My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me
Patricia Volk’s glittering memoir, written with charm, panache and wit, juxtaposes the lives of two women – the iconoclastic fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli and the author’s own mother – to tell the story of how young Patricia learnt the art of being a woman.
Patricia Volk’s glittering memoir, written with charm, panache and wit, juxtaposes the lives of two women – the iconoclastic fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli and the author’s own mother – to tell the story of how young Patricia fashioned herself into a woman.
Patricia Volk’s mother Audrey was an upper-middle class New Yorker, a great beauty, a perfectionist, and a polished hostess who believed in women doing things the proper way.
The iconoclastic Italian fashion designer, Elsa Schiaparelli, on the other hand, never found a rule she didn’t want to break. One of fashion’s most radical provocateurs, she was a cultural revolutionary who embodied the ‘daring’.
For Patricia, who read Schiap’s 'scandalous' autobiography, Shocking Life, at a tender age, these two women offered fabulously contrasting lessons in everything from fashion, make-up, lingerie, family and entertaining, to love, sex, superstition and gambling – lessons that would stay with her for the rest of her life.
Moving seamlessly between the Volks’ 1950s Manhattan home and Schiap’s astonishing life in New York, Rome and Paris (among pals like Dali, Duchamp, Picasso), The Art of Being a Woman weaves Audrey’s notions of female domesticity with Schiap’s groundbreaking creative vision to tell the witty, wise and utterly delightful story of how a young girl learned that there is more than one way to be a woman.
“Patricia Volk’s memoir has a tenderness and charm that make it truly absorbing; mixing two women’s very different viewpoints into a delicious cocktail of wisdom and nostalgia that really hits the spot.”
“It is hard to image that any reader, especially a female reader, will be able to finish The Art of Being a Woman without a match being struck to the dry tinder of their own memories of childhood, setting things ablaze. This is a brilliant thing, well considered, well wrought, and wonderfully well written.”
New York Journal of Books
“Exquisitely written… A compelling snapshot of the groundbreaking designer – and an even more fascinating insight into Audrey, a paragon of mid-20th-century New York style.”
“Ignoring Schiaparelli is to ignore fashion and art. Soon everyone will be reminded who Schiap is.”
Ines de la Fressange, author of Parisian Chic
“Nothing short of delicious... Sharp-eyed as it is wickedly funny... Witty, tender and vividly nostalgic.”
“Thought-provoking and delightful. I love the way Volk transforms the apparently frivolous and, often, outmoded details of femininity into valuable lessons for life. Completely beguiling.”
Lucy Moore, author of Anything Goes
“A moving and entertaining double memoir”
Anne de Courcy, author of The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj
“Delightful… Juxtaposes the lives of two figures who most shaped [Volk’s] views of what a woman could and should be. Both women were opinionated, secretive, imposing, hot-tempered, charismatic and crazy about clothes… Ms. Volk is thoroughly likeable, warm and generous, with a well-tuned ear and a vivid sense of humour.’”
“Pure joy... A diptych portrayal of Patricia Volk's gorgeous and infuriating mother and the great fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, this is an irresistible tour de force that puts on display Volk's intelligence, wit and sparkling prose.”