The Resistance and What We Wore by Jeanne Mackin – Guest Blog and Giveaway

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The Resistance and What We Wore

When I began writing The Last Collection – A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel, I immediately began to see connections between clothes and politics. Clothing is our secret self – made visible. What we wear expresses so much about ourselves, and how we fit into the world.

Pink pussy hats may be one of the most recent example of clothing worn as political statement, but they are only the latest in a long line of fashion meant to express resistance and rebellion. Consider the always-inventive women of Paris who, during the German occupation of their city during World War II, used fashion to mock and oppose the invaders. Some French Gentile girls made extra-large yellow stars and wore them to make fun of the German-ordered anti-Semitic badge and in support of their Jewish friends. (Some of them went to prison for this.) Married women wore maternity dresses under which they hide piles of leaflets and pamphlets for the resistance. The clothes themselves, in defiance of strict rationing laws, grew more outré rather than subdued, with wide skirts, longer hems, and bright prints.

In her autobiography, Shocking Life, designer Elsa Schiaparelli describes war fashions as “towering turbans in which one could have hidden three lovers, hats like storks’ nests, and shoulders as wide as the streets.’ She herself designed suits with huge pockets so that women could grab and carry what they needed on their way to the bomb shelter. Coco Chanel stopped designing completely during the war, and closed her couture salon rather than sell to Germans. By the end of the war, fashion had been so distorted by politics and violence that it had to be rebuilt from the ground up, like many cities and institutions.

But France was up to the job, of course. Viva la couture Parisian!

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.

Paris, 1938. Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli 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.

When Lily Sutter, a recently widowed young American teacher, visits her brother, Charlie, in Paris, he insists on buying her a couture dress—a Chanel. Lily, however, prefers a Schiaparelli. Charlie’s beautiful and socially prominent girlfriend soon begins wearing Schiaparelli’s designs as well, and much of Paris follows in her footsteps.

Schiaparelli offers budding artist Lily a job at her store, and Lily finds herself increasingly involved with Schiaparelli and Chanel’s personal war. Their fierce competition reaches new and dangerous heights as the Nazis and the looming threat of World War II bear down on Paris.

***

“Sophisticated couture wars and looming world wars take center stage in Mackin’s latest, with a plot that buzzes with love triangles and political intrigue. A gorgeous meditation on art, fashion, and heartbreak. Stunning.”

–Fiona Davis, national bestselling author of The Masterpiece

“Exquisitely melding world politics and high fashion, THE LAST COLLECTION is a smart, witty, heartfelt, and riveting look at the infamous rivalry between Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli set against a gripping period in history. Mackin’s powerful novel brings these characters to life and transports the reader, juxtaposing both the gaiety and tension of Paris on the brink of war. As elegant and captivating as the designs depicted in the novel, THE LAST COLLECTION is the perfect read for both historical fiction lovers and fashion aficionados. Simply stunning.”

–Chanel Cleeton, USA Today bestselling author of Next Year in Havana

“A wonderful story of two intensely creative women, their vibrant joie de vivre, and backbiting competition played out against the increasingly ominous threat of the Nazi invasion of Paris. Seamless research makes every character leap to life and kept me totally engaged from beginning to end.

–Shelley Noble, New York Times bestselling author of Lighthouse Beach

“A vibrant portrait of two designers cut from very different cloth, Jeanne Mackin’s THE LAST COLLECTION pits bold Coco Chanel and colorful Elsa Schiaparelli against each other in a fiery feud even as the ominous clouds of World War II darken the horizon. A captivating read!”

–Stephanie Marie Thornton, author of American Princess

“As Hitler and the Nazis gather strength and the world braces for war, Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel, whose politics differ as much as their couture, wage a war of their own. Lily Sutter, the woman who finds herself in the middle of their feud, has a battle of her own as she struggles to make a new start amidst extreme grief and loss. From New York to Paris, Jeanne Mackin takes the reader on an enthralling journey, complete with such vivid descriptions of the clothing, you can practically see them on the page. Beautifully rendered and meticulously researched, THE LAST COLLECTION is a must read.”

–Renée Rosen, author of Park Avenue Summer

Enjoy 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 the Author: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.

Her 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.

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