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The Collection

A Novel
By Gioia Diliberto

Reading Group Guide

    Discussion Questions
    1. "I wasn't prepared to enter a world that operated on a hierarchy as rigid as the Catholic Church. If Mademoiselle was the pope, the vendeuses were the cardinals; the premières and secondes, the bishops; the mains, the priests; the arpètes, the acolytes" (page 27). Discuss the importance of hierarchy, both to the House of Chanel and to the plot of the novel.
    2. Do you think Isabelle belonged in the world of haute couture or do you think she was too provincial for such a cutthroat industry? What similarities did her life have to that of Chanel?
    3. "What had started out as a symbol of grief was evolving into the postwar standard of elegance" (page 38). What else does black symbolize in The Collection? Where are there great splashes of color in this novel?
    4. Why do you think "seamstresses are obsessed with marriage" (page 68)? How did Isabelle reflect or reject this stereotype? Did the characters of Jacques and Daniel help to influence or limit Isabelle's independence?
    5. What single item of her mother's did Isabelle possess? How was it significant to Isabelle's craft and success?
    6. "Often, when I sewed, I would slip into a meditative state, almost as if I'd become one with the fabric and thread. At these times, I felt a kind of release that was almost like happiness" (page 131). Is sewing an escape for Isabelle? Or is it a trap that keeps her within a certain class level?
    7. "You can have too much of anything, even happiness" (page 134). What does Mademoiselle have too much of in this book? Do you think this novel is a fair representation of Chanel? Why or why not?
    8. "I forced myself to think not of what was happening, but instead of Angeline" (page 231). What did Angeline represent to Isabelle?
    9. Discuss the themes of The Collection -- female strength and independence, simplicity creating sophistication, ugliness draped in beauty.
    10. "I had taken a bold step tonight and more bold steps would be needed if I was to move away from darkness" (page 256). What bold steps did Isabelle take in this novel? What other bold steps did you want her to take? Were you satisfied with the outcomes in her personal and professional lives?
    Reader Tips
    So, sew!Join a sewing circle or take a sewing class.
    Surf coutureView the Metropolitan Museum of Art's 2005 Chanel exhibit online at www.metmuseum.org/special.
    Locate AngelineFind the missing picture from the 1919 Vogue article on page 267: "Great success has attended the absolutely simple model of burgundy crepe de chine sketched at the left on page 56."
    Quote Quiz: Which character in the book said,
    "Elegance means something is as perfect on the wrong side as on the right." (Answer on page 31.)
    "It is not healthy to be only with women, to have no life outside of work..." (Answer on page 70.)
    "Everyone's a survivor of something." (Answer on page 94.)
    "Style is French, just like painting is French." (Answer on page 161.)
    "When the fashion history books are written, Mademoiselle will be a footnote. She doesn't even know how to sew." (Answer on page 168.)
    "It's the Americans who are desperate for French couture." (Answer on page 216.)
    "It might cost a guy three hundred francs to feed himself and his lady, but she's gotta put out a fortune just to get dressed." (Answer on page 221.)
    "It's only a dress; it's not your life." (Answer on page 247.)
    To learn more about the book, visit the author at www.gioiadiliberto.com

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