The cast of The Collection, BBC First’s compelling period family saga. Picture: Supplied

When it comes to compelling period dramas, South Africans have been exposed to some real British gems, à la Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge.

Now The Collection looks set to mirror the same success with the stellar casting of Richard Coyle (Coupling), Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demons), Frances de la Tour (Hugo and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), Mamie Gummer (The Good Wife) and Jenna Thiam (The Returned).

Set in a famous Parisian fashion house, post-World War 2, the story follows the strained relationships of the family running the empire. Paul (Coyle) and Claude (Riley) are the brothers at the heart of the story. They are as different as night and day. Their relationship is poisoned by distrust, insecurities and rivalry.

Meanwhile, Yvette, the matriarch of the family, tries her best to keep a firm hand on things. 

Then there is Helen (Gummer), Paul’s American wife, dealing with her own struggles, while seamstress Nina (Thiam) proves to be a star on the rise.

On what inspired The Collection, Goldsmith explains, “I had worked on several fashion-centric shows and when I was doing Ugly Betty, we wondered, right from the first season, where the stories were going to come from.

“It was about a fashion magazine, so I did research into how fashion houses worked. That show satirised that world and fashion is ripe for satire. Then I would read things that I was fascinated by and then I did a show called Lipstick Jungle, where one of the characters was a designer who started her own fashion house.

Mammie Gunner. Picture: Supplied

“And in 2012, I was in London on holiday when Kate (Croft, executive producer) asked to meet me. And she said, ‘I really want to show you something.’ So we met and she gave me this book called The Golden Age of Couture, about London and Paris haute couture in the period 1947-57.

“She said she wanted to work on a drama set at this time and I said, ‘So do I, but who cares?’ I explained that, by the 15th or 16th episode of Ugly Betty, we were struggling to find stories, because how many dress designs can be stolen before getting them back?

“That was my major obstacle in trying to create this world and I also told her that it would be a very hard-sell in America. It’s very easy to lampoon this world. It’s considered elitist and fatuous with silly, vain people and there is plenty to mock. But Kate said, ‘I think this period is very special.’ I told her I had already done some research and to let me go home to LA and do some reading and get back to her.”

He continues, “And so I went back to LA and one of the first books I bought was called And The Show Went On, by Alan Riding, which was not about fashion but the arts during the occupation and directly after. And I was smitten by it.”

Goldsmith notes, “Paris in 1946-47 was a really fascinating place because the war didn’t end so quickly for them. It lingered and it was a dark time, still. And I said to Kate, ‘Are you willing to start out dark and get light?’ It’s almost like coming out of a hole. There were deprivations at that time and shortages of basic human needs – from butter, eggs, bread to petrol to coal. People were living in coats in 1946 and even early in 1947 because of the severely cold winter.”

It wasn’t long before Croft and Goldsmith agreed on the tone and story trajectory, and the series started taking shape with parts of it shot in Paris.

On slipping into the skin of Paul, Coyle says, “He’s a brilliant businessman. He’s a gangster in some ways and a street kid. He’s reinvented himself. He’s grown up on the streets and he’s pulled himself and his family out of the gutter and he’s made this fashion house and label from nothing. He’s incredibly resourceful and driven and ambitious. Yes, there are a lot of secrets in the closet.”

 Richard Coyle: Picture: Supplied

He continues, “He will stop at nothing to protect his world and will be as ruthless as he needs to be to get where he wants to get to.”

A very enigmatic person, he commands fear from men while women find themselves drawn to him.

Meanwhile, Gummer shares her thoughts on what attracted her to The Collection. Her character comes with baggage. She has made Paris her home for a decade, having escaped a loveless arranged marriage back home.

She is the wind behind Paul’s wings, inspiring him to start his own label by borrowing money from her relatives to finance it. Privy to her husband’s secrets, she struggles as an “outsider” in the family.

She says, “It was really the project as a whole, there are a lot of appealing aspects to it. I love how that it’s a family drama period piece exploring what happens when you scratch the veneer of something and the compromises people make during hard times. And how they cover up and compensate for that.”

The Collection offers a melting pot of emotions as high-fashion drama, betrayals, rivalries and secrets threaten to undermine one of the most powerful Parisian fashion houses.

The Collection airs on BBC First (DStv Channel 119) from Sunday, April 2 at 9pm.