The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin

Told through the experiences of Lilly, a young American artist in Paris, this is a story of the great designers Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel.

Arriving in Paris to act as an unsuspecting chaperone to her brother and his socialite girlfriend, Lilly finds herself introduced to – and striking unlikely friendships with – both ‘Schiap’ and Coco. The relationships between these women grow and ebb as war grows closer. Few relationships in Paris were what they seemed in those days.

The story follows the three women as they navigate the last days before Nazis march into Paris, how they spend the war years, and what becomes of them after.

Opposites in almost every way, from childhoods to design aesthetics to politics, Chanel and Schiaparelli ruled the fashion world. Different as they may have been, their success was very isolating, leading them both to similar lifestyles of loneliness. Both find a friend and confidant in Lilly. Much of their stories are told through their casual conversation and confessions to her.

Most folks have at least heard of Coco Chanel, but this story does a wonderful job of shining a light on her one and only real competition in those pre war years, Elsa Schiaparelli. Be sure to read the Author’s Notes at the end of the book. Although most of us have either never heard of Elsa Schiaparelli or know of her only as Coco Chanel’s nemesis, you will be surprised to read a short list of clothing styles we now take for granted that are direct result of Schiaparelli design.

I have always been a bit fascinated by Coco, reading both historical fiction and nonfiction about her life. Schiaparelli’s name is almost always mentioned, but this is the first story I’ve read that gave insight into her person.

If you are interested in Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, or just want to read a book full of fashion and color – this is for you!

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