Fashion is most definitely not my thing, but even I’ve heard of Coco Chanel and Christian Dior. And that’s exactly what AppleTV is counting on with their new limited series, The New Look, which premiered on February 14.

But before you immediately dismiss The New Look as an inside look at the fashion world (for which you may have zero interest), it is worth noting that the series is not about fashion as much as it is the lives of famous designers in France in the 40’s, especially Chanel and Dior, and their lives were much more than just sewing and drawing. In fact, you’ll be amazed to hear how much more complicated and fascinating their lives actually were, apart from any fashion at all.

The series creator, Todd A. Kessler, has an impressive resume, which includes The Sopranos, Damages and serving as the showrunner for Bloodline. All of those shows were complex, dark and violent shows about complex, dark and violent people—not exactly what you think of when you think of fashion designers. But that’s what’s so great about The New Look—it isn’t at all what you expect.

The great—and criminally underrated—Ben Mendelsohn stars as Dior and Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche stars as Chanel in this 10-part series about the two paths Dior and Chanel’s lives take during and after World War II. The series is, in fact, more about the war than it is fashion, so don’t confuse the demographic for this show. There’s enough here for fans of spies and resistance fighters as there is dresses and perfume, I promise. In fact, the first few episodes are extremely dark, bleak and harrowing, focused on life in occupied Paris during the war. Dior’s sister, Catherine (played by Game of Thrones alum Maisie Williams) is active in the French resistance, much to her brother’s dismay, and she ends up being captured and taken to Ravensbrück, a German prison camp. Christian puts his life and work on hold, desperately trying to find her. Christian’s relationship with Catherine turns out to be the most significant and influential one in his life. His passion for designing comes from a desire to make the world a better place, haunted by ghosts and crippled by guilt and overwhelming responsibility.

As for Chanel, her entanglements and motivations are less emotional than they are financial, as she finds herself immediately at odds with her Jewish business partners who have fled the Nazis and taken their business with them. Chanel, a shrewd and ruthless businesswoman who is defiantly proud of her company which bears her name, will do anything to get her business back, even if it means getting into bed with Nazis, literally and figuratively.

The structure of the series is fascinating, as it toggles back and forth between Dior and Chanel’s lives, these two giants of French fashion, showing how differently they approached their craft, their businesses and the aftermath of the war. Mendelsohn and Binoche are exquisite in their performances, one heartbreakingly passive, the other grandiosely melodramatic, but each able to color their characters with blurred lines, shaking them from simplistic characterization. Binoche’s Chanel is selfish and at times cruel, but she never capitulates to the expected role of a woman, which is refreshing and bold. She was a brilliant artist who built a business, and she earned the right to fight for it. It is up to the viewer to judge her actions, and Binoche makes it just as easy to love her as to hate her, which is the mark of a gifted actor.

Mendelsohn plays Dior with much less controversy or complication. He is quiet, discreet and pensive, sweet and heartbreaking, making him a character who is easy to root for. There are moments, however, when you long for him to explode with rage, or even show any emotion at all—I’d even take a single scene where he isn’t wearing a tie! But, still, Mendelsohn’s performance works and wins you over.

There are other characters in The New Look, but don’t be deceived by the marketing for the show, it is most definitely not about all the designers who defined an age of fashion, even though famous ones like Lucien Lelong, Cristobal Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain and Pierre Cardin are characters, they are nothing more than narrative elements in Dior’s story.

As for the fashion itself, the final couple of episodes finally focus on the designers and the couture houses that saved Paris in the years after the war and brought life and pride back to a city and country. While there still wasn’t enough about a designer’s process for my liking, there was still enough behind the scenes to be fascinating and offer a glimpse of how the magic happens.

There are a couple of casting misfires that take the series slightly off-course, including Glenn Close in a distracting role of Carmel Snow, the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar, apparently the Anna Wintour of her day, and John Malkovich as Dior’s mentor Lelong, in a performance that can only be described as nonsensical. Whatever Malkovich is doing here, it doesn’t work for the character or the show but is appreciated as unintended comic relief.

Overall, The New Look is well done, a fascinating bit of history that is well worth learning and a glimpse behind the scenes of the birth of an industry that is illuminating and powerful with two central performances that anchor a story that is well worth telling.

The first 3 episodes dropped on AppleTV on 2/14. New episodes drop each Wednesday.