About the Book:
Two estranged sisters find that forgiveness never goes out of style when they inherit their mother’s vintage jackets, purses… and pearls of wisdom
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.
Bette returned from the beyond each time Gabrielle studied her reflection. There was no escaping genetics.
Curse or blessing?
As she dressed for the lawyer’s reading of her mother’s will, it seemed as though the woman in the mirror was Bette-from-twenty-five-years-ago. Gabrielle shared most of her mother’s features, starting with their dark green eyes—when Lulu was four, she’d called them spinach eyes.
Dabbing on foundation, thinking about Lulu, Gabrielle sighed. She dreaded today. She and her sister had survived their mother’s funeral only because Bette had left such detailed instructions—including her burial outfit—with her lawyer. Lulu and Gabrielle had only needed to show up at Frank Campbell’s, the brick and white-trimmed building two blocks away from where Bette had lived. Their mother considered it the Bergdorf Goodman of funeral homes; neither Gabrielle nor Lulu were surprised that Bette had arranged to say her last goodbye there.
The sisters had both sat in the first row but safely separated by Lulu’s sons and their partners. They’d kept in that same formation at the gravesite. Also dictated by Bette’s instructions, there had been no sitting shiva.
Gabrielle blended a smear of concealer under her eyes and into the corners, which Bette always insisted was critical after age fifty. Done, she uncapped the blackest liner Chanel made and, leaning forward, applied the soft pencil.
Use thin lines to build to the desired thickness, Bette had instructed. Seal with a slick of black eyeshadow. Finish with a light sweep of translucent powder.
Following Bette’s cosmetic rules, Gabrielle then applied lipstick, followed by blotting and a dusting with translucent powder.
As she dabbed perfume, not her mother’s Chanel No. 5, but Chanel’s Coramandel, which Bette had gifted her, Gabrielle ached. She missed her mother. She was realistic about Bette’s faults.
Demanding too much of her and often judging her harshly? Yes.
Screwing up plenty when she and Lulu were little? Yes.
But Bette never failed to answer the phone when Gabrielle called and was ever ready to meet for a quick lunch or leisurely dinner—often to offer advice whether asked for or not. Yes, she argued with Gabrielle and often found fault with her, but your mother lives in your blood. Who you are is who she was. And now, part of Gabrielle was gone. Forever. And today would be an even more brutal reminder of that.
She packed away her maudlin thoughts. Too emotional from the time she was a child, Bette always said, teaching Gabrielle to put a lid on her emotions. Careful to avoid her makeup, Gabrielle slipped a dark tweed dress over her head, zipped it up, and then examined herself. The ruching that ran up the left hip line was a detail that added interest and cut the dress’s severity. She’d chosen today’s outfit from her carefully preserved pre-divorce wardrobe of edgy high-end fashion and jewelry that she could no longer afford. Today’s dress came from her Isabel Marant phase. Gabrielle was a theatrical costume designer—or she had been until Cole cut her career off at the knees. She’d never lost the habit of seeing every day as a series of scenes and dressing for the part she’d be playing.
Today she played the grieving daughter. The reading of her mother’s will called for moving down one notch from funeral wear. Tweed replaced black, and small diamond studs took the place of pearls. She slipped on high-heeled suede boots rather than stacked pumps. The weather looked threatening, so she’d allow herself the luxury of taking a cab both ways.
Well, at least she and Lulu wouldn’t be fighting over their mother’s estate. Bette had made a point to tell both her daughters that they would inherit equally. When Gabrielle’s father died, his will had caused a family crisis. And Bette had said she’d never do that to her daughters. Gabrielle couldn’t quite remember what that problem had been, but she thought it rested on family heirlooms. She’d only been five years old when her father died—three days past her birthday.
A sense of doom hung over all her birthday celebrations after that. And then, to make it worse, seven years later, four days before Gabrielle’s birthday, Lulu came along. Sharing her special day felt unfair when Gabrielle was younger and annoying as she got older. Sibling rivalry complicated every birthday, though, oddly, Bette had managed to provide bright spots without fail. Her mother, whose self-absorption could sometimes rival Miranda Priestly’s in The Devil Wears Prada, always rose to the occasion.
Perhaps over-the-top celebrations were Bette’s way of avoiding the tragedy marking the day her beloved husband had passed. Each October twenty-third, smack in the middle of her and Lulu’s birthdays, Bette would pull off something magical. One year, she’d orchestrated a birthday dinner at Windows on the World restaurant, ensuring that a cake with candles came out at sunset. The memory made 9-11 feel uniquely sadly personal for the sisters.
For Gabrielle’s sixteenth birthday—Lulu’s ninth—Bette had hosted their friends with front row seats for a matinee of Cats on Broadway and then organized an after-party attended by some of the cast. In costume. Arranged through someone Bette had been dating at the moment, of course. So many of her beaus had connections.
Bette was a special-occasion kind of mother—far better at big-bang moments than daily routine child management.
Gabrielle slipped on her wide Elsa Peretti silver cuff. The bracelet always made her feel fierce, and she anticipated she might need the extra support today. Not just because she’d be seeing Lulu, but because, knowing Bette, there would be some kind of fireworks.
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About M.J. Rose
M.J. Rose grew up in New York City mostly in the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park and reading her mother’s favorite books before she was allowed. She believes mystery and magic are all around us but we are too often too busy to notice… Books that exaggerate mystery and magic draw attention to it and remind us to look for it and revel in it.
Rose graduated from Syracuse University and spent the ’80s in advertising. She was the Creative Director of Rosenfeld Sirowitz and Lawson and she has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.
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About Randy Susan Meyers
Raised in Brooklyn New York, Randy now in Boston with her husband and is the mother of two grown daughters. She teaches writing seminars at Boston’s Grub Street Writers’ Center.
Randy Susan Meyers’ worked with violent offenders and families in crisis for over two decades.. Two of her novels (The Murderer’s Daughters and Accidents of Marriage) were finalists for the Massachusetts Book Awards.
She teaches at Boston’s Grub Street Writers’ Center.
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