“The Collection,” an original Amazon series premiering today, tells the story of two brothers trying to build a fashion empire in postwar Paris, with all the attendant scandal, jealousy and deceit typical of sweeping costume dramas.
Writer, creator and producer Oliver Goldstick said “The Collection” was filmed in Wales and Paris with a British and French cast and attention to “every detail down to the matchbooks,” found at the flea markets in Paris. The series is Amazon’s first U.K. commission.
Paul Sabine (Richard Coyle), who runs the business side of the fashion house, hides layers of complexity beneath his slick exterior, while his brother Claude, (Tom Riley), the creative force behind the label, is a volcano of emotion waiting to erupt. Mamie Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter, stars as Paul’s wife, Helen.
“Paris wasn’t bombed, but it was emotionally scarred,” Goldstick said, adding that he was interested in couturiers such as Christian Dior, whose New Look in 1947 helped rejuvenate the French fashion industry and also scandalized the world, and whose silhouettes can be seen on models in “Collection.”
“Dior’s New Look was such a contrast,” Goldstick said. “It wasn’t so new. It was a nostalgic reference that provided structure in a land of chaos. Givenchy and Dior were not working-class people. I also was fascinated by Cristóbal Balenciaga and Coco Chanel, who came from humble backgrounds. Immigrants were pouring into Paris after the war. I wanted to write about a family that wasn’t born to the manor.”
While some events and people may seem recognizable, “the characters aren’t silly caricatures of real people,” Goldstick said. “They’re amalgams.”
The idea for “The Collection” gelled after a visit last spring to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum to see the exhibit, “The Glamor of Italian Fashion: 1945 to 2016.” Alan Riding’s book, “And The Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris,” further crystallized the story.
“He used fashion as a metaphor for reinvention,” Goldstick said. “Fashion in 1947 was political.”
“The Collection” touches on themes such as collective national guilt. Goldstick found inspiration in Lucien Lelong, who was president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture when the war began in 1939, and Dior’s mentor.
Lelong negotiated with the occupying Nazi regime to keep the couture ateliers in Paris — Germany wanted them moved to Berlin — and was rumored to be a collaborator. “He was a controversial figure,” Goldstick said. “His case went to trial and he was acquitted by former Vichy officials. He saved so many jobs. That’s the world I wanted to create.”
Another character in “The Collection” is “very loosely based on Carmel Snow,” the legendary editor of Harper’s Bazaar, and there’s a young photographer who may be reminiscent of Richard Avedon.
Fashion wasn’t Goldstick’s primary métier, but he had plenty of experience with beauty and image as co-executive producer of “Ugly Betty,” the TV series about young woman trying to find her inner beauty while working at a magazine where outward appearance is everything. He was also executive producer of “Pretty Little Liars” and showrunner for “Desperate Housewives.”
“The Collection” gave Goldstick a newfound respect for fashion. “Dior was so ahead of his time,” he said. “He [and other couturiers] were transforming a society. This is an art form.”