The Last Collection: A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel

Written by Jeanne Mackin
Review by Julia C. Fischer

In 1938 Paris, a city on the brink of war, Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli wage their own battle in the atelier and on the runway. Both women are designers, famous for their clothes and their rivalry, and they vie for the coveted top spot in the fashion industry. Into this competition walks Lily Sutter, a young widowed American artist. After her husband’s death in England, Lily retreats to Paris to be with her brother, Charlie. During this visit, Charlie offers to buy her a Chanel dress, but Lily fatefully asks for Schiaparelli instead. Lily begins to work for Schiaparelli, painting murals and backdrops for the designer. But in doing so, Lily also becomes embroiled in the fierce rivalry between Schiaparelli and Chanel. In the midst of this, Lily befriends her brother’s tragic girlfriend, Ania, a relationship that will affect the rest of her life, and all of this unfolds with World War II and the Nazi Occupation of Paris looming in the background.

In The Last Collection, Jeanne Mackin offers a glimpse into the rarefied world of fashion design in pre-World War II Paris and brings two of its most influential designers to life. Mackin delves into this complicated dynamic by inserting a fictional character into the mix, and Lily acts as an intermediary between the two designers. Lily’s story works well with the real characters: all three are independent women, forging their own way in the middle of the 20th century. The novel is populated throughout with sleek, modern Chanel dresses and the more whimsical Schiaparelli gowns, and the reader will be caught up with the setting, fashions, and story. This book is perfect for fashion aficionados and pairs well with C.W. Gortner’ s Mademoiselle Chanel or Jennifer Robson’s The Gown.