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Apple TV+ drama The New Look fails to deliver on WWII fashion storyline

The New Look drama series

The Apple TV+ drama series, 'The New Look,' delves into an intriguing premise within the well-trodden territory of World War II. Created by Todd A. Kessler, known for his work on 'Bloodline,' the show explores the impact of the war on the Paris-based fashion industry, highlighting the lives of two distinguished fashion icons: Christian Dior, portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn, and Coco Chanel, portrayed by Juliette Binoche. These legendary fashion designers were not only pioneers in their craft but also founders of iconic fashion houses that continue to thrive even today.

'The New Look,' which begins with Paris under Nazi occupation, presents Dior and Chanel as both peers and foils. Dior is depicted as a sensitive dreamer, while Chanel is portrayed as a shrewd and self-made entrepreneur who famously collaborated with the Nazis. The title of the series, 'The New Look,' alludes to Dior's groundbreaking debut collection in 1947, which introduced a shift from wartime austerity to mid-century elegance, characterized by cinched waists and full skirts. The show sets out to present 'the story of how creation helped return spirit and life to the world.'

However, despite its promising premise, 'The New Look' falls short in several critical aspects. The series pays minimal attention to the intricate details that made Dior a master artisan or Chanel a successful entrepreneur. Instead, it focuses on the familiar elements of the wartime setting, neglecting the aspects that could have set it apart. With ten hours at its disposal, the show aims to explore the value of seemingly trivial indulgences and confront how aesthetic beauty can mask moral ugliness. Disappointingly, it fails to accomplish either of these objectives.

The pacing of 'The New Look' also leaves much to be desired. It takes three entire episodes for Paris to be liberated, an excessive amount of time considering the show's stated interests. Additionally, the Vichy period, a significant aspect of the wartime era, is not adequately represented. The occupation takes precedence over fashion, the series' supposed focal point. The initial emphasis on Catherine's involvement in the Resistance, her capture, and subsequent detention further detracts from the exploration of fashion and creative expression.

The portrayal of characters within the series suffers from uninspired writing as well. Chanel's Nazi collaborator, nicknamed Spatz, and other supporting roles remain one-dimensional, lacking depth and complexity. This simplistic approach extends to the depiction of the creative process, reducing it to vague notions of needing space and inspiration without delving into the intricacies and artistry involved. Unfortunately, Ben Mendelsohn's casting as the up-and-coming couturier, Christian Dior, feels somewhat miscast. Mendelsohn's weathered appearance and gravelly voice do not align with the tender-hearted and young Dior portrayed in the series.

Moreover, 'The New Look' fails to adequately address Chanel's collaboration with the Third Reich. Although it does not shy away from depicting their alliance, including attempts to seize her business, the portrait of Chanel presents a strangely softened depiction. While she is characterized as selfish, hypocritical, and opportunistic, her overt prejudice is rarely shown, apart from a single antisemitic remark directed at her co-founder turned antagonist. The show portrays her association with the Nazis passively, as though she succumbs to historical pressures without fully recognizing the consequences. This generous interpretation of someone actively supporting a genocidal regime feels out of place.

Following the war, Chanel flees to Switzerland to avoid prosecution, mirroring real-life events. There, she refuses to acknowledge or confront her betrayals, a psychological response that, while plausible, becomes tiresome to endure for hours on end. Juliette Binoche's portrayal of Chanel mostly revolves around tearful rants about what she believes she is owed, adding little depth to her character. Furthermore, 'The New Look' tends to sympathize with Chanel's self-pity and muddles the distinction between rightful judgment and sexism or ageism. An opening flash-forward suggests Chanel's return to prominence in the Paris fashion world, undermining any hope of comeuppance and presenting an undeserved triumph.

In the era of morally complex antiheroes, 'The New Look' hesitates to fully confront and showcase Chanel's most reprehensible qualities. As a result, the show lacks the necessary moral clarity and emotional nuance required to handle this material effectively. It leaves viewers questioning the show's original intentions and what it aspired to be in the first place.

'The New Look' debuts on Apple TV+ with its first three episodes on February 14, followed by weekly streaming of the remaining episodes every Wednesday.

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