The New Look is Based on a True Story. Here Are the Details.

Created by Todd A. Kessler, Apple TV+’s ‘The New Look’ is a series immersed in the realm of fashion during the tumultuous era of World War II. In a period where fashion wasn’t a top priority, industry leaders continued to navigate their lives. The show follows the stories of two luminaries in the fashion world, Coco Chanel and Christian Dior, whose names have become synonymous with haute couture in the contemporary world. It delves into the notorious rivalry between these two industry titans.

At the time, Chanel had already established herself as a successful trailblazer challenging stereotypes in women’s fashion, while Dior was in the early stages of his career. What distinguishes the series is its immersion in a rich historical context. As Paris succumbed to German occupation in the initial stages of World War II, these distinct designers responded to the circumstances in varied ways. It will be an interesting endeavor to explore the historical accuracies and potential dramatization in the series.

The World of Chanel and Dior

The rivalry between Coco Chanel and Christian Dior is a well-documented and historic aspect of the fashion world. Chanel, a pioneering figure in fashion, had established herself as a dominant force in the industry during the early 20th century. Her revolutionary designs and forward-thinking approach challenged traditional gender norms. She pioneered practical clothing for women, introducing pants and sleeker designs that freed women from the clutches of corsets and immobility.

After World War II, Dior introduced his collection under the label “New Look,” a term coined by Harper Bazaar’s Editor-in-chief Carmel Snow in 1947. The collection marked a departure from the fabric-saving styles of the war era, featuring full skirts and a more luxurious aesthetic. Chanel criticized Dior’s extravagant and opulent style, dismissing it as impractical. Her exact words were, “Look how ridiculous these women are, wearing clothes by a man who doesn’t know women, never had one, and dreams of being one. Only a man who never was intimate with a woman could design something that uncomfortable.”

‘The New Look’ goes the extra mile and adds to the story by exploring the lives of these two people during World War II. In 1941, Christian Dior returned to Paris after serving in the Army and commenced working for the French couturier
Lucien Lelong’s fashion house. During this period, many designers reportedly found themselves crafting clothing for the Nazis. However, the historical context reveals that in the midst of the German occupation of France, numerous designers had been forcibly removed from the country. The Nazis aimed to relocate the fashion industry to Berlin.

Image Credit: Biography/YouTube

Reports suggest that designers, including Dior, played a role in convincing the Nazis to let the French fashion scene remain intact. However, their success was partial. Although they managed to preserve the core of French fashion, the restrictions imposed on exports and photography limited their reach. Consequently, the primary clientele for these designers became Germans residing in occupied France. The series also sheds light on the story of Christian Dior’s younger sister, Catherine Dior, who played a significant role as a French resistance fighter during World War II.

This historical account reflects the genuine support Christian Dior provided to his sister during those challenging times. Catherine Dior’s involvement in the resistance led to her capture in 1944, and she was subsequently sent to the Nazi concentration camp in Ravensbrück. As the Allied troops closed in, Catherine, like many others, was subjected to a “death march,” which was a forced evacuation of prisoners by the Nazis to prevent their liberation. In an extraordinary feat, she managed to escape during this perilous journey and was eventually reunited with her brother Christian in May 1945. Catherine Dior went on to live a long life, reaching the age of 91 before passing away in June 2008.

Coco Chanel’s narrative during that period diverges significantly. With the outbreak of war in 1939, she made the unconventional decision to shutter her couture house and take up residence at the Ritz Paris hotel. The hotel functioned as a Nazi headquarters during the German occupation of Paris. Speculations abound that Chanel had a close association with the occupying forces, with allegations suggesting her possible role as a secret agent. It is confirmed, however, that she was romantically involved with Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage, a German Intelligence officer.

Image Credit: Biography/YouTube

There are lingering allegations and rumors suggesting that Coco Chanel’s collaboration with the Nazis stemmed from personal motives. It is asserted that having co-founded the company with the Jewish Wertheimer brothers, Chanel sought to exploit the Aryanization of property laws in Nazi-occupied France. Her goal was to gain sole control of the perfume brand by seizing ownership from the Wertheimers. However, this endeavor proved unsuccessful, as the Wertheimers had already sold the business to non-Jewish businessmen.

The series depicts Coco Chanel’s participation in the Nazi mission known as “Modellhut.” In this clandestine operation, the Chief of SS Intelligence tasked her with delivering a message to Winston Churchill, leveraging her known association with him. Chanel was instructed to convey that a group of high-ranking Nazi officials, purportedly disenchanted with Hitler’s leadership, sought to negotiate peace with the English. Although the plan was uncovered and their efforts were thwarted, Chanel managed to find her way back into Paris.

After staying in Paris until 1944, Coco Chanel relocated to Switzerland. Following the end of the Nazi occupation of France, she faced arrest for questioning due to her collaboration and association with the Germans. However, no formal charges were ever brought against her. Rumors suggest that she struck a deal with anti-Nazi partisan Pierre Reverdy, potentially facilitating the arrest of a French traitor named Baron de Vaufreland. There are also allegations that Winston Churchill intervened on her behalf, enabling her to rebuild her business in the subsequent years.

The series adeptly navigates the tapestry of numerous stories, incorporating a blend of both rumors and verified accounts from the era. Its primary objective is to humanize these larger-than-life figures by depicting them as individuals who grappled with and responded to the rapidly changing political and social climate of their time. The series’ creator, Todd A. Kessler, aptly said, “It is not as inspiring to think of anyone as a villain or as a hero. Every person is many different people. Under different circumstances, you might respond differently… My hope is that people won’t see the name Chanel or Dior in airports again, without realizing that these were full people.”

Read More: Where is The New Look Filmed? All Filming Locations Revealed