New drama looks at Coco Chanel’s Nazi connections

Spoiler alert: This review contains spoilers for episodes 1-3 of The New Look.

The year is 1943. Agent “Westminster” is being briefed in Paris by her handler, Walter Schellenberg, the Nazi Party’s head of foreign intelligence. He has a special mission for her; no less a task than ending World War Two. She is to deliver a secret message to the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, in Madrid, outlining a proposal for the cessation of hostilities. “In success, history will remember you for this more than for any dress you ever made,” Schellenberg tells the agent.

“Any dress you ever made?” Indeed. For “Westminster” is Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, the celebrated designer better known for perfume and haute couture than for espionage and dangerous undercover operations. I had to check that this bizarre plotline, which features near the start of Apple TV’s lavish new 10-part drama about Chanel and fellow designer Christian Dior and their wartime activities, was not artistic licence – but no, “Operation Modellhut” was real. Although, clearly, not a resounding success.

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Actually, while watching, I frequently had to resort to Google to check The New Look’s veracity. You don’t have to be a dedicated follower of fashion to be aware of names such as Chanel, Dior, Balmain, Balenciaga and so on. Could they really all have been working in Paris at the same time, and have known each other? Yes, they could.

I was aware of Chanel’s Nazi sympathies and antisemitism but did Dior, a gentle, quiet man, really have links to the French Resistance? Yes, he did. In fact, his beloved younger sister Catherine, after whom the “Miss Dior” perfume was named, was a hero of the Resistance. When captured, Catherine was tortured so brutally it is thought she was left unable to have children and yet she didn’t betray her comrades. She was decorated for valour by both the French and the British.

Was Chanel really questioned by MI6 agent Malcom Muggeridge, a British journalist who would later become notorious for a memorable TV clash with John Cleese and Michael Palin over Monty Python’s Life of Brian? Yes, all true.

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