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Excerpt from The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Last Collection

A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel

by Jeanne Mackin

The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin X
The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2019, 352 pages
    Aug 11, 2020, 368 pages


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Even so, why did Schiap "need" to see me? Why not just "want" or even demand, as she was known to do? There had usually been a bit of drama in her messages, a bit of the self-importance and self-absorption often found in the personalities of the very driven, the very successful. She'd earned that drama, the very famous, some would say infamous, Elsa Schiaparelli, designer of the most beautiful, and sometimes most bizarre, women's clothing ever worn.

"Bad news?" The assistant put down the wooden frame she was carrying.

"No. I don't know what it's about," I said, folding up the telegram and putting it in my pocket. "Just from an old friend. In Paris."

She gave an exaggerated sigh of relief. Mr. Rosenberg's gallery employee was a caring person, likely to give you a hug for no reason, to hold your hand if she suspected you'd had bad news. I liked that quality in her, and I liked how her hands, pale and slender, reminded me of Ania.

"Paris. I'd love to go there some day. You've been, haven't you?"

"Yes. I've been." Oh, how I had been. "We're just about done. Can we call it quits for today?" I needed to think about that telegram, to decide.

"But the show has to be hung by Monday." She looked more worried than ever. It was my first show in the famous Rosenberg gallery, and not to be taken lightly. I had been in several group exhibits, and even sold some paintings, but if this show was well received ... well. I'd be successfully on my way.

Liz looked at the telegram I was still holding. "Okay," she agreed.

"We can finish tomorrow. Go. Go home." And that was what Schiap had said to me once, years ago. Life was breaking into repetitive refrains, pulling me back.

The echo of her words didn't startle me, though. It was the echoed action of opening a telegram and reading those words that had. Come to Paris. Need to see you. Exactly what my brother, Charlie, had written sixteen years ago.

Of course I would go. Impossible not to, in both cases. As Liz began to clean up, I found a scrap of paper and began the list-making needed for any complicated journey made during a busy time. I'd stay for my opening reception and then I'd take an airplane to Paris. An airplane! Before the war, the ocean had been busy with steamers to-ing and fro-ing; now, people traveled by air. It was cheaper. It was faster. Schiap had been one of the first to fly transatlantic, had loved the possibility of being in Paris for breakfast on Monday and New York for breakfast on Tuesday.

Liz folded the stepladder and gave me another concerned look over her spectacles, always worn low on her nose, the way Coco Chanel wore hers when she thought no one was looking. Outside the gallery window, Madison Avenue throbbed with life. New York had recovered from the war. The shelves in the neighborhood delis were full; the window displays at Bonwit Teller, Macy's, Henri Bendel were opulent. The city was stronger than ever, like a flu patient who wakes up to find himself healthier for having spent a few days in bed.

The children out walking with their mothers or nannies that day were well-fed, rosy-cheeked in their winter hats and mittens; the women were dressed in their new postwar coats and dresses, mostly Dior and Dior knockoffs; the New Look, the yards of fabric in the full skirts speaking of wealth and prosperity, the pinched-in waists making women ultrafeminine once again.

The Madison Avenue women looked so gay in their new clothes, the fashions meant to restore the world to glory, or at least to normalcy. Schiap had taught me that. Clothes aren't just clothes. They are moods, desires, the quality of our souls and our dreams made visible. The female shape morphs into the dreams and hopes of a generation. Clothes are alchemy, the philosopher's stone, my friend Schiap would have said. The second skin, the chosen skin, the transforming art we wear on our backs.

Excerpted from The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin. Copyright © 2019 by Jeanne Mackin. Excerpted by permission of Berkley Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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