#BookReview: The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel by Jeanne Mackin

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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....

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to note that I tackled Jeanne Mackin’s The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel as a buddy read with one of my favorite fellow book bloggers. Magdalena reviews books at A Bookaholic Swede and if you haven’t done so already, I really recommend checking her site out. She’s a prolific reader and has a great catalog of honest reviews spanning a variety of genres.

Having said that, I have to say I’m at odds with this book. I loved much of what Mackin chose to incorporate, but I often felt the various elements of the story existed in competition with rather than in compliment of one another.

The rivalry between Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli was wonderfully drawn and I was impressed with how intriguing it proved despite my decidedly limited understanding of high fashion. Long story short, it would be a mistake to classify this novel as a niche interest fiction especially when one considers the enormity of the politics that grow to characterize and influence this formidable competition.

Lily provided a wonder emotional note to the narrative, but I didn’t think her role as intrinsic as other readers. Her arc is compelling and allowed Mackin to explore lovely parallels between fine art and fashion design, but it felt tagged onto something that didn’t need her at its center.

A solid story with intriguing themes but not a compulsive page-turner. I loved the ideas and concepts of this piece but struggled to appreciate it as a single and comprehensive story.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 4, 2019

Men who persist in the belief that women are soft, sentimental creatures have never worked in the fashion industry.