Lady of Good Family. In addition to several other novels as well as short fiction and creative nonfiction, she is the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers and co-editor of The Norton Book of Love. She lives with her husband in upstate New York.