The Collection: Episode 1
The French do a lot of things better than the rest. Food, art and, particularly, fashion. Anyone who knows me knows that I love fashion, glamour and style. So to combine this with another of my fascinations, period drama, Oliver Goldstick was onto a winner with The Collection. This new eight-part series commissioned for the Amazon Prime online streaming service tells the story of a Paris fashion house attempting to regain Paris’ status as the fashion capital of the world. Doing so proves to be more difficult than expected when the immediate family of the atelier are revealed to have their own problems to be nervous about.
The Collection didn’t start off quite how I’d imagined it would: the first scene, shot from clandestine camera angles, obscures a figure burying an unknown body. But immediately after, we are thrown into Paris in 1947 – it becomes clear where the budget of the series has gone; exquisite recreations of 1940s Parisian streets, glamorous private fashion shows and the silk-lined walls of garment manufacturing ateliers all justify the show’s big-budget status. Paul Sabine (Richard Coyle) heads up the haute couture fashion house conducting all the business operations of the Sabine label. His brother, Claude (Tom Riley), is the creative member of the family who spends his time illustrating luxurious bespoke dresses for the company’s clientele. That is, of course, when he isn’t indulging in extra-curricular homosexual activity. When Paul signs a deal with the powerful Jules Trouvier (James Cosmo) to dress the women of Paris, his anticipation of press scrutiny forces him to put an end to his brother’s indulgences. The viewer quickly realises that the identity of the anonymous body at the start of the episode is Claude’s lover and it becomes clear that Paul will do anything to rise to the top of his game.
I was hooked immediately. The glamour, the lies, the deceit; what more could you want from a series? Naturally, with this being a period drama characterised by style, Mad Men associations will be made. I was initially worried that the gloriously suave Paul Sabine might be too reminiscent of the equally stylish Don Draper, but when his sly means of conducting business became apparent, I realised that there’s far more to his character than meets the eye. Paris’ gay scene isn’t the only cause of anxiety for the Sabine’s; there is the implication that some members of the fashion house might have sympathies for the allied forces. Trouvier was insistent on working with a fresh brand that had little political history for that very reason; he needed a designer who could work without the possibility of bringing the Trouvier name into disrepute. The series is set in a time when fashion choices were as politically motivated as those made in cabinets of office, which is why The Collection makes for such thrilling viewing.
Obviously, there is bound to be a touch of l’amour. After all, this is Paris. Tracing the rise of avant-garde fashion photography, Billy Novak (Max Deacon) finds himself head-over-heels when his assignment takes him to the Sabine factory where Nina (Jenny Thiam) works as a seamstress. He pioneers the Sabine philosophy that a dress can transform its wearer (by dressing Nina in some of her own creations) and it looks as though we might see Billy working for Paul in the next episode.
The press coverage prior to the release of The Collection today largely focussed on the fact that Meryl Streep’s daughter, Mamie Gummer, would be starring in the series. And although Gummer wasn’t in the first episode as much as I’d anticipated, she gives a performance worthy of the privilege of being mentioned in a sentence without the words ‘Meryl’ and ‘Streep’ following closely after. I was also delighted to see one of my favourite actors, Frances de la Tour, appearing in the first episode as the mother of Paul and Claude Sabine. Her character epitomises the glamour synonymous with the decade with her bleach blonde ringlets and fur-lined coat. Absolutely fabulous.
If I had to criticise one thing about The Collection, it’s the show’s use of accents. It’s always slightly disorientating when a drama set abroad features characters with English accents. For example, I never was able to wrap my head around how the 2012 film adaptation of Les Misérables so proudly cast a young actor with one of the broadest cockney accents I’d ever heard in the role of Gavroche. I think that native languages should always be used (for realism more than anything), but if that can’t be managed, then I’d expect at least an attempt at an accent. Unfortunately, no attempt was made in The Collection. Those who are French speak with Received English Pronunciation whilst Americans speak with American accents which is a little frustrating, but is quickly forgotten.
Does it warrant paying £80 for an Amazon Prime subscription? I’d argue it does. The series is so captivating and beautiful, it’s instantly gripping and is supported by an evidently capable cast. I think Amazon Prime really is as good Netflix in terms of original drama. When you look at shows like Mozart in the Jungle, Transparent and now The Collection, there is no doubting it’s worth the subscription fee.
The first episode of The Collection is available to stream on Amazon Prime now and the second will be available next Friday (09/09/16).