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February 14, 2024 / AppleTV

Starring: Ben Mendelsohn, Juliette Binoche, Maisie Williams, John Malkovich, Emily Mortimer, Claes Bang

Created By: Todd A. Kessler

This emotionally thrilling series reveals the shocking story of how fashion icon Christian Dior and his contemporaries, including Coco Chanel, Pierre Balmain and Cristóbal Balenciaga, navigated the horrors of World War II and launched modern fashion.

Written By Darren

Rating 3 out of 5

The New Look is a compelling drama that explores the human experience during the Second World War through two of the biggest names in fashion, weaving a rich and fascinating narrative led by an all star cast full of excellent performances, even if there is enough material in here for two separate and distinct shows here.

It never ceases to amaze the variety and rich stories that can be found during the Second World War. As viewers, we are used to either war epics or stories about the Holocaust being told on screen, but the latest AppleTV+ series shines the spotlight on an unlikely world during the Nazi occupation of Paris during the war: haute couture fashion and designers Coco Chanel and Christian Dior. The New Look follows both Chanel and Dior during the war and the actions taken by each of them to survive this horrifying era in history, but also how their actions during the war paved the way for their futures. The series focuses heavily on Chanel’s involvement with the Nazi Party and how this affected not only her business but her personal life coming out of the Second World War, while also highlighting Dior and his struggles during the war and the beginnings of his grip on the fashion world as one of the most celebrated designers of all time even if it feels like an afterthought. There is not even much overlap between Dior and Chanel stories, who share two scenes together over the entire ten episode season, making it feel like they each could have had their own season. Especially Dior who’s iconic designs that earned the name “The New Look” and the true beginning of his fashion house are relegated to the final three episodes of the season. 

Thematically, the stories of Dior and Chanel tie together, both looking at the horrors endured by each during the war and the different lives led by them coming out of the war justifying the stories being told together: Chanel forced into hiding and fighting for her business given her involvement with the Nazis during the war, and Dior using his creations and designs to inspire to help life not only France but the fashion world out of the bleakness left after the war ended.

Even with the show having too much story, there is no denying that it’s an intriguing watch at every turn. Despite its incredibly slow pacing, at times almost to its detriment, the series has a truly fascinating story to tell full of rich character arcs, interesting and informative plot threads all wonderfully framed through the perspectives of two titans of the fashion industry. While you may think a show about Chanel and Dior is going to be fashion heavy, it’s far more a character study surrounding the horrors of the war, with their fashion businesses taking a noticeable back seat until the second half of the season when we move to the years with France rebuilding after the war. It would not be a show I would immediately jump at watching, but creator Todd A. Kessler has developed a show that is thrilling and emotionally gripping, resulting in an enticing season that seamlessly mixes the horrors of the Second World War with the lives of two fashion icons that makes for one series I can easily recommend for any viewers interested in this time period or the individuals it focuses on.

With fashion being an integral part of the series, it comes to no surprise that the costume design for The New Look is stunning. The fashions of the Parisian fashion scene are recreated in wonderful detail, giving that elegance to the series that audiences expect from the names Dior and Chanel. From a production design standpoint, the grim reality of Paris during the war is recreated on screen and aided through the colourless cinematography that favours shadows and darkness in each shot. Supplementing this is a great soundtrack of songs from the time era, given contemporary covers from artists such as Florence and the Machine, Lana Del Ray and Nick Cave that closes out each episode, which is easily one of the series’ strongest elements.

Though, it is the cast that is the highpoint of the series. Juliette Binoche is captivating as Coco Chanel, giving a tour de force performance as this tough as nails business woman. Ruthless, emotionless at times while guiding Chanel through the love for her family and company, Binoche stuns with a performance that drives the majority of the season. Ben Mendelsohn is good as Christian Dior with a quiet and passionate performance, never faltering in his performance, but his character is given the short end of the script in terms of screen time and leaves Mendelsohn with less to cook with for the majority of the season. The supporting cast of Emily Mortimer, Glenn Close, Claes Bang, John Malkovich and Hugo Becker are all great, each having their scene stealing moments, but not a member of the cast can distract from the show stopping performance from Maisie Williams.

As Catherine Dior, Christian’s sister, Williams runs away with the entire season with a truly exceptional performance. Catherine was a member of the French Resistance during the War who was captured by the Nazis, tortured, sent to a women’s concentration camp and forced to work at various prisons and factories for the Nazi Party. It’s a rich character arc, with bombshell dramatic moments that Williams delivers with a grace and raw vulnerability that lets you into the trauma experienced by Catherine during this time period. Coming back to France after the war ended, grappling with PTSD and guilt of surviving over the hundreds of individuals who she saw killed by the Nazis, Williams gives an emotional performance that makes for the most engaging storyline of the entire season that runs away with the entire show. We have not seen Williams grace our screens in a while since Game of Thrones ended almost five years ago, but her performance here proves that she has not lost a single ounce of talent and is ready to make a big comeback whenever she is ready.

There is no doubt a great story to be told in The New Look, but what prevents the series from truly taking off is the fact that there are two great competing stories here that could each fill their own season of television. Focusing on Coco Chanel and Christian Dior during the Second World War and in a post war France and telling their personal stories rather than their fashion is a daring play, but one that Todd A. Kesler manages to do with engaging storytelling that is certain to wet the appetite of anyone looking for an intriguing World War II period drama. With exceptional performances from the entire cast and notably Juliette Binoche and Maisie Williams, The New Look has a great story to tell… even if there is too much story for this single season of ambitious storytelling.

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