Period drama The Collection comes to Masterpiece on PBS this weekend, with a thinly fictionalized tale of Paris' notorious fashion comeback post-WWII.
Dior: “In an epoch as somber as ours, luxury must be defended inch by inch.”
This weekend a new costume period piece begins on PBS, just in time for some much needed escapism. But it's been a long and circular route to get here. The miniseries was originally bankrolled as part of Amazon Prime's bid for a breakout streaming drama, in conjuction with the BBC. It aired in the UK over a year ago, before debuting on the streaming service over here in February. Now, it comes to Masterpiece. The series was originally eight parts, but PBS has edited it down to six, with the opening episode running 90 minutes.
Set in Paris only 18 months or so after the end of World War II, the story focuses on "The House of Sabine" which has been handpicked by the country's cotton king to restore Paris fashion to it's pre-war glory days. It also has a secondary goal -- to quietly put behind them the Nazi-era collaborating it did during the Vichey France occupation period in order to survive.
Businessman Paul Sabine (Richard Coyle, aka Jeff from Coupling) is all for the match, and the chance to expand the family business into a new era, but at the expense of the true talent in the family, his brother Claude (played by Tom Riley of STARZ's Da Vinci's Demons.) Their new partners are "conservative, church going family men" while Claude is both a hot tempered drunk and openly gay at a time when that wasn't ok.
How realistic is this historical fiction? Thought the show claims The House of Sabine is predicated on many WWII fashion houses at the time, including Balenciaga, Fath and Lelong, the real heart of the story comes from Dior. Much like Sabine, the House of Dior was bankrolled in their 1947 comeback by Marcel Boussac, who was France's cotton king, and a known war profiteer. That "New Look" collection, as it was dubbed at the time, like the one the Sabines produce "rocked the fashion world."
It also caused just as much fashion scandal with the extreme hourglass figure, including the now iconic "Bar Jacket", and their use of yards and yards of fabric, something long rationed during the war years. The Collection even restages a key moment after the 1947 Dior collection was introduced, when a young woman wearing an outfit from it was set upon by a mob who ripped her clothes from her body, screaming how decadant and inappropriate it was.
But though the overarching success story is that of Dior, there's also plenty of soap opera suds added as well, including the Sabine matriarch played by Frances de la Tour (Madame Maxine in Harry Potter) who seems to enjoy setting her sons against one another, as well as Paul's wife, a rich US heiress who he married for her money, played by Mamie Gummer (Nancy Crozier from The Good Wife.) Throw in an American journalist from Life Magazine who stumbles on quite a bit of juicy gossip about the Sabines that they'd rather keep under wraps, and it's one of the dishiest, yet well dressed shows PBS has put on since Downton Abbey's hat collection.
The Collection premieres Sunday, October 8th, at 10pm, directly following your weekly dose of Poldark. (When you put it that way, you have no excuse not to watch.)