In the captivating opening moments of Apple TV+’s lavish period drama “The New Look,” Coco Chanel (played by Juliette Binoche) makes a striking entrance, cigarette in hand and determination in her gaze. Set in 1955, at a press conference overshadowed by the popularity of her younger rival Christian Dior (portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn), Chanel boldly criticizes Dior, branding him as a “nervous wreck” unworthy of his success. She dismisses his designs as imprisoning and lacking in talent, even recounting her disdain to Nazi officials during the war. Such sharp insults set the stage for the series premiere, set to stream on February 14.
In reality, Chanel’s disdain for Dior ran even deeper. While Chanel had liberated women with functional yet elegant designs before World War II, Dior’s post-war “New Look” with its constricting femininity drew her ire. She famously quipped that Dior didn’t dress women but rather upholstered them, ridiculing his lavish use of fabric in a time of scarcity.
The series also delves into Chanel’s complex relationship with the Nazis during the Vichy regime. While Dior’s sister Catherine fought in the French resistance, Chanel aligned herself with the occupiers, earning their favor and facing accusations of collaboration. Yet, despite her controversial actions, Chanel’s influence endured, with her legacy shaping fashion for decades to come.
“The New Look” emerges from an unexpected source, created by Todd A. Kessler, known for his work on “The Sopranos.” Drawing parallels between Dior’s artistic struggle and James Gandolfini’s internal conflict as an actor, Kessler explores the tension between artistry and commerce. The series benefits from collaboration with the Dior business, gaining access to its archives to recreate the designer’s iconic creations.
While Dior’s artistic vision takes center stage in “The New Look,” Chanel’s enigmatic persona adds depth to the narrative. As Kessler notes, her story is one of survival and complexity, offering a compelling exploration of a woman who defied convention to become a fashion icon.