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

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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.

 

I won this ARC through a Goodreads giveaway! My first win! Thank you to Goodreads and Berkley Pub.

I was very interested in this novel because not only do I love Historical Fiction but I also love fashion. I was surprised to learn by reading other reviews – and even from my own sister – that they never heard of Elsa Schiaparelli. I assume it is because the Chanel brand still exists and Schiaparelli went out of business.

Although I knew about the lasting fashion influences and the signature looks of Schiaparelli and Chanel, I was not familiar with their political beliefs nor what they did and were accused of before and during World War II. Jeanne Mackin really did her research well and I learned a lot about both iconic designers.

(Side note: I learned that Schiaparelli’s daughter had polio, and her granddaughter, Berry, married Tony Perkins and she died in the 9/11 attacks. Berry was on one of the planes that went into the World Trade center. I was shocked.)

The novel is a great blend of historical and fictional elements as told by the fictional character of Lily. I saw some reviews mention that they wished it was just from the point of view of Schiaparelli and Chanel, and that Lily was a dull and unnecessary narrator. I disagree. Through Lily get to know these influential designers, but it is not just about their rivalry. We also get to see the beautiful city of Paris pre-WWII and the people who live there and then see the sad, sometimes bitter-sweet, aftermath of WWII.

My one critique for not giving the novel a perfect score is that sometimes, not overwhelmingly so, but sometimes it did get a little bit repetitive.

There were a few quotes I really liked. I know they say not to quote an ARC and check it against the final publication, but I am not doing that. Do it yourself 😉

This one made me laugh. Page 134: Men who persist in the belief that women are soft, sentimental creatures have never worked in the fashion industry.
4 out of 5 Couture Gowns

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