Summary and book reviews of The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin

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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  • Published:
    Jun 2019, 352 pages

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Book Summary

An American woman becomes entangled in the intense rivalry between iconic fashion designers Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli in this vivid novel from the acclaimed author of The Beautiful American.

Paris, 1938. Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli ("Schiap") 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. 

Lily Cooper, a recently widowed American teacher, travels to Paris to visit her brother, Charlie, and try to move on from the loss of her husband. On her first day there, Charlie insists on buying her a couture dress for her birthday--a Chanel. Lily reluctantly agrees but wants a Schiaparelli, not a Chanel. Charlie's girlfriend, Ania, one of the most beautiful and prominent women in Paris, begins wearing Schiap's designs as well, and soon much of Paris is following in her footsteps.

Schiap takes an interest in Lily and offers the budding artist a job at her shop. Suddenly, Lily finds herself increasingly involved with Schiap and her personal war with Chanel. And as their fierce competition reaches new and dangerous heights, another war is looming on their doorstep and getting closer every day...

Part 1

Blue

Of the three primary colors, blue is most suggestive of paradox: it is the color of longing and sadness, and yet it is also the color of joy and fulfillment. On a ship, at night, blue water merges into blue sky, so blue is the color of places with no borders, no edges.

If you throw salt into a fire, the flames will burn blue. Salt rubbed into a wound renews the pain, intensifies it. Seeing others kiss and embrace was salt in my wound, a blue flame burning the length of me.

Blue best represents the contradictions of the heart, the need to be loved and cherished at the same time that we wish for freedom.

Blue, the color of the Worth gown that the little girl Elsa Schiaparelli found in her Roman piazza attic, the color of the covers of the penny romances Coco Chanel found in the orphanage attic.

Blue is what made Elsa Schiaparelli's daring color, shocking pink, so special: it is pink infused with blue, turning a demure blush into an electric surge. Schiaparelli turned ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. At the heart of this novel is this question: how do we continue to live fulfilling private lives in a society that is doing its best to divide us, politically and culturally? Pre–World War II Paris was full of dichotomies, the most obvious being the choice between communism and fascism. What other divisions do you see in this story? Do you see parallels to today?
  2. When Lily fell in love with Otto, she realized that she was, in fact, falling in love with a man who would be fighting against her own country, perhaps even her own brother. How did she make her peace with this terrible choice?
  3. Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli disagreed on what patriotism required of them during the German occupation of Paris. Chanel decided to close ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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)   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews

She Reads
An in-depth tale of an enchanting, dangerous and fascinating time period in Paris. Mackin's attention to detail and lyrical prose bring Chanel and Schiaparelli to life in a gorgeous and riveting manner.

Library Journal
The designers' obsession with besting each other makes for fun, gossipy reading, while the tensions of prewar Paris and Lily's attempts to ease her grief through her art lend the narrative satisfying emotional depth.

Author Blurb Renee Rosen, author of Park Avenue Summer
As Hitler and the Nazis gather strength and the world braces for war, Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel, whose politics differ as much as their couture, wage a war of their own….Jeanne Mackin takes the reader on an enthralling journey, complete with such vivid descriptions of the clothing, you can practically see them on the page. Beautifully rendered and meticulously researched, The Last Collection is a must read.

Author Blurb Chanel Cleeton, USA Today bestselling author of Next Year in Havana
A smart, witty, heartfelt, and riveting look at the infamous rivalry between Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli set against a gripping period in history. Mackin's powerful novel brings these characters to life and transports the reader, juxtaposing both the gaiety and tension of Paris on the brink of war. As elegant and captivating as the designs depicted in the novel, The Last Collection is the perfect read for both historical fiction lovers and fashion aficionados. Simply stunning.

Author Blurb Shelley Noble, New York Times bestselling author of Lighthouse Beach
A wonderful story of two intensely creative women, their vibrant joie de vivre, and backbiting competition played out against the increasingly ominous threat of the Nazi invasion of Paris.

Author Blurb Stephanie Marie Thornton, author of American Princess
A vibrant portrait of two designers cut from very different cloth, The Last Collection pits bold Coco Chanel and colorful Elsa Schiaparelli against each other in a fiery feud even as the ominous clouds of World War II darken the horizon. A captivating read!

Reader Reviews

Larri V. (Pittston, PA)

Paris Before the War
I really liked this book both fact and fiction were mixed. I always enjoy descriptions of Paris – landmarks and the neighborhoods alike. The dynamics and jealousies of the different personalities were very lifelike. The Last Collection was both ...   Read More

Laurie F. (Brookline, MA)

Fashion Rivalry at its Best
Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli were so much alike - strong, creative, forward thinking, politically active, business women. Since opposites attract, their relationship on the high-end streets of Paris was tumultuous. The competition wasn't only as...   Read More

Wanda T. (The Villages, FL)

The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin
With war looming over Paris, a young widow visiting her brother finds herself in the middle of the infamous rivalry between Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli. The author does a wonderful job of weaving this rivalry with 2 love stories, and the role ...   Read More

Mary Lou F. (Naples, FL)

Fashion At All Cost
This book tells the rivalry between two top designers - Schiaparelli and Chanel during World War II and how each survived in her own way. Blended into the story is the horror of war. Very good book.

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Beyond the Book

Wartime Restrictions on Fashion

rationbook

Jeanne Mackin's novel, The Last Collection, brings to life the vibrant fashion scene in Paris on the eve of World War II. Once set in motion the war had a profound influence on women's clothing across the globe. Parisian fashion was not especially affected, as the novel makes clear, but changes would reach far beyond the French capital. In Britain and the United States, two of France's most prominent allies, the war also would dramatically alter women's fashion.

In both countries, the raw materials used to manufacture many everyday goods were dedicated to the war effort; wool, for example, was needed for uniforms and blankets, and was therefore in short supply to the general population. In 1941 Britain instituted clothing rations to ...

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