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14 February 2024

I was excited about The New Look – but the series is cringe inducing

This Apple TV+ drama following Christian Dior during the rise of the Nazis is full of poor dialogue and every shade of preposterousness.

By Rachel Cooke

I was terribly excited about The New Look. Ooh-la-la. On paper, it’s a dream: Juliette Binoche as Coco Chanel, Claes Bang as her Nazi lover Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage, Glenn Close as Carmel Snow of Harper’s Bazaar. OK, so I couldn’t remember having seen Ben Mendelsohn in a big part before, but in photographs he did bear a vague resemblance to Chanel’s great rival Christian Dior – which is to say that he looked like a well-dressed rural notaire, boring and unobtrusive. Limbering up to watch the first three episodes – they drop together, after which seven more follow, week by week – I even slashed my lips a celebratory shade of scarlet, the better to be suitably à la mode.

Oh dear, though. What a total waste of Rouge Allure (Flamboyante). This series wants to look expensive – and, sometimes, it does. Binoche is immaculate in pearls, and what’s not to like about the sight of Bang reclining on a 1,000-thread-count Ritz pillowcase? Paris, inevitably, is permanently ready for her close-up, even if there are red flags with swastikas on them everywhere you go.

But none of this is enough. In the end, it’s as if Gok Wan had just given ’Allo ’Allo! a quick makeover in the car park at Monoprix (younger readers: ’Allo ’Allo! is an ancient and appallingly unfunny BBC sitcom about the French resistance). The dialogue! It’s unbelievable. “Tonight, vee are velcomin’ Walter Schellenberg,” the Baron will say to Coco, blowing smoke pointedly in her direction. “Who ees zat?” she’ll then reply, with utmost helpfulness. “Walter Schellenberg,” he will repeat: “soon to be ze head of Nazi intelligence.” On and on it goes – though, on the plus side, my buttocks are so tight with the embarrassment, I’ll be able to squeeze into that Chloé skirt I bought cut price on the Outnet by teatime.

At this point, Dior’s “New Look”, with its voluminous skirts and nipped-in jackets, is still a way off, the silks and scissors of the series’ titles only a promise (or a threat). We begin in Occupied France in 1943. In Paris, Chanel is about to be recruited by the aforementioned Schellenberg, who will ask her to broker a peace deal with her old friend Winston Churchill; meanwhile, Dior is worrying about his sister, Catherine (Maisie Williams), who’s working for the resistance. In case you’re wondering, the writer of The New Look, Todd A Kessler, has based his script on fact: the above is all true (after the war, Catherine Dior, later a prisoner at Ravensbrück concentration camp, was awarded several medals for her bravery). But alas, fashion can make fools of us all. In Kessler’s cedar-scented armoire, we find every shade of preposterousness.

Imagine the scene. Dior is desperate. Catherine has been picked up by the Gestapo. The designer races to a café for a crisis meeting with – wait for it – Lucien Lelong (John Malkovich with weird diction), Pierre Balmain and Cristóbal Balenciaga. Yes, all of ’em! What do they plan to do? Are they going to sew the Nazis to death? It’s Nina Ricci and Elsa Schiaparelli I feel sorry for, but maybe they were out shopping or something.

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Or what about this? In Berlin, Chanel has another meeting with Schellenberg. He’s on Benzedrine and very excitable. Does she like his office? Surely her boutique at the Rue Cambon has nothing on his natty interrogation room, concealed behind a bookcase, or his desk, with its built-in machine guns. (At this, Chanel, ever the pro when it comes to collaboration, can only wonder who’ll clean up the mess should he actually fire them.)

Next to all this stuff, Dior’s sudden daring on the catwalk, when it finally arrives (that’ll be in 1947), is going to look pretty tame, I fear. In context, we might as well be down Marks & Spencer. Part of me wonders how Kessler, who also directs, is going to deal with the saucer hats and sculpted silhouettes, the cuffs and the darts and the buttonholes. To convey its full import, Carmel Snow’s going to have to do an awful lot more than proclaim the show a revolution (maybe she’ll run about in only her roll-on girdle). But, no. We’re a long way from Phantom Thread, Toto. I won’t be watching. Not for all the silk chiffon in the world would I put myself through that.

The New Look
Apple TV+

[See also: One Day review: Netflix’s romcom without any chemistry]

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This article appears in the 14 Feb 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Trouble in Toryland

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