Book Title and Author: The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin
Publication Date and Publisher: June 25, 2019 by Berkley Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 352 pages
Buy on Amazon.com
Date Read: June 13, 2019 (hard copy from the publisher)
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.
Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Jeanne Mackin’s The Last Collection. I’m so excited to bring you my review of this wonderful novel! Thank you so much, Berkley Publishing for inviting me to join the blog tour!
I’ve always been a lover of fashion, was obsessed with fashion designers and design at one point in my life thanks to my artist mother who scattered our home with fashion magazines because she, just like Elsa Schiaparelli, always said couture and high fashion is every much an art form as paintings or drawings. Reading The Last Collection was just sublime as I loved reading more about icons Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, two women who couldn’t be more different if they tried, and their well-known rivalry.
Jeanne Mackin has written an exquisite novel set amidst the backdrop of the beginning of WWII in Paris, 1938, where fashion houses were dominated by two women: Chanel and Schiaparelli. Coco was known for her very tailored looks, lean proportions, black and white colors, tweeds, feminized men’s looks―class, elegance, and simplicity. Schiap, on the other hand, was all about artistic freedom, creativity, and innovation―bold colors, designs, and materials. Dressing the echelon of society and being recognized as the best drove their rivalry.
Becoming entwined with both women and their rivalry is the story’s main protagonist, Lily Sutter, the widowed American teacher/artist living in France whose first person POV immediately draws you into the story, the events-fictional and non-fictional, the characters, and setting. Lily’s lost all ability to paint after her husband’s death and her world is dull and gray. Yet once she is caught up in the world of Paris, befriends Ania, becomes close to Schiap and Coco (as close as anyone can), she begins a journey of self-discovery that allows her to see the world in color again and also begin to paint.
I felt the writing was magical as Mackin blends fact with fiction to create this fascinating and tense novel. Schiap and Coco are major parts of the narrative, including facts like the much talked about incident when Coco accidentally/on purpose caused Schiap’s costume to catch fire while they were dancing, Coco’s affair with Nazi officer Von Dincklage, Schiap’s socialism, and more. But there’s more to this story with fictional characters like Lily, Ania, Lily’s brother Charlie, and Otto. As their stories overlap the iconic women, Mackin writes an absorbing and emotional novel that seems so realistic that I almost Googled Lily!
The Last Collection is a fascinating, highly detailed novel that gives great insight into the fashion houses of the 1930s, the wonderful creativity of Chanel and Schiaparelli, descriptions of their clothing and accessory designs and of course, the impact of WWII on both women, fashion, the city of Paris, and the wonderful character of Lily. Highly recommended for fashion lovers and history lovers.
**Thank you Berkley Publishing for the gifted copy. All opinions are my own.**
About the Author: Jeanne Mackin
Jeanne Mackin is the author of acclaimed novels about ground-breaking, fascinating women whose lives intertwine with the political and cultural events of their times. Her novels have ranged from the salons of pre-revolutionary France to the cafes and conspiracies of France between the world wars. Her forthcoming novel, The Last Collection, based on the intense rivalry between Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, takes the reader into a world of Parisian haute couture and dangerous politics just before World War II. She has also won awards for journalism and taught writing. She lives with her husband in the Finger Lakes area of New York State.