The New Look: Who Was Elsa Lombardi? How did She Die?

In Apple TV+’s ‘The New Look,’ fashion icons like Coco Chanel and Christian Dior find themselves in precarious positions when the Nazis invade Paris and take over the city. Years later, Dior says that whatever they did during the Nazi occupation was purely out of the need for survival. This rings particularly true for the things that Coco Chanel did during those years. To save her nephew, Andre Palasse, she is forced to collaborate with the Nazis and help them in their schemes.

For this, she also ropes in an old frenemy, Elsa Lombardi, hoping to use her to ensure the success of one of her missions. Considering that the show is based on true events, a question on the existence of Elsa Lombardi is raised. Who was she, and what was her connection to Chanel? SPOILERS AHEAD

Elsa Lombardi is Based on a Real Friend of Coco Chanel

Born Vera Nina Arkwright in 1883, Vera Bate Lombardi is the inspiration behind the character of Elsa Lombardi, played by Emily Mortimer in ‘The New Look.’ In the show, it is revealed that Elsa has connections to the British royalty, not just due to her friendships but also by blood. The true nature of her parentage is concealed, hinting that she might be the illegitimate child of someone with roots in British royalty. Similar rumors surrounded Vera Lombardi during her lifetime, especially considering how deep her friendships and connections ran in the Royal Family.

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Apart from her British citizenship, Vera also had US citizenship due to her marriage to her first husband, Frederick Bate. He was an officer in the American military. His paths crossed with Vera during the First World War when she had volunteered as a nurse in Paris. The couple married in 1916 and had a daughter named Bridget. They separated in 1929, following which Vera met her next husband, Alberto Lombardi.

Alberto was an officer in the Italian military and belonged to the Italian National Fascist Party, and through him, Vera too became a member. His connections with Benito Mussolini made him quite an important figure, and Vera also enjoyed the benefits of her husband’s political standing. However, her connections with the British landed her in trouble during the Second World War when she was suspected of being a British spy, though the charges never stuck, and she was let go a week later.

Before she got into a pickle with the Nazis, Vera enjoyed the high life and made Coco Chanel a part of it too. The women had met each other during the First World War and developed a close friendship, which opened many doors for Chanel in the coming years. Considering Vera’s connection, Chanel hired her as a PR executive for the House of Chanel in 1920. For her part, Vera introduced Chanel to the British royalty and the socialites. It was through Vera that Chanel met the Duke of Westminster, with whom Chanel had a romantic relationship. Vera also got Chanel in touch with the future King Edward VIII as well as Winston Churchill.

When Chanel was coaxed by the Nazis to set a channel with Churchill to instigate peace talks between Britain and Germany behind Hitler’s back, she looked towards Vera Lombardi as her only option. Vera’s connection to Churchill could be used by Chanel to get that meeting. She approached Vera and took her to Madrid under the impression of starting a business together. However, when Vera figured out what was going on, she played her own game.

Chanel’s Madrid mission, titled Operation Modellhut, was ruined by Vera, who ratted out Chanel and her co-conspirator and lover, Herr Spatz, as Nazi spies at the British embassy. Chanel was sent back empty-handed, while Vera stayed in Madrid for a while. Eventually, it was her many letters to Churchill that eventually got her out of Madrid, and she went back home to Rome, where she stayed till the end of her life.

Vera Lombardi died on May 22, 1947, in her mid-60s, due to unknown causes. She is laid to rest at Cimitero Comunale Monumentale Campo Verano in Rome. The circumstances behind her death remain in the shadows, though there is a greater probability that she died of natural causes.

Read More: The New Look: Who was Herr Spatz? Did Coco Chanel Date a Nazi?