The glamorous personas of designers Christian Dior and Coco Chanel often overshadow the complexities of their lives, a fact that Apple TV+’s period drama The New Look boldly confronts.


Set against the backdrop of occupied Paris during the Second World War, the series delves into the stories behind these fashion titans.

Christian Dior (played by Ben Mendelsohn) and Coco Chanel (Juliette Binoche) navigate a world gripped by conflict.

“For those of us who lived through the chaos of war, creation was survival,” reflects Dior in the trailer.

It is this very creation of haute couture – the French name for a genre of custom-made high fashion design – that set Dior and Chanel on their paths to fame, and against each other.

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Is The New Look a true story?

Yes, The New Look is rooted in historical events, delving into the controversial aspects of its protagonists’ real lives.

For instance, it’s true that Chanel did exploit the antisemitic atmosphere in France during the Second World War, and lobbied the Nazis to remove the Jewish directors – the Wertheimer family – of the highly profitable fragrance business Parfums Chanel.

During the Nazi occupation of France, Chanel also had a romantic relationship with a leading Nazi official, Baron Hans Günther von Dincklage (known to his friends as 'Spatz').

Coco Chanel and Spatz with arms linked
Coco Chanel (Juliette Binoche) and Spatz (Claes Bang) in The New Look. (Picture by Apple TV+)

Chanel also carried out an espionage mission to Madrid under order of the Nazis, to meet with the British ambassador and act as a secret negotiator for peace to prevent an Allied victory.

Accompanying her was Vera Bate Lombardi, whom Chanel appointed as a PR executive for the House of Chanel in 1920.

The pair’s friendship resulted in Lombardi becoming embroiled in Chanel’s affairs; the mission in Madrid was disguised to Lombardi as a business trip, so she unknowingly agreed to accompany Chanel on the espionage mission.

The New Look also explores the difficulties – and danger – of living in Nazi-occupied Paris.

German occupation in Paris was effective from 14 June 1940, and after that the lives of citizens became very restricted. Heat and electricity was limited, and adults were rationed to 50g of meat a week – and that weight included bones and gristle. A 9pm to 5am curfew was also imposed.

However, it was Jewish citizens who experienced the worst treatment. They were forced to wear a yellow Star of David for identification, and prevented from entering certain professions – including law, commerce, medicine and industry.

They were also refused entry to public places such as restaurants, and their property was seized. Soon, Jews began to be sent to concentration camps. This incarceration (among other injustices) sparked the Resistance movement.

What was the New Look?

Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ revolutionised fashion with its opulence, defined by full skirts, cinched waists and vibrant patterns.

After witnessing Dior’s debut fashion show in Paris, Carmel Snow, then editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, exclaimed: “It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have such a new look!” From then, the term ‘New Look’ was coined.

During a documentary of Paris’s 2017 Musée des Arts Décoratifs exhibition, Florence Müller, a professor in the history of fashion, said: “It is very rare in fashion history to have such a definitive break. A revolution brought into play in one collection. It’s so rare there are practically no other examples.”

The bar suit, as seen in The New Look.
The bar suit, as seen in The New Look. (Picture by Apple TV+)

The New Look did face criticism for its extravagance and impracticality; some of Dior’s evening dresses weighed 27kg, and the skirt of the ‘bar suit’ was made up of five metres of fabric alone. The introduction of these designs revealed tensions between post-war austerity and the allure of luxury.

Still, Dior’s success was vast – so vast that Coco Chanel came out of retirement in 1954 to rival his growing success in haute couture.

Were Coco Chanel and Christian Dior rivals?

Coco Chanel and Christian Dior were very much rivals in the fashion world, and Chanel didn’t hold back in her critique of Dior’s work.

“Look how ridiculous these women are, wearing clothes by a man who doesn’t know women, never had one, and dreams of being one,” Chanel said in 1947. Dior was gay, which made this statement even more personal.

Juliette Banoche as Coco Chanel in 'The New Look'
Juliette Banoche as Coco Chanel in The New Look. (Picture by Apple TV+)

Dior wasn’t Chanel’s most bitter rival, however. That title fell to Elsa Schiaparelli, an Italian fashion designer.

While their rivalry was generally verbal, much like that between Chanel and Dior, there was an occasion where it became dangerous.

Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Chanel reportedly asked Schiaparelli to dance with her at a costume ball in Europe – upon her acceptance, Chanel drove her rival into a chandelier lit with candles. Elsa’s dress caught on fire; luckily, before too much damage was caused, guests quickly doused her with water.

Was Catherine Dior involved in the French Resistance?

Catherine Dior (Maisie Williams) in The New Look leaning on a chair
Catherine Dior (Maisie Williams) in The New Look. (Picture by Apple TV+)

Catherine Dior, a younger sister of Christian Dior, was in the Resistance, and was one of up to 500,000 men and women who were involved during the Second World War. They conducted guerrilla warfare, published anti-Nazi underground newspapers, and also provided intelligence information and escape networks to Allied soldiers.

These actions came with great risk. More than 90,000 of the men and women involved in the resistance were either killed, tortured or transported to concentration camps – a fate that Catherine Dior, Christian’s sister, had to endure. She was very lucky to survive, but not without physical and mental reminders.


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The first three episodes of The New Look are available to stream on Apple TV+ from 14 February, with new episodes airing weekly until 3 April.


Lauren GoodDigital Content Producer, HistoryExtra

Lauren Good is the digital content producer at HistoryExtra, She joined the team in 2022 after completing an MA in Creative Writing, and she holds a first-class degree in English and Classical Studies, during which she studied ancient history and philosophy