Jeanne Mackin comes to the blog today with a story of the Parisian Fashion scene and the well-documented machinations for supremacy between the houses of Chanel and Schiaparelli as they vie for the attentions and approval of one woman in
The Last Collection
Essentially a story told by Lily Sutter, recently widowed American Artist, now teaching in a school for girls and the tangled connections she finds when meeting her younger brother in Paris just as Hitler is starting his rise to prominence. But overarching the story of the designers and their blood feud (yes, it got that bad) is the story of Lily and her witnessing the events, failings, struggles and dangers that will face them all as Hitler rises to power. Her brother Charlie, handsome, medical student, charming, and the last family Lily has left has fallen in love with a married woman in Paris – a woman who holds secrets and several intriguing connections for the time. But, her biggest input at the start is the introduction to the ateliers she can provide, particularly to that of Elsa Schiaparelli.
Instantly, Lily is drawn into the feud between Schiap and Chanel – while we all know the Chanel lines and symbols, Schiaparelli’s designs were filled with messages and humor, whimsical while still being relevant and beautiful: clothes that drew inspiration from the politics of the day and Schiap’s own particular history: raised in wealth in Italy, access to the best schooling and art, always feeling secure. This allowed her freedoms with color, a bit of a ‘thumb your nose’ at the traditional and more ‘staid’ color combinations of Chanel and other designers of the day. Through it all, Lily, trying to reignite her own artistic abilities and her own fascinations with color is drawn into friendships and schemes that involve the two.
Ultimately, the threat of Nazi Germany does prove to be too much for safety, with Charlie off to fight in the war after his assignation with Ania (married, wealthy, former mistress of a propaganda officer for the Nazis) and her task to keep Schiaparelli’s daughter Marie (also known as Gogo) safe from harm, she returns to the US, to start again. Different, changed yet ultimately more herself than she’d been since the loss of her husband.
This story winds through moments as if a mystery is there to be sorted, yet there is no doubt in the readers mind that with the omnipresent threat from the German occupation will cause great hardships, dangers and challenges, and not everyone will emerge unscathed or untouched. Insets of Paris, pre-and post-war, the fashion industry heyday in the late 1930’s when compared to post-war, the collaboration accusations and insinuations and the fates of all are present and while drawn from real life, the weight of these events, the power of constantly being on your guard and watching every move, word and action are brought home in very palpable ways in this book. I knew Schiaparelli from spending time in Paris and my Uncle’s discussion of the city and the glory pre-war, but these glimpses into two actual lives (Chanel and Schiaparelli) through the eyes of an outsider granted access was wonderfully gripping and enlightening.
Title: The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel
Author: Jeanne Mackin
Genre: Biographic / autobiographic, France, Friendship, Historical Fiction, Pre World War II, Setting: France, World War II
Published by: Berkley
Published on: 25 June, 2019
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Audio Length: 11 Hours: 58 minutes
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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.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.