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‘The New Look’: The True Story Behind Coco and Elsa

Editor’s Note: The following post contains spoilers for “The New Look” Episode 9.

With the penultimate episode of “The New Look” comes the end of the road for Elsa Lombardi (Emily Mortimer), one of the most fascinating and fictionalized characters in Todd Kessler’s Apple TV+ series. After a fight with Coco (Juliette Binoche), a critical interaction with Spatz (Claes Bang), and a fatal overdose, Elsa is found dead while Coco weeps over her body.

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But a quick scan of history reveals that Elsa Lombardi never existed. According to Kessler, Mortimer’s character is an amalgam of two figures in Chanel’s life, fused for narrative purposes to serve the series. One of those is the French-Polish musician Misia Sert, who met Chanel in 1917, and the other is British socialite Vera Lombardi, whose lifestyle inspired the House of Chanel.

The real-life Lombardi was Chanel’s way into British high society, including the Royal Family, and critically to the show’s narrative, Winston Churchill. Her marriage to an Italian army captain meant that she had connections to Mussolini that were also fruitful in Chanel’s wartime activities.

“What’s not in the show is that the Gestapo went to Elsa Lombardi,” Kessler told IndieWire. “[They] told her that they wanted her to come to Paris and she refused, and they put her in a prison for three or four months to try to… break her will and just come on her own volition.”

Some of that plays out as it does in “The New Look,” with the women traveling together and Elsa suspecting Coco of colluding with Nazis, but in real life their association eventually caused concern for MI6. Lombardi ended up becoming an informant and was never convicted of suspicious activity herself, despite tangential involvement in Chanel’s movements. Their contact ceased after Lombardi denounced Chanel as a spy, and she died a few years later after struggling to return home to Italy.

“She essentially killed her,” Kessler said. “Not actively killed her, but took her away from Italy. She was in captivity, in prison — not only in Italy but then she was kept by the British Council — and she dies. And that’s the end of her story.”

The show is more direct in showing Coco’s hand by keeping the women close, and by then weaving Vera Lombardi’s story into Misia Sert’s. Sert was close enough to Chanel that she “comes to basically cheer her up because Chanel’s bored” while in Switzerland. Drug use was a regular part of their friendship over the years, though Sert’s death was not directly attributed to an overdose. “The New Look” is hardly the first docudrama to indulge in some Hollywood embellishment, choosing to make Elsa and Coco friends since childhood and bookending Elsa’s death episode with flashbacks to their youth and big dreams. At the end of Episode 9, Coco’s implication in her friend’s death makes it all the more tragic.

“It’s such a colorful character that to just combine them made sense,” Kessler said, citing conversations he had with Mortimer throughout the process as well. “It didn’t feel like it was really betraying the spirit of either of them.”

“The New Look” airs Wednesdays on Apple TV+ and concludes its first season on April 3.

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