Title: The Last Collection
Author: Jeanne Mackin
Genre: Historical Romance
BLURB: 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 vivid exploration of fashion at the cusp of WWII, The Last Collection is exquisitely written, focusing around the three primary colors: blue, red, and yellow. I was captivated from the first page, and completely drawn in to Lily’s unusual experiences with Schiap and Coco.
This book is not rushed, exploring the theme beautifully, each color evolving as Lily does. Some other reviews say the story is unbelievable, but that’s why it’s fiction based around a historical context. The Last Collection is a prime example of how historical fiction should be written, with care. The slow burn and an amazing story that is definitely worth the read.
Interview with the Author:
If you could have one paranormal ability, what would it be?
Time travel, definitely! I love historical fiction because it has that quality of transportation, taking us to a different time and place. I’d love to have dinner with Ben Franklin (he was quite the ladies’ man), talk with Eleanor of Aquitaine about courtly love, be there on the opening night of The Cotton Club in Harlem, hear Jenny Lind sing. When I was writing The Last Collection, sitting down at my desk was like fastening my seat belt and going to Paris of the 1930’s.
What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to learn about you?
I study belly dancing. I was really active as a child and need to move. A lot. But after a certain age the knees don’t enjoy ballet classes as much as they used to, right? One day I needed to do something light-hearted and even a little silly and decided to try belly dancing. And I fell in love with it. The music is wonderful, there’s a wide variety of styles (I prefer Turkish) and the chink-chink of the sequined hip scarves is absolutely enthralling. It’s an art form by women, for women.
When writing descriptions of your heroine, what feature do you start with?
Psychologically, I start with her current frame of mind. Is she happy? Anxious? Something must happen immediately to challenge that frame of mind. A letter arrives. A phone rings. A train pulls out of a station. And the story begins. Physically, I first imagine the eyes. Eyes say so much, their color, the shape, if they look rested or not.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I hate having to develop outlines. Usually, I’ll start with a single paragraph with a beginning and ending date for the story line (which usually changes several times during the drafting of the book) and a few sentences about the situation of the protagonist, who the antagonist is, the main action…and go from there. The first page of every novel is always one of the most exciting moments of my life, because I never know what exactly is going to show up. I love being surprised.
Did you learn anything from this book? If so, what?
Germans prisoners of war were housed in this country, after the English camps got too full. And as it turned out, the first home my mother and father had after the war was in a camp built for German prisoners. It had been repurposed as an apartment complex. It was an awful place and my mother was miserable, but there were few other housing options at the time. What also surprised me during the research was finding out how many of the rich and powerful, in England, France and the United States as well, were admirers of Hitler. Like many wars, World War II was about class and wealth as well as ideology. I think it’s important to know, and to remember, that borders were quite blurred in the 1930’s and 1940’s; it wasn’t as clear as we may think. And we need to remember that once we give people in power permission to imprison and eradicate one group of people, we give them permission to do that to everybody. Justice and compassion must rule.
About the Author:
Jeanne Mackin’s latest novel, The Last Collection, A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel takes the reader to Paris, just before world war II, and the intense, dangerous rivalry between the two queens of fashion. Her previous novels include A Lady of Good Family, the award winning The Beautiful American, The Sweet By and By, Dreams of Empire, The Queen’s War, and The Frenchwoman.
Her historical fictions explore the lives of strong women who change their worlds…because we know the world always needs a lot of change! She has worked all the traditional ‘writers’ jobs’ from waitressing to hotel maid, anything that would leave her a few hours each morning for writing. Most recently, she taught creative writing at the graduate level. She has traveled widely, in Europe and the Middle East and can think of no happier moment than sitting in a Paris café, drinking coffee or a Pernod, and simply watching, while scribbling in a notebook.
Penguin Random House – https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/531859/the-last-collection-by-jeanne-mackin/