The world of fashion is appealing for television, but the makers of "The New Look," a film about the origins of Dior and Chanel, show that behind the glossy facade were dark moral challenges.
Fashion dramas are a hot trend right now.
Disney Plus is already showing "Balenciaga," and will soon release "Kaiser Karl," a lavish series about Karl Lagerfeld that adds to the overload of films like "House of Gucci," "Saint Laurent," "Phantom Thread" and "Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris."
For those unfamiliar with the history of French fashion, "The New Look," airing on Apple TV, may seem a dismal addition to the genre.
The film focuses on Christian Dior and Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, played by Ben Mendelsohn and Juliette Binoche, and follows the dark years of the Nazi occupation of Paris.
Chanel's conduct during the war is a constant source of debate among historians, with many accusing her of collaboration.
When the Nazis seized power, she closed her business but continued to live in luxury at the Ritz Hotel, took a German officer as a lover, and used anti-Jewish laws to try to wrest control of her company from Jewish business partners.
"It's easy to believe you would do the right thing in that situation, but these characters were terrified for their lives and I think it's very hard to judge them," producer Todd Kessler told AFP.
"Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, Balmain - all of these people were making decisions about how to possibly survive," he added.
"Maybe the audience will feel one way about a character halfway through the episode, and at the end they'll feel completely differently. But that's inspiring for storytellers."
The creators admit they were nervous about approaching Binoche to play Chanel.
"We wanted a French icon to play a French icon, but we didn't know how a French actor would react given France's mixed feelings about Chanel," says co-producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. "It was very gratifying how quickly Juliet accepted it."
Dior, meanwhile, suffered the shock of his sister being taken to a concentration camp, but his "new look" designs became a symbol of France's sense of recovery and hope after the war.
"It's a very beautiful, ambitious series about fashion," says Pierre Groppo, head of Vanity Fair's lifestyle department.
"It gives an image of Dior that we don't have. We imagine him as a genius in his workshop. A lot of people don't know this painful story that he, and many other people, have experienced."
He said Binoche's "subtle" performance was particularly compelling.
Chanel "certainly made decisions that were not always right, but remember that this was a woman, alone, from a very humble background. We get the sense that someone was overwhelmed by events.
"I'm looking forward to season two where we'll see her come back." /BGNES