Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

"The latest trend in TV's infatuation: high-end dramas centered on fashion, providing us with both allure and enchantment."
Culture TV and Radio

“The latest trend in TV’s infatuation: high-end dramas centered on fashion, providing us with both allure and enchantment.”


Fashion and public transportation may seem unrelated, but the saying “you wait for one bus and then three come at once” has a current relevance. In January, Disney+ premiered a TV series about Spanish designer Cristóbal Balenciaga and his 30 years in Paris. Following closely behind is Apple TV+’s drama The New Look, which debuts this week and follows Christian Dior and his peers during World War II. Later this year, Daniel Brühl (known for Good Bye, Lenin! and All Quiet on the Western Front) will portray Karl Lagerfeld in a series titled Kaiser Karl, which will showcase the late designer’s rise in the fashion world of 1970s Paris.

It is surprising that there has been a sudden influx of TV shows centered around not only fashion, but the exclusive realm of high fashion. The reasons for this are clear – the characters are vibrant and complex, and the clothing is stunning. With big personalities and even bigger hats, there are defining fashion trends and intense rivalries. However, if these reasons were so apparent, why did it take so long for this trend to emerge?

This type of fashion television seems like a change from the norm. Shows like America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, and Next in Fashion have popularized the idea of reality TV in the fashion industry. Or, as fashion writer Justine Picardie puts it, “glitzy Saturday night TV,” including talk shows and Strictly Come Dancing, which may not seem to be about fashion but still involves dressing up. This new trend, she explains, offers “a unique experience of beauty and enchantment.”

Helen Warner, a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia and author of Fashion on Television, believes that the focus on mid-century fashion in this new series aligns with society’s fascination with this time period in terms of fashion history. She notes that in the 1800s, the elite dictated style, but now specific designers have the power to set trends. According to Warner, there is a certain allure and mystique surrounding these influential figures.

‘The most famous Frenchman in the world’ … Ben Mendelsohn as Christian Dior in Apple TV+’s The New Look.

Display the image in full-screen mode.

They are widely known and recognized figures, such as Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, who spent ten years researching for her 2010 book “Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life”. According to Picardie, Chanel is one of the most renowned figures in the world for women. Another example is Christian Dior, who was not only the most famous Frenchman globally but also became a symbol of economic revival after the Second World War, surpassing even Charles De Gaulle and Jean-Paul Sartre in recognition.

One thing to note is that not only were they well-known figures, but many of them had strong personalities. For example, consider Chanel. It is no coincidence that The New Look, a fashion show named after the revolutionary changes Dior brought to post-WWII Paris, focuses on both him and her. Picardie comments, “She is a fascinating character,” and her involvement with Balenciaga and The New Look adds a touch of spice, glamour, and controversial morals. Her complicated history with the Nazis adds complexity to The New Look, as seen in a scene where the perfectly cast Juliette Binoche sips on cocktails and delivers witty remarks while dining with Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS.

These new programs are showcasing a well-known truth among fashion enthusiasts – that fashion is heavily influenced by its social, historical, and political surroundings, and in turn, has an impact on them. Chanel serves as a prime example of this concept. According to Picardie, she was a significant influence on modernism and was even praised by Picasso as the most intelligent woman in Europe. Through the medium of clothing, she expressed modernism and rose to fame during World War I, a time when women were starting to enter the workforce. She revolutionized the way women dressed and gave them a sense of dignity that had previously been reserved for men through tailored clothing.

We cannot deceive ourselves by claiming that we are only interested in the historical significance. Audiences are curious. “Of course, we will watch for the human interactions and portrayals of the ups and downs of a type of success that most of us are unfamiliar with. But we also enjoy a bit of scandal and gossip,” states fashion and identity expert Caryn Franklin – who was previously a host on The Clothes Show and is well-versed in fashion on television. She explains that it reveals to us that “they were just like us most of the time: sometimes great, often highly competitive and insecure, and occasionally misbehaved but always dressed better and with better connections to stylish individuals than us.”

‘These are interesting figures who have been sidelined and ignored’ … Disney+’s Kaiser Karl.View image in fullscreen

Regarding the timing, Warner notes that there tends to be an increase in fashion-related films and TV during times of economic struggle. She references several Hollywood movies from the Great Depression, like Mannequin and Stolen Holiday, which were created with the intention of promoting department store collaborations in order to stimulate the economy. With the current challenges of high costs of living and climate change, it is possible that these fashion shows are a reaction to these issues and an effort to control the perception of the fashion industry, given its significant contribution to global emissions.

skip past newsletter promotion

Business is facilitating progress. These major companies have a large number of supporters on social media – Dior has 46 million, Chanel has 60 million, and Balenciaga has a more modest 14 million. TV personalities are likely aware of these statistics. According to Picardie, “They are a significant cultural phenomenon,” which may have caught the attention of commissioning editors at major media streaming services. If any of them are curious to explore deeper, into the time of Napoleon, which served as the backdrop for Louis Vuitton’s life, they may find it interesting that his eponymous brand now boasts over 55 million followers on Instagram.

Picardie references the impact of The Crown, which has gained significant popularity for its portrayal of a unique perspective on history. The show examines history through the lens of British royalty, while the new wave of shows takes a different approach by using high fashion as a focal point. Instead of retelling familiar historical events, these shows utilize fashion icons such as Chanel and Balenciaga to offer a fresh and intriguing perspective. Chanel’s complex and charismatic persona, as well as Balenciaga’s enigmatic nature, add depth to the retelling of well-known historical moments.

Both works focus on specific subjects – the royal family and the fashion world – while also providing a larger perspective. The Crown covers important events like the moon landing and the Aberfan tragedy, while Balenciaga and The New Look offers insight into life in Nazi-occupied Paris. Through the character of Catherine Dior, Christian’s sister, The New Look delves into the French resistance and her eventual arrest and torture in 1944 before being sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp.

‘Picasso called her the most intelligent woman in Europe’ … Juliette Binoche as Coco Chanel in Apple TV+’s The New Look.

Display the image in full screen.

These events are taking place within a larger cultural context. Similar narratives are being shared in museums and galleries across the globe. For example, the Met in New York is currently showcasing Women Dressing Women, featuring the creations of French couturiers and contemporary designers like Rei Kawakubo and Simone Rocha. In addition, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris is hosting an exhibition of the imaginative designs of Iris van Herpen until April. This follows the success of previous fashion exhibitions at the V&A, including the record-breaking Dior show and the popular Chanel exhibition that sold out in just two days. Bina Daigeler’s costumes from the Balenciaga show were even displayed in an exhibition in Madrid, drawing long lines of visitors. Picardie points out that the high attendance could not have been solely from fashion enthusiasts, indicating a broader appeal for these events.

Examining current fashion trends can offer valuable insights. The fashion industry is currently driven by rapid, even hyper-speed, production. Online retailer Shein is able to design, produce, and ship a product to customers in under three weeks. In comparison, the traditional and meticulous process of creating couture pieces can take several months. Fashion expert Daigeler believes that the allure of this slower process and its resulting creations is becoming more appealing in a world dominated by fast fashion. “I think it’s now intriguing for people to observe what haute couture used to be.”

Why did it take so much time for these designers to gain recognition on television? According to Picardie, these designers have been overlooked and disregarded despite their intriguing backgrounds. When she first began researching for her book Miss Dior in 2011, which centered around Catherine Dior, there was no interest. However, upon its release in 2021, the book became a bestseller. It is only now that other aspects of popular culture are realizing the potential and audience for these stories.

Despite all the speculation, there is a certain enchantment to the occasions when cultures come together. Daigeler has witnessed this before. While working on Hulu’s miniseries “Mrs. America” about feminist activist Gloria Steinem, there was also another film about Steinem in production. She believes that these occurrences are often just a matter of chance or coincidence. As she puts it, “I’m not sure if it’s simply something in the atmosphere.”

Source: theguardian.com