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The New Look Review: Apple TV+'s Christian Dior Series Is a Slow-Paced War Drama With No Interest in Fashion

The show sidelines Dior's work in favor of wartime misery

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
Ben Mendelsohn, The New Look

Ben Mendelsohn, The New Look

Apple TV+

Christian Dior's New Look embodied a pivotal moment in postwar fashion, defining the full-skirted hourglass silhouette of the late 1940s and early '50s. Launching a new era of Parisian chic, it offered glamorous, feminine luxury after years of wartime shortages. One would expect, then, that Apple TV+'s Dior drama The New Look would celebrate Dior's work, echoing the formula for celebrity artist biopics like Elvis or Amadeus. The trailer teases a high-stakes artistic feud between Dior (Ben Mendelsohn) and Coco Chanel (Juliette Binoche), jockeying for leadership of the French fashion industry. In reality though, much of this 10-episode series is a rather dull and thinly written exploration of life in Nazi-occupied Paris.

A few episodes in, I began to suspect that showrunner Todd A. Kessler (Damages; The Sopranos) isn't really interested in fashion, leaving us with the awkward question of who this show is actually for. Certainly not costume enthusiasts, who will be disappointed by the relative lack of gorgeous gowns and couture industry expertise. But if The New Look is intended primarily as a tale of postwar survival, it doesn't exactly thrill on those terms either. In the overstuffed subgenre of WWII dramas, this one is decidedly second-rate. 


The New Look


  • Juliette Binoche gives an appropriately damning portrayal of Coco Chanel's Nazi ties


  • Christian Dior is an outright boring protagonist
  • There's an inexplicable lack of interest in fashion history
  • The slow pace means we spend half a season on the prologue to Dior's career

It's easy to see why The New Look got greenlit by Apple TV+. Dior may be a household name, but the man himself is less well known: an ideal choice for biopic treatment during the current fad for brand-centric movies like Air and Blackberry. Juicier still, we get to have Coco Chanel as the main antagonist, alongside a laundry list of iconic designers like Balenciaga and Balmain.

Both Chanel and Dior lived in Paris during the Nazi occupation — Chanel already a famous name, while Dior worked for the couturier Lucien Lelong (John Malkovich). As some history buffs will already know, Chanel was a Nazi collaborator. Her story involves an entanglement with a German spy, played here by rakish Danish hunk Claes Bang.

Dior's wartime affiliations were more ambiguous, making dresses for Nazi wives while his sister Catherine (Maisie Williams) risked her life in the French Resistance. She's portrayed here as the most important person in Christian's life, contrasting with his boyfriend's rather forgettable supporting role. (The episodes I watched had little to say about the experience of being semi-openly gay in 1940s France.)

The New Look positions Christian Dior as timid, apolitical, and low-energy, spending much of his screentime worrying about his sister. From a human perspective, his downbeat presence is an understandable reaction to wartime trauma. But it doesn't make for good television. With its clunky dialogue and simple characterization, The New Look isn't deep enough to support such a passive protagonist. Not to mention the baffling lack of insight into Dior's artistry, which barely makes an appearance during the first half of the season.

Other characters certainly talk about Dior's creative prowess, but the show never does the legwork to illustrate what that means in context. In a story about something as niche as 1940s Parisian couture, that's a problem. We can expect the audience of Elvis or Amadeus to arrive with some vague appreciation of Elvis or Mozart's music. But Dior's designs require a little more introduction, explaining to the layperson why they had such a revolutionary impact.

Juliette Binoche and Claes Bang, The New Look

Juliette Binoche and Claes Bang, The New Look

Apple TV+

As the co-lead, Coco Chanel fares a little better. The endlessly versatile Juliette Binoche plays her as petty, opportunistic, and slightly stupid: a self-made businesswoman who survived a difficult childhood to become a snobbish spoiled brat in middle-age. 

Determined to preserve her wealth and brand, Chanel displays no moral compunctions about helping the Nazis. Here we see the kernel of a more dynamic show, featuring entertaining side characters like Emily Mortimer as a spiteful English aristocrat. But as soon as we return to Dior himself, the tone becomes dreary and directionless. There are only so many times we can watch Ben Mendelsohn drift off mid conversation while worrying about his sister. 

To be honest, The New Look's top three characters appear to exist in three different shows. Giving it her all as Dior's tough, tormented sister, Maisie Williams is in a gritty thriller. By contrast, Binoche stars in a Downton Abbey-adjacent melodrama about an amusingly hateable twit, and Mendelsohn headlines the origin story arc of a generic biopic, driven by plodding expository dialogue. "I keep thinking what I have put you through these past few years, designing for the Nazis," says his boss John Malkovich at one point, stating the blindingly obvious. "It's quite a burden." We know! That's kind of the point!

As an examination of the moral and emotional fallout of Nazi occupation, The New Look is underwhelming. As a story set in the Parisian couture scene, Todd Kessler's creative vision is downright puzzling. Again and again, characters praise Dior's talent or discuss the importance of revitalizing French fashion. Beauty and creation, Dior explains, are a form of survival after great loss. But where's the beauty here? His designs barely appear after an introductory fashion show in Episode 1, and overall the show has a surprisingly bland aesthetic.

Like many Apple TV+ releases, The New Look gives the impression of having money to burn. We're treated to a slew of respectable actors like Binoche and Malkovich, plus a soundtrack of 1940s songs covered by A-list musicians like Nick Cave and Lana Del Rey. Yet most scenes are overlaid with fuzzy digital color-correction, which at best looks like a faded vintage photograph, and at worst looks cheap. Despite the show being filmed in Paris, Dior's surroundings offer very little personality. The creative team's priorities seem utterly out of whack, both on the page and on screen — beginning with the question of why anyone would make a fashion drama that visibly doesn't care about fashion. 

Premieres: The first three episodes premiere Wednesday, Feb. 14 on Apple TV+, followed by a new episode each Wednesday
Who's in it: Ben Mendelsohn, Juliette Binoche, Maisie Williams, John Malkovich, Emily Mortimer, Claes Bang
Who's behind it: Todd A. Kessler (writer/director), Helen Shaver and Julia Ducournau (directors)
For fans of: The kind of biopic you watch on an airplane 
How many episodes we watched: 6 out of 10