Australia’s Ben Mendelsohn offers a soulful, melancholy portrait of France’s iconic postwar haute couture dress designer Christian Dior in the AppleTV+ series “The New Look.”
That was the term given to Dior’s game-changing 1947 Paris exhibition of dresses that signaled midcentury modern in a nuclear age.
“New Look” is a new perspective at the era’s history and drama, as well as parallel biographies of Dior and the already legendary Coco Chanel (Juliette Binoche). In Scott A. Kessler’s complex consideration, these two extraordinary talents’ legacies were forged by the Nazi WWII Occupation of Paris.
Although the name is familiar, “No one knows about Christian Dior,” Mendelsohn, 54, conceded in a recent Zoom interview. He had to find a way into this man whose younger sister Catherine (Maisie Williams) was active in the French Resistance and a prize Nazi target, who was haunted by the humiliation of his late father’s bankruptcy and who took advice from seers and soothsayers.
Inspiration came from the series’ creator-executive-producer and writer Kessler.
“The first thing Scott said,” Mendelsohn recalled, “he has this real thing about what his ‘authentic self’ is and his ‘public self’ that he needs to go out and be.
“And he has a real revulsion — he’s really punitive about it! – because he needs some rights and there are times that this authentic self can’t be out here. And that’s all he had to say.”
This Christian Dior is often quiet, reining himself from saying too much, being as diplomatic as possible. “He’s not a person that’s a networker. He’s not that. He’s not comfortable with all people at all times.
“He has a group of male designers and whatnot that he’s very comfortable with. The people that he keeps close to him in his life — and there are not many of them — really are responsible for his ability to live and sustain life.”
As WWII began and France fell, Chanel closed her atelier because, she declared, she didn’t want to dress Nazi wives. Dior, employed by the designer Lucien Lelong (John Malkovich), worked steadily throughout the war.
“What choice does he have? What else is he going to do? Chanel — she’s a titan. She’s the top of the world. He’s just a working stiff as it were. It’s a different set of circumstances,” Mendelsohn reasoned.
And, yes, Dior did indeed consult spiritualists. But it was a very different time. “He had a child bracelet on. He had a tarot reader. He was profoundly affected by occult stuff and whatnot.
“At that time in the ‘40s, that was an enormous part of the society.”
AppleTV+ streams 3 episodes of “The New Look” on Feb. 14
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