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.
read an excerpt
read an excerpt
Of the three primary colors, blue is most suggestive of paradox: it is the color of longing and sadness, and yet it is also the color of joy and fulfillment. On a ship, at night, blue water merges into blue sky, so blue is the color of places with no borders, no edges.
If you throw salt into a fire, the flames will burn blue. Salt rubbed into a wound renews the pain, intensifies it. Seeing others kiss and embrace was salt in my wound, a blue flame burning the length of me.
Blue best represents the contradictions of the heart, the need to be loved and cherished at the same time that we wish for freedom.
Blue, the color of the Worth gown that the little girl Elsa Schiaparelli found in her Roman piazza attic, the color of the covers of the penny romances Coco Chanel found in the orphanage attic.
Blue is what made Elsa Schiaparelli’s daring color, shocking pink, so special: it is pink infused with blue, turning a demure blush into an electric surge. Schiaparelli turned girlish pink into the color of seduction by adding that touch of blue.
And always, there is the blue of the Paris sky on a June day.
Listen. I’m going to tell you a story about fashion, and politics. And, of course, about love. The three primaries, like the primary colors.
about Jeanne Mackin
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.
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.
more personal "stuff" about Jeanne Mackin
What is the sweetest thing someone has done for you?
Oh, I remember so many kindnesses but perhaps the sweetest was this one. When I was first traveling on my own, after college, I ended up in a youth hostel in Cairo, after months of wandering through France, Italy, Switzerland, and Germany with a backpack and very little money. I was frazzled, exhausted and young enough that I didn’t yet know I am intensely claustrophobic. So I get locked into the woman’s bathroom, a very small room with no windows, darkness so complete I couldn’t figure out to unlock the door. I pounded and screamed – and one of the hostel workers heard me, opened the door, gave me the kind of look you’d give a homeless puppy, picked me up – he was large, I was very small – carried me to a sofa, and brought me a cup of tea. No words, no questions, no judgement. And then he disappeared and left me to recover my pride and my calmness with that cup of tea.
How would you spend ten thousand bucks?
Some would have to go to a good charity. Like Elsa Schiaparelli, the designer who has a very important role in my novel, The Last Collection, I think we have an obligation to help others. Of course I never did what Elsa did as a child: throw her mother’s furs and evening gowns out the window for every passerby to take away! After giving some to charity, I’d rent an apartment for a season in Le Suquet, the old part of Cannes in southern France. I’d spend the days at the beach and touring the wonderful small museums dedicated to Picasso and Matisse and the evenings, under the stars, sitting at a café sipping a regional rose wine. Heaven. I’d visit Coco Chanel’s beautiful house in the south of France.
Where do you get your best ideas?
Three places are indispensable for a writer. The first, is her own bed. Dream at night, rest, but when you wake up pay attention to what your very first thought is. Often, it is a good idea or a solution to a problem. If I’m stuck in my writing, I use Collette’s solution, and the solution of many other writers: take a walk. The sheer act of moving often jolts the imagination into action. And the third place, and fourth and fifth and sixth, etc. is in someone else’s book. Read. Read, read, read. Novels are often responses to an earlier story or situation or an astounding fact or intriguing historical figure, and those things may not come to you if you aren’t reading.
What comes first, the plot or the characters?
It’s difficult for me to separate the two, but I would say character has to be the primary focus of a good story. I like to write about women who defy expectations and break boundaries, who face challenges and decisions that affect others as well as themselves. The plot is about what the challenges are; the decisions and choices are about the character.
What does your main character do that makes her special?
Lily Sutter, the young American woman who goes to Paris in 1938, is a widow still grieving the death of her husband. She is emotionally frozen, unable to fully participate in life because of her grief, and she must find her way back to the light, to the possibility of joy. It happens, not with a kiss like in a fairy tale, but when she meets the very extraordinary fashion designer, Elsa Schiaparelli who, herself, is so vibrant, so energetic, so full of that power that says “I can do anything!” Lily must learn to be more than a passive observer; she must fully engage. When she does, she comes back to life. And the possibility of joy, and of love, returns when she meets a young soldier.