The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel. Jeanne Mackin. Penguin Publishing Group. June 2019; hb, 352 pp.; ISBN #: 9781101990544.
“Clothes…are moods, desires, the quality of our souls and our dreams made visible.” Of color – “If blue is the color of paradox, and red the color of life and death and the passion between beginnings and endings, then yellos is the color what is most precious…of sunshine, of gold, of sins’ halos…the color of eternity…” and so much more.
Lily Sutter, overwhelmed by grief for her dead husband, visits her brother Charlie in Paris, France in 1938. Charlie is in love with a married woman who want Lily to accompany them on their nights out in Parisian society. German officers are a constant presence with war looming in the minds and hearts of everyone; however, they party, dine, and spend money galore knowing that drastic changes lie in the near future. Lily will meet someone unexpected eventually but go through so many challenges and problems before that chance at love occurs.
Lily is invited by Elsa Schiaparelli to work for her as an artist who paints backgrounds for her designer shows each season. Elsa and Coco Chanel are constant and virulent opponents in the world of fashion design.
The two dominant themes running through every page of this delicious, sumptuous story are the beauty of fashionable clothing and designs and the unique personalities vying for superiority. Sometimes that competition comes close to murderous disaster. Anyone in love with color and clothes will fall in love with these sensual, rich descriptions of styles created to present a theme such as those of carnivals, seasons, astrology and so much more. Colors are blended with brilliant jewels and scarves, handbags, hats, etc. to enchant the eye and shape of a wearer. The reader wants to see more from these two astonishingly talented fashion designers. So competitive are the designers’ introductory shows that scouts watch for anyone taking notes or making drawings to put in the press ahead of other writers. Lily’s artistic talents add brilliance to each collection.
Elsa is a rabid hater of fascism and Coco uses the ever-present Germans for what she later knows may be dire circumstances needing protection and survival. Heartbreak, however, follows for so many. Elsa has an independent daughter, Gogo, who initially seems a spoiled brat but when necessary becomes Elsa’s greatest supporter and strength.
The Last Collection… is glorious historical fiction superbly presenting character and personalities that each reader will remember for a very long time!