Publication Date: February 1, 2022. I was given an advanced reader’s copy of The Fashion Orphans (Amazon) by NetGalley and Blue Box Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.
“Estranged half-sisters Gabrielle Winslow and Lulu Quattro have only two things in common: mounds of debt and coils of unresolved enmity toward Bette Bradford, their controlling and imperious recently deceased mother.
Gabrielle, the firstborn, was raised in relative luxury on Manhattan’s rarefied Upper East Side. Now, at fifty-five, her life as a Broadway costume designer married to a heralded Broadway producer has exploded in divorce.
Lulu, who spent half her childhood under the tutelage of her working-class Brooklyn grandparents, is a grieving widow at forty-eight. With her two sons grown, her life feels reduced to her work at the Ditmas Park bakery owned by her late husband’s family.
The two sisters arrive for the reading of their mother’s will, expecting to divide a sizable inheritance, pay off their debts, and then again turn their backs on each other.
But to their shock, what they have been left is their mother’s secret walk-in closet jammed with high-end current and vintage designer clothes and accessories— most from Chanel.
Contemplating the scale of their mother’s self-indulgence, the sisters can’t help but wonder if Lauren Weisberger had it wrong: because it seems, in fact, that the devil wore Chanel. But as they being to explore their mother’s collection, meet and fall in love with her group of warm, wonderful friends, and magically find inspiring messages tucked away in her treasures — it seems as though their mother is advising Lulu and Gabrielle from the beyond — helping them rediscover themselves and restore their relationship with each other.”
There’s a lot to like about The Fashion Orphans. There’s the Odd Couple pairing of two sisters who are so different and how they try to find their way to common ground. There’s the questions about their mother’s life, a mother who was good at the big events but not-so-good at everyday mother stuff. There’s even a little romance thrown in, but not too much, which I thought was good. Too much romance doesn’t appeal to me.
One thing I didn’t like was a detailed description of sooooo many Chanel pieces. It’s clear the authors have done their work in researching the collections, but I didn’t find it necessary to be so thorough. The ladies’ mom had lots of high-end Chanel and some other designers–we get it. No need to beat the reader over the head with it. Maybe it’s because I’m a lot like Lulu, who prefers Gap to Bergdorf’s for her shopping. There was a time when I was in high school when labels mattered to me, but I soon outgrew that when I was in college and paying my way through school and buying my own clothes. It was a totally foreign thing to me to pay thousands of dollars for one item in one’s apparel/handbag/shoe/jewelry collection. I’m more of an Old Navy/Gap/thrift store kind of gal.
I also found both Lulu and Gabrielle very naive and not the wisest with their money choices, which had me scratching my head. Lulu’s barely hanging on, two years after her husband’s death, with $40,000 in credit card debt alone, plus parent student loans and an overdue mortgage. It seems the last two years she’s just survived, barely, and doesn’t want to confront anything uncomfortable, like bills. This reminds me so much like my mother after my father died. If it weren’t for my oldest brother to help her get a handle on things, she probably would have ended up like Lulu. Both Lulu and her late husband didn’t make the wisest money decisions and now she’s paying for it. She’s ready to sell the house because she can’t afford it. She’s really looking forward to an inheritance, only to find a collection of clothes, jewelry, shoes and handbags from her mother.
I really felt for Gabrielle, whose husband left her for another woman, had a much better lawyer than her in the divorce leaving her with hardly anything, and is ostracized in the industry she previously worked in due to her ex’s machinations. But just like Lulu, she hasn’t handled herself any better since the dissolution of her marriage. She’s got a job that barely pays the bills, and she frequently picks up rich men for one-night stands because she doesn’t want to risk her heart to another relationship. She’s got a small retirement fund and owns her condo, but otherwise, she’s just scraping by, too. She, however, has a totally different outlook on her mother’s collection than Lulu.
The more I read the book, the more pissed off I got at Bette, the mother, who made the women’s inheritance like a game instead of telling them straight out about the collection and what to do with it. She was definitely lacking in the mother department, unless of course it involved superficial things like shopping or throwing big birthday parties. Instead of just investing money or buying real estate, she bought couture. To each their own, I guess, but the sensible midwestern girl in me couldn’t wrap my head around it. It seemed so wasteful.
I thought Gabrielle and Lulu’s solution to be satisfying, to open a high-end thrift shop to promote the reuse of these high-end fashions. The clothing industry is a big producer of waste, so the eco-friendly message put forth was a good one. Both women make friends with Bette’s friends, who offer up other designer’s high-end designs for the shop. The addition of two helpful men that the women previously had known adds to the mix.
Overall, a very satisfying, quick read. I’ve enjoyed M.J. Rose’s other collaborations, and that’s what led me to this book. I look forward to more.
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The concept of this sounds very unique! Great review!
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