Ben Mendelsohn as Christian Dior in the New Look

Apple’s TV show “The New Look” goes over the early chapters of Christian Dior’s fashion career. As the Nazis had taken over Paris, and the fashion business was paralyzed by the costs of war and the Nazi invasion, the show goes into detail on how fashion figures from the time like Cristobal Balenciaga, Pierre Cardin, had to either serve their fashion skills to the German soldiers and their significant others, or suspend their business until further notice.

Dior's main source of inspiration was the garden where he and his sister grew up. He spent a lot of time recreating colors, textures and aromas.

The New Look is fascinating, because the personal story of Christian Dior gets woven into the history of fashion, as well as the history of a very difficult time in Europe with the tragedies that World War II brought.

But chapter after chapter, we learned more about Christian Dior as a person, and how the person became the globally known fashion house. 

Here are the characteristics of Christian Dior that Apple TV's New Look unravels, and makes us love this person of fashion history even more!

Princess Margaret wore a Christian Dior gown for her 21st birthday. Image Courtesy of Dior. 

Christian Dior suffer immeasurably due to the Nazi regime but never betrayed

Christian Dior’s sister, Catherine, was a French resistance fighter. The New Look show explains how she worked with other Resistance members to liberate prisoners and confront Nazi soldiers. The Resistance soon was targeted by the Nazis as a threat to their regime and Catherine was taken by the Nazis.

The sister of the fashion designer was questioned and tortured to give information on the whereabouts of other Resistance members, but according to the show, Catherine never gave any of this information to the Nazis.

Catherine Dior was the source of inspiration for Miss Dior fragrance and her brother’s muse. Image Courtesy of New York Post. 

While Catherine was imprisoned and tortured, Christian Dior’s entire life focused on doing everything he could to find his young sister. The show presents us with Dior’s dad being disappointed by his son as he “failed to protect his sister”. It didn’t matter how talented Christian Dior was, and how his technical and creative skills got him to secure a deal for the greatest businessman of France at the time to open his own fashion house. Mr. Dior was actively speaking with Resistance members, and former soldiers to try to find his sister.

Christian Dior was heavily spiritual.

Dior’s clairvoyant predicted that women around him would make him successful. Image Courtesy of Harpers Bazaar. 

Some philosophers believe that the real world is too rough for us to live without some belief or faith in something or someone larger than us.

Christian Dior had really big faith in his clairvoyant. A very faithful woman who even before the war ended, stated with certainty that Catherine would come back home from the concentration camp where she was imprisoned by the Nazis.

This faith kept Christian Dior motivated to keep working hard at the fashion atelier as well as at home, where he pushed to keep his father faithful that the youngest and only Dior sister would be coming back alive.

Christian Dior loved women, despite Chanel’s criticisms towards him

Christian Dior celebrated the end of WWII with voluminous silhouettes. Image Courtesy of Christian Dior 

The feud between Christian Dior and Coco Chanel is not a recently discovered subject. The two fashion designers and creators of their own fashion house had their disagreements since the very moment Dior stepped into the fashion industry. But it wasn’t Christian Dior who entered the fashion industry with an urge to fight or be competitive. (In fact, Dior was very good friend with Cristobal Balenciaga, Givenchy, and the boss and mentor of the emerging fashion talents Yves Saint Laurent, and Pierre Cardin.

In 1947, Christian Dior presented his first collection at 30 Avenue Montaigne. Corsets, layers and layers of tulle and organza, and architectural details that celebrated the end of the war with voluminous silhouettes that required several yards of fabric, were part of this first collection.

Dior’s rose silk Opéra Bouffe dress from 1956.

Dior’s design aesthetic was very different from Coco Chanel’s. Chanel’s famous tweed suit is tailored, with no waistbands, and subtle winks to menswear. Chanel introduced pants as a staple piece for womenswear, focusing on functionality and comfort, which were essential design elements and women began to be part of the workforce. In contrast, Dior daydreamed in fantasies with gardens, elegance, and old glamour. He wanted his clients to look and feel beautiful and wanted to bring back some of the joy that was taken away from Parisians by the catastrophes of World War II. Dior’s dresses were soft, voluminous, and glamorous. Chanel’s clothing was practical, tailored, and with a sense of minimalism and modesty.

The New Look on AppleTV revisits Coco Chanel’s ties with the Nazis. Image Courtesy of Apple TV. 

Now, one of the most well-known accusations from Coco Chanel to Christian Dior was that: “[They’re] wearing clothes by a man who doesn’t know women, never had one, and dreams of being one.” According to Chanel, Dior was bringing back the feminist movement, forcing them to wear clothes that served more as decorational than functional.

The truth is that Christian Dior loved women. He had a lot of respect and love for his sister, Catherine. He understood Catherine’s points of views, emotions, and ideas and took them very seriously. Dior also had a strong line of communication with the women that he worked with. Form models and seamstresses, to family members, colleagues and beloved ones.

It is undebatable that Chanel was a pioneer mainstreaming the use of pants for women as a fashionable piece, rather than one that was utilitarian and not necessarily pretty.

But Dior’s storytelling was not about taking back any of that progress. Dior’s point of view was about bringing back the joy that was taken away by the war. Dior wanted to bring back the glamour, elegance and sophistication of dressing up to go to a ball, to walk in the streets with a voluminous pleated skirt that was unthinkable during the years of the war when fabric was scarce and prices skyrocketed. 

Christian Dior had a big heart

Christian Dior and his sister Catherine Dior. 

As Dior finalized a deal with “the king of cotton in France” to open his fashion house, one of the designer’s first duties is to hire a team. In order to open a fashion house and bring a collection to life with the short timing he had, he would have to hire about 35 seamstresses, and a team of tailors. Then there were also the models, and those who would handle finances and business.

 But amid the pressure of timing and the fact that he was very well supported by his investor, Christian Dior strongly rejected hiring models that were employed by other fashion houses. In the New Look, we see his assistant and him casting beautiful, talented and experienced models eager to work with Mr. Dior, however he politely rejected them as they were working with his colleagues. “Do you want me to put a newspaper ad saying we are only hiring those who are unemployed?” The assistant asked in a sarcastic manner. “Yes, great idea.” Mr. Dior replied. 

Eugénie evening gown by Christian Dior, 1948.

Christian Dior didn’t intend for his name to become known worldwide

30 Avenue Montaigne in Paris, where Christian Dior opened the doors to his business in 1947.

The French fashion designer had a lot of respect and care for his parents. He cared about what they thought of him, his work, his role as a son, and as a brother. For him, his parents’ joy and health were a very important component of his life.

Now, Dior’s mother strongly refused to have their last name “stained and misused” as the name of a business. Not for the businesses that Dior’s father developing fertilizers in rural France, nor for the art gallery that Dior opened before World War II where he learned to appreciate colors, textures, and many of the design principles that he used later for his fashion house.

So when the opportunity came for Christian Dior to open his very own fashion house, he wanted to have a small design studio. One that had just enough space for a small team of couturiers and that felt exclusive for his clientele.

The New Look by Christian Dior. 

Dior was eager to design luxurious fashion goods, and the idea of a small space made sense for this kind of business. But there was also this thought of going against his mother’s desire that made him hesitant of building something so big.

“I am grateful my mother is not alive to see this”. Said Christian Dior as he saw the enormous sign with his name hanging on 30 Avenue Montaigne getting ready for the grand opening.

Coco Chanel’s values were questionable to say the least.

Coco Chanel lied, connected with the Nazis, and then ran away from France to avoid facing persecution from the French government.

The talent and legacy of Coco Chanel’s creations is not questionable, but her values as a person, as a French citizen, and as a member of the very small circle of fashion designers based in Paris at the time, were very questionable to say the least 

Although the official records and investigations on Chanel’s collaborations with the Nazis have been hidden and distorted for years, there are facts that confirm this alliance. 

Chanel’s nephew, Andre, was a French soldier who was taken as prisoner by the Germans. However, he was released due to the potential influence of the fashion designer and businesswoman.

It is also true that she attempted to use Nazi race laws to wrest control of her company from the Jewish partners that she worked with for several years. These laws essentially allow Nazis to claim any business, property or object owned by a member of the Jewish community to claim it as their own. These laws encouraged those who supported the Nazi regime to disclaim the whereabouts of Jews who were hiding or attempting to escape from the persecution of the Nazi regime. The war ended, and the government of France persecuted Chanel as a potential traitor of France, so the fashion designer lived in Switzerland with her nephew to avoid facing the legal consequences of her actions.

Additionally, Coco Chanel had a relationship with German soldier Hans Gunther von Dincklage, also known as Spatz. The Apple TV show narrates how Chanel attempted to take a letter from the Nazis to Winston Churchill. Chanel traveled to Madrid, with the regulations and security that Nazi soldiers provided for her. Official records show that Chanel did travel to Madrid during that period of time, however, the motivations for this trip are hard to confirm. It is very likely that part of her agreement with the regime was for them to help her get “her business back”, only if she was to deliver the message.

The New Look acknowledges the struggles of fashion designers during turbulent times of war. Some of them ended up having to design for Nazi wives, some had to run away, some others fought for their country. It is during these times that a person's authentic self unravels to whatever it is inside. Chanel blackmailed, betrayed, and lied.

It is fascinating to learn the stories of those who ended up becoming key characters on fashion history. At a time when war, division, crisis, and fear reigned in France and across Europe, Christian Dior found on his sensibility and his strong desire to overcome the crisis, a motivation to create the New Look, the outfit that gained him global fame, success, and partnerships on both sides of the Atlantic.

As the New Look premiered with so much success a first season of the story behind a revolutionary character in French fashion, it makes us want to learn more about these figures. Their intentions, their wishes, their fears, their values, or their lack of them. Hoping the New Look, is the first chapter of a New Book on stories to be told of heroes and anti-heroes in fashion.