April 2013 Books

Photo: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

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Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me
304 pages; Knopf
It will never be known if the dual subjects of Patricia Volk's latest memoir, Shocked: My Mother, Schiaparelli, and Me (Knopf), would have liked each other had they met, but they had at least one thing in common: They captivated and inspired the author. Volk's gorgeous socialite mother, Audrey, exhibited a "'buttoned up,' edited to the bone" look that radiated "high-polished meticulosity." She worshipped at the altar of seemliness, a characteristic she wished her daughter to embody more than anything else. On the other hand, Italian-born design rebel Elsa Schiaparelli was a Coco Chanel rival whose fearless approach to art, style, and life broke—smashed—all the rules, whether she was inventing a backless swimsuit or amusing party guests with the sight of an inflated hot air balloon in her apartment building's courtyard. Audrey prized convention and domesticity, and passed on to her daughter a fascination with beauty as well as a fear of disappointing her. But reading "Schiap's" autobiography, Shocking Life, alerted Volk to another way of being, in which the unrestrained imagination can soar: "Being original, being yourself to my beautiful, beloved mother, was not safe. Being original, being yourself to Elsa Schiaparelli, was life-giving. She made a hat out of a shoe. Reading that at ten, I knew: Anything is possible." We feel life's potential swirling around Volk as she lovingly chronicles the unique paths of her two muses. Volk ultimately embraces her mother's love, but is no also able to break free, to see "the ripe kaleidoscopic pure pleasure of looking," Schiap-style.
— Diane Goodman