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BookBrowse Reviews The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin

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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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jun 2019, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2020, 368 pages

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50 copies of The Last Collection went out to our First Impression readers. Of the 42 who submitted ratings, 38 gave the novel four or five stars, resulting in an overall score of 4.4.

What it's about:
The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin follows the lives of two internationally celebrated designers, Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, as they navigate the fashion world of Paris immediately before its invasion by the Germans during World War II. The rivalry between the two designers is intense and the narrative is rich with intrigue as the war edges ever closer to Paris. Lily Sutter, a young American artist living in Paris, is the narrator of the story, and acts as the thread that binds these women together. The novel's a perfect glimpse into the high-class world of society and fashion in interwar Paris (Nancy L).

Our readers considered it first-rate historical fiction:

The historical backdrop makes this book not only entertaining but a learning experience (Barbara B); it presents a new perspective on a much-discussed era (Gail L). I was fascinated by the personalities of Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli and the intricacies of haute couture and politics in Paris just before and during WWII, but I was even more intrigued by the daily life of various classes of people (upper class, middle class, merchants, professionals, wage workers, spies, artists, military, etc.) during that same period. Even the Ritz Hotel and the various cafes became a part of the story (Becky H). Mackin clearly has a well-studied understanding of both designers and the differences in their art and philosophies (Maureen R).

Most commented on the author's use of color to highlight her themes:

This jewel of a story uses color to describe feelings and events during the time of fascination and fear in Paris prior to Hitler. The author writes, "If blue is the color of paradox, and red the color of life and death and the passion between the beginnings and endings, then yellow is the color of what is most precious…and is the color of fear" (Barbara G). I really enjoyed the way the author used color throughout the book, dividing it into three separate parts with the introduction to each relating it to a primary color (Part One is Blue, Part Two is Red and Part Three is Yellow). The colorful descriptions at the beginning of each section relate to the characters and to the world in which they are living (Dorinne D).

Many also mentioned Mackin's writing style:
It is rare for me to begin a book and find that the rich language keeps me intrigued from beginning to end but Jeanne Mackin has accomplished this in The Last Collection. Her beautiful use of language transported me to Paris, introduced me to the world of Parisian high fashion, and above all highlighted two remarkable women, Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli (Barbara K). The tension, fear, and denial of a possible war were particularly well-described. How could anything bad happen to Paris? "It was mad, this ignoring of reality just as reality was about to turn horrific." The author did a good job of presenting all of this, and I felt like I was there (Chris W).

Some found fault with The Last Collection:
While the writing is evocative and shows originality, it is also a bit uneven and the characters seem somewhat flat (Connie L). Schiaparelli and Chanel came across as interesting and complicated women, but Lily (the narrator) wasn't as appealing; she seemed superficial and for the most part not that interesting. It was hard for me to believe she would have come to be so closely involved with both of these fashion icons in such a short period of time (Donna W). I think colors were actually overused in the author's descriptions of every aspect of Lily's life (Chris W); she seemed to need a color before every noun - annoying and heavy handed. The fictional love stories seemed contrived and, in some cases, unbelievable (Joan P).

But most thought it was a gem:
The story is captivating from start to finish (Liz D). I did not put it down once I started it ... even while on vacation (Lil C). The story kept me interested all the way through, and made me stay up very late to see how it all turned out. Definitely a must read (Joan W). Love, hate, fear, loyalty make this artfully written book a real page turner (Barbara G). This is one I will enthusiastically recommend. Bravo Jeanne! (Diane T)

The Last Collection is recommended for a broad audience:

This book would appeal to readers interested in women's roles during WWII and the history of high fashion (Eileen F). It would be a good novel for historical fiction fans (Liz D). I certainly think book clubs would find a lot to talk about (Chris W).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in July 2019, and has been updated for the August 2020 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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