Dressed to kill: ‘The Collection’ delivers high stakes, high fashion

Sundays at 9 p.m., beginning Oct. 8

World War II is over and stylish clothes are back as Paris recovers from the horrors of the Nazi occupation. In this beautifully shot and critically acclaimed series from “Masterpiece,” one family struggles to build a fashion empire at any cost.

Set in 1947, “The Collection” captures a turbulent era in French history, when partisans hunted down Nazi collaborators and anyone with something to hide shunned the past and embraced the future. Fashion became the perfect expression of this impulse to look ahead. Wartime rationing, drabness, and erotic restraint gave way to alluring displays of color, form, and fabric in women’s clothes — for those who could afford them.

In “The Collection,” the Sabine family firm is at the forefront of this exciting but ruthless pursuit. Business-savvy Paul, aided by his wealthy American wife, Helen, has been chosen by the French government to lead the battle to reclaim the nation’s preeminence in the couture world. Widely regarded as the genius behind his studio’s stunning designs, Paul is in fact purveying the work of his brother, Claude, an unbridled sensualist who can’t restrain his amorous impulses. In free moments, Claude works in a frenzy to sketch new gowns, often consigning them to the wastebasket, where they are retrieved and turned into the Sabine collection’s latest sensations. Meanwhile, Paul and Claude’s overbearing mother, Yvette, will stop at nothing to advance her boys’ careers — often to their dismay.

The series also features Nina, the seamstress with a secret and a future in modelling; Billy, an American photojournalist on a mission to record the vitality of postwar Paris; Charlotte, the ambitious head saleswoman at the Sabine studio; and Paul’s mentor, Frederic Lemaire.

Into this superficially elegant universe comes hard-boiled American reporter Stan Rossi with suspicions about Paul’s past, but so far little to go on. Assigned to photograph a fashion story for Rossi, Billy soon parts company to become the Sabine studio’s official photographer. In the process, he elevates the worker Nina to be the signature model for the firm — much to the chagrin of the reigning top model, Dominique, who plots revenge.

Adding to the turmoil, police Inspector Bompard enters the picture when Yvette’s scheme to get Claude under control goes horribly awry, leading to an investigation that threatens the entire Sabine enterprise.

Who knew that couture could be so cutthroat?

“The Collection on Masterpiece” begins with a two-hour premiere at 9 p.m. on Oct. 8. One-hour episodes follow through Nov. 19.

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