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Jeanne Mackin | Exclusive Interview: THE LAST COLLECTION

June 26, 2019

The legendary rivalry between Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli is well known in fashion history. What drew you to write about this notorious feud in The Last Collection?

It seemed, currently, to be a very good time to be writing about strong, powerful women who do not back down from competition or threats.  I once visited a country that did not have freedom of press and information, and I needed a complicated visa to get there. The clerk at the embassy asked me what I did for a living (I was a journalist at the time) and I told him I was a writer.  He jumped up from his desk, truly alarmed!  He asked me what I wrote about, and I said family studies, human development, nutrition, consumer finance.  He sat back down and said , “Oh. Women’s stuff. Doesn’t matter.”  I got the visa, but I also got a strong lesson about what many people think of women’s issues.  This book says that ‘women’s stuff’ really does matter.

Europe in the late 30s, as we know, is on the cusp of a tumultuous time that leads to WWII. What did this political landscape add to your story? How did the war affect fashion and art during this time?

During the early research for this novel, reading the biographies and autobiographies and histories, I developed a strong sense of how closely connected fashion, style and politics are. Artists wore day laborers’ clothing to show their support of the working man; women wore clothing that often reflected their own political choices.  During the war, there were stiff clothing and fabric rations in France, as well as the food and gas rationing,  and women often defied the military-imposed laws and wore dresses made of more fabric than was allowed, hats that were so silly they were like a joke, a thumbing-the-nose at the German military in the streets. After a while, I couldn’t separate fashion and politics, and didn’t want to.

Your main character, Lily Sutter, has recently been widowed and goes to France to visit her brother for a change of pace. How did her perspective on fashion, art, and life change as she interacts with Chanel and Schiaparelli?

Lily, at the beginning of the novel, has stopped caring about her appearance because she is devastated by her husband’s death.  She feels clothing is superficial, unimportant. But as her brother and his girl, Ania, help Lily begin to enjoy life again, she becomes interested in clothing as artistic expression, and as a source of pleasure.  Life is made of small moments, small things, but those small things – what we eat for breakfast, what we wear, how we spend our leisure time – those things become part of the essence of who we are and what we want from life.

Chanel and Schiaparelli had very different approaches to their clothing design; Chanel is classic lines and ready-to-wear, while Schiap was bold and Avant-garde. What life lessons or advice did you discover while researching these two scions of couture?

I most took to heart a piece of advice from Elsa Schiaparelli, as she wrote in her autobiography, Shocking Life: “Ninety percent {of women} are afraid of being conspicuous and of what people will say. So they buy a grey suit. They should dare to be different.”  That’s me, I’m afraid. I have an almost pathological fear of ridicule.  I am trying to be more colorful!  And Coco pointed out that if your clothes don’t fit perfectly in the shoulders, they won’t hang well or look good. I’ve always fussed about shoulders.  I was a swimmer as a kid with good, strong shoulders and I always wanted my clothes to show off my shoulders. I learned how to fit armholes and tailor them when I was a teen. Coco and I agree on this. And another tip from Coco:  sew little weights into the hems of your jackets – they’ll hang better.  Aside from tailoring tips, Coco also became a lesson in the power of solitude.

Both this book and one of your previous releases, The Beautiful American, are set in Paris. What do you love about Paris as a setting in books?

I love the city.  Absolutely love it. At one point in my life, I knew Paris better than I knew New York, which is close to where I live…at least much closer than Paris.  My grandmother’s family was originally from France and my mother loved and boasted about the connection.  Loving Paris is part of me, of my family.  It is a city that can never be completely known, it has so much history, so many niches and secrets and mysteries.

Summer is finally here! Do you have any fun plans – fun vacations, relaxing staycations, etc.? And most importantly, what are you reading this summer?

I live in the country, in an old farmhouse with a huge garden, lakes nearby, wineries, hiking trails, waterfalls. I live where many people come to vacation, so in the summer I actually prefer to stay right where I am, surrounded by beauty and comfort. I prefer to travel in the autumn, when it’s cooler and crowds thin out a bit. What am I reading?  Anything that looks interesting.  I’m working on another novel at the moment, so I’ll be reading a lot of nonfiction, feeding my information hunger and then rereading some of my favorite novels, stories that I go back to over and over again, for inspiration.

What can readers expect from you next?

Another trip to France!  I’ve stepped back in time a bit, and headed south, to the Riviera in the 1920’s and 30’s, to spend time with the artists who summered there.  More than that, I will not say at the moment!

Rapid Fire Random Questions

Dragons or unicorns: Dragons.  Fire-breathers.  Guardians.

Five people you’d invite to your book club (dead, alive, fictional, etc.!):  Voltaire, Oscar Wilde, Roman Gary, Sleeping Beauty (she’d certainly need a catch up) and the Brothers Grimm. Can I count them as one person?

Some of your auto-buy authors:  Jeanette Winterson, Robert MacFarlane, John Mortimer. I read in all genres, all categories.

Favorite flower: Always depends on what is blooming in my garden. At the moment, it’s yellow Siberian iris.  I just stand at stare at them, in awe.  So beautiful!

Earliest celebrity crush:  Believe it or not, I didn’t develop a celebrity crush until a few years ago, when Benedict Cumberbatch filmed the Sherlock series.  Now, I would stand in line all night and scream like a teenager for him.

Random interesting fact you like to tell people:  I study belly dancing.  I started doing it for stress relief, and discovered what a lovely, empowering dance form it actually is. My teacher, June Seaney, is fabulous.  She is the first belly dancer to teach the art in the Ivy League, at Cornell University.

Hobbies you have (aside from reading and writing):  Well, you’ve already heard about the gardening and the belly dancing. I’ll throw in cooking, and I used to quilt, until my cat jumped on the quilting frame, bounced up and down three times, and broke the frame.  I decided I’d rather have cats than quilts.

Dream vacation:   Paris. Paris. And Paris again. Plus a month or two in western Ireland, and a season in Iceland. I need beautiful scenery, natural or manmade, and a great bistro/bar in the evening.

Sweet or salty snacks: Salty. Potato chips and dip. I could live on them. But I don’t. My conscience won’t allow it.

You have a totally free afternoon – no deadlines, no obligations, no Twitter notifications!  What do you do?:  Go for a sauna and a massage, or an afternoon matinee at the cinema.  I prefer to see movies alone, so that I don’t have to worry if my companion is also enjoying it or fuming that I dragged him along! 

Thank you, thank you!  These were great questions.  I hope you like The Last Collection!


The Last Collection

A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel

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.

Historical | Women’s Fiction Historical [Berkley, On Sale: June 25, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781101990544 / eISBN: 9781101990551]

About Jeanne Mackin

Jeanne Mackin

Jeanne Mackin is the author of several historical novels. Her most recent is The Beautiful American. She has worked as a journalist for several publications, and as a university research and science writer. She lives in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, with her husband, artist Steve Poleskie. Jeanne was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and her journalism has won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.



Fresh Fiction Editorial Manager Danielle Dresser is an avid reader, lackluster-yet-mighty crafter, and accomplished TV binge-watcher. Once upon a time, she was a publisher publicist and continues to cultivate her love of books and reading by chatting with the best authors in the business. She lives in Chicagoland with her very own romance hero husband, darling daughter, and two tempestuous cats. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, @dj_dresser.


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