Gallery Links: Photoshoots 2020
Not to mention the dream of working with Patricia Field on Emily in Paris.
Patricia Field is known for her amazing costumes in fashion-favorite films, from Sex and the City to The Devil Wears Prada to Confessions of a Shopaholic, each of which take a person on a fantasy-inducing sartorial safari through unexpected pattern combinations and ostentatious yet modern silhouettes. So when Lily Collins got the offer to work with not only Field but also Darren Star, creator of Sex and the City and Younger, she was immediately hooked on what she calls “a golden nugget.”
Their new show, Emily in Paris, available on Netflix as of October 2nd, is by no means the beginning of Collins’ fashion journey. The young actress has worked in films like Mirror, Mirror with corseted gowns and The Mortal Instruments with edgy, leather-filled looks. On the other side of the camera, she has the privilege of experimenting with the best that fashion has to offer on the red carpet and more.
As those have been put on hold for the time being, Collins has swapped gowns for sweats. So she couldn’t resist the opportunity for a little socially distanced shoot. Along with her costar Ashley Park, who plays Emily’s best friend Mindy, the two staged an impromptu shoot with the clothes they had on hand at their director’s ranch in Northern California (COVID tests were administered beforehand, of course). “It was really special also, because we were like, ‘Wait, this is so “Emily and Mindy” of us to do,’” says Collins. “Little did we know that a year after we met, from Paris to a ranch, we’d be having some crazy Emily in Paris experience together documented in photos.”
Have you always loved fashion, or has it been something you’ve had to embrace since you’ve started acting?
“I’ve been a fashion lover since I could put clothes on. My mom tells me stories about how I would have such a specific point of view on what I wanted to wear. I would go vintage shopping with her. I loved color and patterns. My style has definitely evolved over the years, but fashion has always been something constant. For me, fashion designers are artists, and sometimes I get so overwhelmed meeting them, more so than other actors. It’s such a fascinating craft, and their mind works in ways that I deeply admire. I feel very fortunate that my job allows me to experiment with fashion in different ways, but it’s definitely something that I always wanted to tap into.”
“I’VE BEEN A FASHION LOVER SINCE I COULD PUT CLOTHES ON.”
How does being in the spotlight affect your personal style?
“I think every character that I play informs me of new fashion personalities, if you will. When I did Mortal Instruments, and it was more gothic and dark—there was a lot of black and leather and stuff like that—I started incorporating more of a darker ‘rock and roll’ feel. Then when I did Mirror, Mirror, it was obviously more princess-y and more feminine and regal. And then Emily. Oh my god, working with Patricia Field, it was like patterns and colors and textures and designers and just all of those things all at once, and it was never too much for Emily. I get to express myself in different ways through my characters and through fashion.”
It’s such a cool thing that acting and fashion share that ability to create a character:
“For me, the relationship with the costume designer and creative designer of any TV show, movie, or any project that I do is so important because you’re creating the essence of the character. It’s what you feel like every day when you step into those clothes that helps inform how you’re going to move and breathe and live as that person. Every single outfit that you wear really dictates how you feel that day. Like in real life, if you’re wearing comfortable sweatpants versus a very fitted dress to go out, you carry yourself differently. The way that you dress really affects your mood and it affects the way that you create a character.”
“I THINK EVERY CHARACTER THAT I PLAY INFORMS ME OF NEW FASHION PERSONALITIES, IF YOU WILL.”
On creating her character Emily through costume:
“Emily is bright and bubbly and unafraid to take risks. That translates directly into her fashion. I didn’t want her to be a character that has some kind of transformation in order to be accepted, to have that scene where she goes in the dressing room looking one way and comes out Parisian. We wanted it to be that she’s very much herself in all ways throughout the season, she just starts to pick up a little bit of Parisian fashion sense here and there. I think she, like myself, grew up loving Carrie Bradshaw, she loves French Vogue, she loves all these magazines that allow her to soak in the culture. And what would she wear when she goes to Paris? She’s going to wear the Eiffel Tower on her shirt. That’s who she is. Then she’ll do something like throw a beret on, but it’s always in that Emily way. It’s never understated, but that’s what you love about her, or at least that’s what I love about her.”
“EVERY SINGLE OUTFIT THAT YOU WEAR REALLY DICTATES HOW YOU FEEL THAT DAY.”
You said you grew up watching Carrie Bradshaw. Was it so exciting for you to work on a Darren Star show and work with Patricia Field?
“Oh my god, I was over the moon. It was already so cool knowing it was a Darren Star project; if you add Patricia Field to it, I was like, ‘This is a golden nugget.’ I so admire her and all her work throughout the years and just her eye. She’s so specific and so unafraid. That obviously so deeply translates to Emily as a character, that idea of embracing different colors and patterns and textures. It’s like, ‘How do you express yourself through fashion in a way that says everything you want to say and you stay true to who you are?’ That’s Patricia. She was so adamant about being so collaborative with me right off the bat. She really wanted this to be a mutual experience. And Marylin Fitoussi, the French designer who came on board with Patricia, was also just so incredible. Her eye mixed with Patricia’s just created such an amazing character that we all could just every day giggle at and go, ‘Oh my god, how fun is this?’”
I know you’ve been very open about your relationship with self-image, and I was wondering if fashion has played a role in all that for you?
“One’s relationship with their body is so personal. I’m really somebody who embraces feeling at peace with myself and that mind-body-soul connection of learning and educating myself on how to be more comfortable in my own skin. My stylist Rob and Mariel have had a really big impact on me in terms of pushing me outside my comfort zone of what I thought I’d feel good in. They allow me to feel unafraid to wear different silhouettes that I maybe didn’t think would suit me before. Understanding one’s body through clothes is a really interesting experience. It’s all in the tailoring, and they’ve taught me so much about that.”
“ONE’S RELATIONSHIP WITH THEIR BODY IS SO PERSONAL. I’M REALLY SOMEBODY WHO EMBRACES FEELING AT PEACE WITH MYSELF AND THAT MIND-BODY-SOUL CONNECTION OF LEARNING AND EDUCATING MYSELF ON HOW TO BE MORE COMFORTABLE IN MY OWN SKIN.”
“Sometimes there is something that’s super in style at the moment [that] just doesn’t work for me. And I’m kind of like, ‘OK great, I can appreciate it on her, but it doesn’t work for me,’ instead of wearing it just to wear it and then feeling awful in it. What’s the point of that? Literally what’s the point? I can appreciate it in a magazine. I can appreciate it on a friend or on a model. I think it’s just realizing that not everything’s going to work on your body type and to embrace what works on you. Obviously, when you’re younger, everyone wants to wear the same trends. The older you get, you’re just like, ‘Cool, if it doesn’t work on me, there’s 10 million other fashion things that I can wear that will look good.’”
What have been your favorite red carpet looks so far?
“This year for obvious reasons the Met Ball didn’t happen, but I always love that experience. The Met Ball is always a moment where I get to play and have fun and lean on my hair, makeup, and stylists to create a character. Every year is different. It’s an opportunity to play. In those situations, I don’t want to just look the same. I don’t want to just look like myself. I want to allow them to create a character and do what it is that they do best. That’s what I rely on them for and what I respect them for. Then we can come together and have fun.”
Gallery Links: TELEVISION SERIES > EMILY IN PARIS > SEASON 1 > SCREENCAPTURES
The actress Lily Collins recently found peace sitting on a surfboard in the Pacific Ocean, waiting for a wave to come. Of all the activities Collins took up while quarantining at her home in Los Angeles over the summer—jamming through stacks of books about meditation and self-reflection; listening to podcasts from Brené Brown and Jay Shetty, a former monk; going on road trips to Northern California—surfing became a particular favorite. After some lessons on land from her boyfriend, Charlie McDowell, an avid surfer himself, she’d wade in. When the swell came, she’d hop up on her board, trying to be as strong as she could, focused on simply getting on her feet and staying there. She realized she had no control over the water, which would sometimes completely take her over, swallow her up in its power, and then spit her back out onto the shore. Whenever that happened, Collins just let it ride out, face-planting into sand, often in front of other beach-goers. What else could she do?
On the phone a couple months later, Collins is one of the few people you’ll hear describe her experience in lockdown as “amazing, actually.”
“I know it’s super strange, but I haven’t been stationary in one place for this long in—I can’t remember how long,” 31-year-old Collins says. But like most others, she spent the time forced to do a fair amount of reflection on what she wanted from her life: without the distractions of traveling, work, spending time with friends and family, going outside, a metaphorical mirror was placed in front of her, forcing her to dig deep and look at the things about herself she might have usually ignored.
There were, however, lighter moments in quarantine: her father, Phil Collins, for example, experienced a spike on the musical charts, after two twin YouTubers, Tim and Fred Williams, better known by their handle Twinsthenewtrend, posted a video in which they listened to In the Air Tonight for the first time. It went viral, racking up millions of views, and shooting the elder Collins’ record, originally released in 1980, to the top of Spotify’s and Apple Music’s lists. Soon after the video went up in August, Lily Collins’ phone started lighting up with texts, e-mails, and DMs on Instagram from people sending her clips of the video. She sent it to her father.
“I was like, ‘Dad, I’m sure you’ve literally received this so many times, but please watch this,’” she says. “I remember having this conversation with him when I was younger. I would share with him the music and the new bands that I was listening to at the time. He was just as inspired by young musicians and young artists, just as much as when you read interviews of up-and-coming artists and they talk about who they admire. So I think he really gets a kick out of seeing how his music, which I’m sure sometimes he thinks is so past irrelevant, comes around again.”
Although Collins has few qualms discussing her family life now, this wasn’t always the case. Coming from such a legendary background caused her to pass her teen years—after she’d moved from her hometown in Surrey, England, to Los Angeles, at the age of six—in a state of anxiety, worried that people expected her to be a certain way: spoiled, charming, talented, successful, perfect. She took these assumptions and put them upon herself, trying to fit in, attempting to please others. Collins tweezed and shaved her thick eyebrows, she hid her British accent. And in past interviews, she’s shied away from speaking about her upbringing, noting there are just some topics in her private life that are off the table in terms of what she’s willing to discuss.
Collins has been adamant about creating her own path, perhaps in a marked attempt to distinguish herself as an individual from the famous names attached to her. And indeed, she’s built a career on her own, starring in films like Bong Joon Ho’s Okja, and To the Bone, the story of a woman with an eating disorder (a narrative that mirrored Collins’s own life; she herself struggled for years with extreme dieting, bingeing and purging, and abusing laxatives and pills). In a departure from these darker, more Gothic roles she’s used to playing, Collins will star in the upcoming Netflix series Emily in Paris, which debuts on October 2. It’s a rom-com about a beautiful dream girl living in Chicago whose work takes her to France—where she encounters pain au chocolat and handsome men waiting to sweep her off her feet. Produced by Sex and the City’s Darren Star, and costumed by Patricia Field, the same designer who worked on Carrie Bradshaw and co., the show has an upbeat, sunny, quality. It feels like the anti-reality, especially now. Emily’s world is a fantasy, and Emily herself is utterly unflappable, in a typically American-in-Paris way: she requests her steak be well-done, and asks to speak to the chef when the server refuses to give her anything but rare; she doesn’t try to learn how to speak French until she’s told to, and immediately upon landing in her new office, she begins to give unsolicited advice on how to revamp the company’s social media presence (in English). While I watched Emily flounce around in floral ball skirts and purses with the Eiffel Tower on them, I was equal parts horrified and entranced. I cringed at the steak part—just take it rare! Don’t be rude!—and wondered what the hell kind of show this was. But each time a new episode automatically began, I couldn’t turn it off. Emily in Paris is binge-worthy, aspirational cinema at its finest. In my own life, I’m unsure of the next time I’ll be able to travel, unsure of the future—but in the show, I can watch Emily’s adventures on the Champs-Elysées, meeting people, feeling the first flush of a new romance, taking a huge bite out of a buttered baguette. Simply put, it’s a fun show. It makes you feel good. And in a deeper sense, Emily feels no amount of confusion, never questions what’s to come—in fact, she’s excited for what may be. When was the last time you felt that way?
During this round of press to promote the show, Collins says, lots of reporters have asked her why she decided to take on a role that’s so different from her past ones.
“I do love darker roles,” she explains. “I definitely feel like I get to explore different sides of myself with every job that I do. And I’ve never wanted to be put into a box as one specific type of character that I get known for playing, or that I think I can play. I’d been looking for a fun, comical, witty, fashion-y, loving-life type of character for a long time. But those roles are very specific and they come around every once in a while. I needed the character to also have smarts, and a heart, and not to just be one thing. Playing Emily, for me, was a release, because I’d never gotten to really show that side of myself before. “A big thing, for us, in the development of Emily was that we never wanted it to seem as thought she had to have this transformation in order to be accepted,” she continues. “She’s like, ‘I’m not going to change who I am, but I’m going to wear that Eiffel Tower shirt if I want to. And I’m going to carry that Mona Lisa bag, because I’m obvious and that’s great.’ She’s proud of who she is, but she’s not afraid to adapt to where she is as well. Throughout the series, her confidence grows. She doesn’t worry about what people are thinking. At the beginning, she takes to heart the judgments that people in the office are giving her, but by the end, you can see that she’s endearing to them. She knows it doesn’t matter what people say or think.”
Collins is obsessed, she says, with examining the human experience. It’s why she studied broadcast journalism at USC, went into communications, started her career by covering the 2008 election as a host on the Nickelodeon series Kids Pick the President. She liked doing interviews with people, asking them questions, seeing their souls, their values, their deepest wishes, coming out in small ways. She was curious to know them, to understand them.
The actress is also obsessed, it turns out, with looking inward. A morning spent drinking cups of coffee, reading her meditation books, practicing introspection, is one of her most-loved activities. (Lucky for her to enjoy such a task, since understanding the self is often a lifelong journey for most people.) But for Collins, learning about herself and what she really wanted from her life was a way for her to escape the clutches of expectations put upon her as a kid. In 2017, she wrote a book called Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me, that, she says, allowed her to shed all of that—let it go and leave it in the past. And in quarantine, she began work on another book, jotting down the lessons she’s learned in isolation.
“I can’t remember the last time I tried something new with that fear of failing in the back of my mind,” Collins says of learning to surf during this time. “But with something like surfing, you put yourself in that vulnerable position to fail. It gives you that feeling of letting go and knowing that it’s okay, any moment that’s new and fresh as an experience, is a good thing.” Collins says acting is a little bit like that; it forces her to be present. It is practice as a form of meditation, to sit in stillness, if only for a moment.
How have you felt about the crazy reaction to the series so far?
“You know, it’s such a weird feeling to be going through this sort of release right now. We’re so lucky to have Netflix because it’s being rolled out all over the world – but having that take place while you’re at home is surreal, to say the least. It’s not the usual situation of travelling around the world to promote the series. I’m a really social person, so I enjoy that process – whereas right now I can just drive around in LA and see a few billboards. That being said, there’s just been so much darkness for everyone in 2020 – it’s great to make people laugh and help them escape a little bit. It feels as though viewers are really losing themselves in Emily in Paris and just having a good time, so it’s come at the perfect moment, in a lot of ways. An American in Paris is by no means a revolutionary plot line – but right now it’s a foreign one that’s just not possible in real life.”
So, first things first: how old is Emily supposed to be, and what is her level of professional experience?
“I don’t believe we’ve ever given her a specific ‘number’ for her age, but I believe that she’s pretty fresh out of college. Maybe this is her first year after graduation. I want to say she’s like, 22-ish. She’s had enough experience at her company in Chicago to have earned the respect of her boss. She’s a smart cookie and really innovative – and this is not her first rodeo doing what she does. She’s gone to school for this, and she’s completed internships. However, she’s not the person who travelled during college. She was really, really focused on her jobs in the Midwest, and I don’t think she’s been abroad. Basically, she’s always kind of been a big fish in a small pond – and then suddenly in Paris she’s a fish out of water. If she had gone to a different company in Chicago, she would have been taken seriously – but in Paris, she’s not prepared for the cultural shift that she experiences at Savoir. Her only real experience of Europe is through movies and tv”
Were there moments when you cringed at Emily’s behaviour, or just thought “Pull yourself together!”
“There are a lot of points in the series where she’s trying to defend herself almost proactively. The team at Savoir thought that she would be older and speak French – but she only found out that she would be moving to Paris a week before she left Chicago. She’s just doing her best with seven days to prepare, having never studied the language in her life. So, she’s like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna jump in and do whatever I can on the plane – there’s obviously not enough time, but I’m going to try.’ That’s just her typical make-it-work attitude, which she has with both her job and relationships. When she says something like, ‘I did Rosetta Stone’, she’s really saying, ‘Look, I know I’m not prepared, but I’m trying here!’ Her specialty is crisis management; she’s a solution-driven person; and she’s going to put it out there. Then she gets called out anyway for something she knows she’s not great at, which is kind of new for her, I think.”
How do you feel about her work ethic?
“I love that Emily is unapologetically herself. She is a woman who is both romantic and work-driven – you don’t have to be one or the other. She really values herself generally. She leaves her boyfriend because she figures out that he’s not giving as much to the relationship as she is. And I think she finds value in her career as well. It’s refreshing to hear a woman say, ‘I love my job, it makes me happy.’ So, for example, when Emily gets to Paris and is clearly being judged by her colleagues, she goes to French classes on her own time – it’s not like someone from the company is paying for those classes, or she’s being made to do it; she does it because she wants to be good at her job. She’s in a city that’s extremely foreign to her, and it’s tough – and, yeah, she could probably get on a plane and go home, but that’s just not who she is.”
How realistic do you feel like her expat missteps are in the series?
“It’s funny, because a lot of the experiences are based off of things that have happened to friends of Darren [Star] – that classically American thing of going to another country and being really… alienated yet trying to embrace it. When I got to Paris for filming, I actually had so many experiences like Emily – to the point that I asked the team, ‘Are you planning this to try and give me more empathy for her? I already have empathy for her!’ I mean, the heating in my apartment broke for two weeks; I got the floor wrong in my building; my elevator stopped working… I even nearly stepped in dog poop. It’s a cliché, but it’s also a fundamentally human scenario. In the end, it’s all about Emily’s attitude; she just gets through it, and she does it with a little bit of humour.”
What was it like working with Patricia Field on the costumes?
“Incredible. I never fully expected Patricia Field to be as collaborative as she is because, I mean, she’s Patricia Field! When I first met her, she asked me flat out, “Who do you think Emily is, and what do you think Emily would wear?” She sent me all of these PDFs and told me to circle the designers and items that I liked, and then when I got to Paris, all of it was just there, down to the type of running leggings that I said I thought Emily would like or the kind of hair tie she should have. She also gave me her own personal clothes to wear in various scenes. At one point, she literally took the jacket off her back and had me put it on after the weather changed from sunny to rainy while filming – and she actually gave me her vintage MCM backpack for the scene where Emily is leaving Chicago for Paris at the last minute. She just dumped out her bag in my trailer and handed it to me once we’d decided that the other options were wrong.”
What did your mood board for Emily look like before shooting?
“I definitely believe that Emily admires pop-cultural icons like Carrie Bradshaw and Audrey Hepburn, for sure. We were looking at other films and series with American girls in Paris, like Funny Face or the episodes of Gossip Girl when Blair [Waldorf] and Serena [Van der Woodsen] go to France. At the same time, Emily had to feel like Emily rather than a version of someone else. Patricia and I were very much on the same page about creating tributes to characters that Emily loves but making the clothes her own. We mixed together designer pieces and vintage finds; sometimes I’d just be on my way to set and look into a boutique window and be like, ‘Well, there’s my jacket for the scene tomorrow.’ It’s accessible fashion – but it’s also kind of wish fulfilment, because this is Emily’s opportunity to dress up and be in Paris, and she’s going to take advantage of that. I’ve never focused so much on translating a character’s personality to her style before, and Emily wears her heart on her sleeve, so there’s lots of different colours and textures and prints in her wardrobe, in contrast to Sylvie and Camille.”
And most importantly, who do you believe that Emily should end up with romantically?
“Oh my God, we only read the script for the final episode the day of the table read. We were like, ‘Wait, are you kidding me – how do you leave it pending like this?’ You know, I’m excited for Mindy to move into the apartment building because I feel like that’s going to cause some mayhem. I just think she’s going to throw a wrench into the situation, and I’m imagining apartment game nights or something. I honestly don’t know if Camille knows about what’s going on with Gabriel. That voicemail in the finale threw me off. And it’s interesting because, in the series, there are tonnes of little moments where you’re like, ‘… Does Camille like Emily?’ You can’t really get a vibe, and I feel like that ambiguity is what keeps Emily intrigued. I think anyone in that position would be like, you’re my friend, but now I have this romantic connection [with Gabriel], and I don’t want to hurt you, but… Oh my God! So, you know what, it’s really confusing. I feel like the next season will only create more love triangle drama, although maybe Emily will have a little bit of a stronger handle on the situation… Or maybe not.”
Emily in Paris is a treat, a beguiling work of Netflix escapism, and also, let’s face it, the closest you will likely get to Paris in the next six months. It is a Darren Star show, which means it’s fun and stylish and only partly steeped in reality. It is unabashedly on the side of its plucky heroine, played by Lily Collins, who dresses like Carrie Bradshaw and is self-involved like Carrie Bradshaw and is also charming, so you will root for her regardless of her flaws, like … Carrie Bradshaw. The first season of Emily in Paris, which drops in full this Friday, contains some moments that are seductive and others that require you to suspend your disbelief so forcefully that they may induce minor temporary brain damage. You also will not care at all about the excessive disbelief suspension because, again, Emily in Paris is a treat, and in 2020, people are desperate for any excuse to treat themselves.
This particular treat doesn’t waste any time establishing its premise. As the first episode begins, Emily Cooper, who works at Gilbert Group, a large Chicago-based marketing firm, is chatting with her boss, Madeline Wheeler (Kate Walsh), about Madeline’s pending move to Paris to work with a boutique luxury-focused firm, Savoir, which Gilbert Group has just acquired. While sniffing some perfume, Madeline immediately becomes nauseous and throws up in her office trash can. A woman vomiting can mean only one thing: preg-nant! No, seriously, that’s the only reason a woman ever vomits on television. Come on, we all know this.
Within four minutes of screen time, after Madeline confirms her pregnancy and passes on the job, Emily arrives in Paris, where she’ll take on Madeline’s role for a year and, in her mind, totally make things work long-distance with her boring American boyfriend. That latter detail seems instantly ludicrous as soon as she cute-meets her downstairs neighbor, Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), a ridiculously handsome chef with whom she strikes up a friendship. And by “friendship,” I mean they look at each other longingly a lot until maybe, perhaps, one of them makes a move.
Emily is lucky to have Gabriel and another newly acquired acquaintance, a nanny named Mindy (Ashley Park of Broadway’s Mean Girls), since her co-workers at Savoir — especially Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), who runs the place — want little to do with her. It’s understandable, to an extent. She has no experience working with the kinds of fashion and cosmetic brands that are their core clients. (Her previous big professional win was a campaign for a diabetes medication.) She can’t speak French. She arrives on her first day of work wearing a button-down shirt with an image of the Eiffel Tower on it. She is the quintessential basic American.
For their part, though, her colleagues are dismissive, rude, and largely resistant to new ideas. In other words, they are stereotypically French. This clash of cultures defines Emily in Paris and may call to mind another Star series, TV Land’s Younger. (Emily in Paris was originally intended as a TV Land series, then was slated to air on the Paramount Network before ultimately being picked up by Netflix, which, honestly, is a perfect fit given the show’s binge-worthiness.) In many ways, Emily in Paris plays like a complement to Younger. Both center on women trying to succeed in unwelcoming professional climates. That character on Younger, Sutton Foster’s Liza, is a middle-aged woman pretending to be a millennial, while on Emily in Paris, she’s a millennial American trying to seem more savvy among the French elite. Both Emily and Liza have antagonistic relationships with their supervisors. (Sylvie is a tougher version of Younger’s Diana.) Even the aesthetics of Emily in Paris are reminiscent of Younger, from the glamorous events Emily frequently attends to the time-lapse images of Paris that bridge the transitions between scenes. If you’ve been missing that series about generational warfare in book publishing, Emily in Paris does a fine job making up for its absence.
To be clear: Younger is still the smarter show, in part because it’s easier to buy that Liza is good at her job (since she secretly possesses professional and life experience) but also because there’s often a gulf between what Emily does and the degree to which she is praised for it. This is particularly true when her social-media skills are on display. In the seventh episode, Emily attends an event for influencers hosted by Durée, a chichi cosmetics brand and former Savoir client. She Instagrams a video of herself wearing its lip gloss and, while eating a berry off of a nearby piece of leafy décor, declares it “smudgeproof, even when you’re berry hungry.” (Emily’s brand is basically puns and plays on words.) Within seconds, the head of Durée sees the video and says to her assistant, “I like her, she’s clever.” I assume the Durée lady really got a kick out of Emily’s Insta post in episode nine: a photo of a cheeseburger in a restaurant accompanied by the hashtag #CheeseburgerinParadise.
As cringey as her Insta can be, it’s still entertaining to watch Emily triumph over try-hards and mega-snobs and resourcefully figure out how to smoothly detangle herself from work snags. It’s also a great pleasure to watch her encounters with Gabriel. Collins and Bravo have an easy chemistry, and Bravo, a French actor and model, has a naturally gentle quality that distinguishes him from the other, more presumptuous men who pursue Emily. (Of course, she is pursued by multiple men. She is attractive, and she is in Paris and that means she has to have sex. The show is very clear on this point.) Bravo is also arguably the hottest guy ever to appear on a Darren Star show, and yes, that is a statement. This writer stands by it.
The humans don’t provide the only eye candy on Emily in Paris. Frequent Star collaborator Patricia Field worked on the costumes, which are invariably eye popping and Google-worthy. The whole first season was shot in Paris, and the way the filmmakers, including executive producer Andrew Fleming, who directs multiple episodes, capture the quaint cafés and walk-and-talks along the Seine makes the city seem both tangible and magical. The pacing in each roughly half-hour episode zips right along, which makes it very reasonable to say, “Oh, I’ll just watch one more.” And you will. That’s practically a guarantee.
During one scene, Emily argues with a co-worker who insists French romances are better than American rom-coms because they’re darker and more realistic. “Don’t you want to go to the movies to escape life?,” Emily asks. Girl, thanks to the pandemic, a lot of Americans still can’t even do that. When we want to escape life, we can turn to Netflix, and when we do, Emily in Paris will be there to say “Bonjour,” in a very American accent.
Lily Collins flounces around the City of Lights in this pretty and frivolous comedy from Darren Star.
Emily in Paris is an aggressively frivolous show. The new series from creator Darren Star is a travelogue disguised as a comedy starring Lily Collins, who flounces around the City of Lights in a series of increasingly ridiculous midriff-baring ensembles. In any other year, I would’ve made it about 13 minutes into the pilot before slamming my laptop shut with a disdainful harrumph. In 2020, I devoured the entire first season (debuting Friday on Netflix) like a tray of petits fours and remain desperately hungry for more.
Emily Cooper (Collins) is a plucky twenty-something living in Chicago. She has a bland boyfriend named Doug (Roe Hartrampf) and a job at a marketing firm, where she helps come up with social media promotions for pharmaceuticals and geriatric care facilities. For reasons that don’t quite make sense but ultimately don’t really matter, Emily’s firm sends her to Paris for a year to be the “American eyes and ears” at Savoir, a French marking firm her company recently acquired. Never mind that Emily doesn’t speak French. Never mind that she has no experience promoting the types of luxury brands that are on Savoir’s client list. For the purposes of this show, Emily has everything she needs: a bottomless suitcase full of stylish outfits and the wholly unearned confidence of the young and naïve.
On her first day at Savoir, Emily arrives wearing a blouse printed with an image of the Eiffel Tower and chirping greetings through a translation app on her phone. Naturally, everyone hates her. What’s interesting about Emily in Paris is that Star seems to know that his heroine is très annoying — just wait until she tries to explain the “male gaze” to a libidinous French perfumer (William Abadie) — and therefore not the best surrogate for the audience. So he surrounds her with a host of entertainingly refined French co-workers (played by entertainingly refined French actors) who voice their disdain for Emily bluntly and often. “You have no mystery,” sniffs her glamorous boss Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu). “You’re very, very obvious.” An older colleague named Luc (Bruno Gouery) regards the American upstart dismissively, citing “the arrogance of [her] ignorance,” while a legendary French fashion designer (Jean-Christophe Bouvet) takes one look at Emily and shrieks, “Ringard!” (Rough translation: “That’s a basic bitch.”)
Despite the constant derision, Emily remains determined to teach these French olds about the power of social media engagement. Just as Star set Younger in a hallucinatory reality where the publishing industry is rife with high fashion and glamour, here he crafts a world in which Emily’s marketing job is more about party hopping around Paris than assembling PowerPoints. (All 10 episodes were shot on location in France.) This gives our heroine plenty of time for meet-cutes with her dashing downstairs neighbor, Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), and leisurely lunches with her new friend Mindy (Ashley Park), a Chinese expat who drolly guides Emily through her minefield of faux pas. (“You think you’re gonna change the entire French culture by sending back a steak?”) Park, the Tony-nominated breakout from Mean Girls: The Musical, is a breezy, funny delight; she elevates even the cheesiest dialogue (“I’d bon appetit him!”) with her ebullient charisma. When Mindy’s backstory is revealed in episode 6 — no spoilers, but it involves a show called Chinese Popstar and a zipper meme — you’ll wish you were watching Mindy in Paris. (Not too late for a spin-off, Mr. Star!)
That’s not to say that Collins has somehow failed in her role. Emily is written as an irritating go-getter who relentlessly pursues her colleagues’ approval and believes wholeheartedly that she deserves it. If Collins delivered an Emily who was likable — well, that would be a failure. The actress also serves as a vehicle for Emily in Paris’ other leading lady: Patricia Field. The celebrated Sex and the City stylist, along with costume designer Marylin Fitoussi, drape Collins in a cacophony of clashing patterns, crop tops, extremely mini miniskirts, berets and ridiculous bucket hats, monogrammed turtlenecks, and in one particularly horrifying moment, a see-through raincoat that Emily wears… indoors. I don’t know if this is real fashion, but it was fascinating to watch.
In one of his many moments of Emily-centric ennui, Luc offers her these words of wisdom: “Thinking you can escape life is your problem. You can never escape life. Never.” Maybe not, but if you need a five-hour brain vacation, Paris is a worthwhile destination. Grade: B
Emily in Paris season 1 premieres Friday on Netflix
We’ve all had this fantasy: an imperious French woman levels a stern gaze at you and says, in lilting English, “Delete your account.” Television writer Darren Star has long been a purveyor of fantasy, most famously as the creator of Sex and the City. And so, in his new series Emily in Paris (Netflix, September 30), Star blesses us with this almost erotic moment, a Huppert-esque woman telling us exactly what we should all be doing in these terrible digital times of ours.
On the show, though, the line is meant as an impediment for its titular star, a young marketing whiz who’s found herself cavorting the City of Light after an unexpected career twist. She’s been brought there, quite to the frustration of the locals, to revitalize a French marketing house so that it may better represent luxury brands to the young women of the United States. Emily in Paris is, almost shockingly at times, very much a show about social-media marketing, influencers, and the hideous convergence of commerce and personal life. It’s a love letter to terrible things, and yet I swooned.
Fine, okay, “swooned” might be a strong word. Felt the first tingle of a crush, maybe. I happily devoured it. Glugged it with a bottle of champagne while I sat on my couch, dreaming of traipsing along the Seine, sans mask. (I added the champagne part for dramatic effect, but you absolutely should watch this show drunk.) The point is, Emily in Paris goes down a treat if you can set aside the myriad things it does badly or, perhaps worse, fails to do at all. Anyone with a passing knowledge of how the city of Paris actually functions in 2020 will find the show’s portraiture lacking, to say the least. The way the series values fabulousness and the selling of things over pretty much everything else is also not great for this particular juncture in human history. But if you can tolerate, or even crave, some empty calories right now, Star and company deliver the goods.
Lily Collins plays Emily, a clever but not exactly savvy twenty-something who leaves her native Chicago, and her boyfriend, to fill in for a newly pregnant coworker (Kate Walsh in a recurring cameo, perhaps doing a solid for the ‘flix family on breaks from The Umbrella Academy). Off Emily jets, speaking no French, terribly unprepared for the way French people are. Which, in the show’s estimation, is haughty and chauvinistic and ever lunching instead of working. It’s a pretty quaint view of contemporary Parisians, so steeped in years of American stereotyping that it’s weird that Emily is shocked to find her new co-workers like this. All Parisians aren’t this way, of course, and yet so many movies and shows (including Sex and the City! Which Emily surely would have watched!) have told Americans that they are. So it’s awfully strange that Emily, in this little jewel box simulation of Earth, is so surprised to encounter these styles and customs.
What I mean is, the show should be—or at least could be—a little more aware of its cliché. But, non. It is instead happy to gambol off into its tightly prescriptive version of things without question, tossing its poisson into new eau that is almost entirely of its own invention. Which, I guess, is the show’s prerogative, to depict a place how it wants to depict it. Sociology it ain’t.
Anyway, Emily in Paris moves along at a witty enough clip that you can’t spend much time scratching your head at all its curious anachronisms and flagrant, willful inaccuracies. Each episode is only a half-hour, just like Sex and the City, which means you barely have a chance to question things before Emily has found herself in her next mildly intriguing entanglement, job-related or romantic. Collins click-clacks along the show’s cobblestones with aplomb, selling Emily’s tourist-y guilelessness and her workplace acumen. She does so in high fashion, ornate outfits put together by Sex and the City mainstay clothier Patricia Field and costume designer Marylin Fitoussi.
Just like Carrie’s beaux on Sex and the City, the men in Emily’s life are handsome but not too alienatingly hot. They have at least a slight rumple of real life, nicely off-setting Emily’s TV-made glow. Emily has a sassy, singing best friend in Mindy Chen, a Chinese expat heiress played smartly by Mean Girls the Musical Tony nominee Ashley Park. Emily’s boss—who delivers that withering “Delete your account”—is played by Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, who sometimes seems a little embarrassed to be there, debasing her people so. Mostly, though, she commits herself ably to the antagonizing, and maybe every so slightly softening, grande doyenne role.
As the show teeters along, it stays curiously muted about sex, particularly considering its source. Perhaps that’s because the series was originally developed for regular old cable, before the Paramount Network shuffled it off to Netflix. (It’s beginning to seem that Paramount has just become a clearinghouse studio for future Netflix movies and shows.) There is at least one very amusing, and almost ethically wrong, sexual encounter that gives the show a much needed frisson of danger, but otherwise Emily in Paris is almost disarmingly pleasant and frictionless, free of real stakes beyond whether or not Emily will have to quit her burgeoning Instagram account to please her stern and stuck-in-her ways boss.
The big business deals are landed and lost, the men bedded and bemoaned. The croissants are flaky, the jokes alternately pop-culture piquant and corny. What more could you want? (Well, a lot more, but these are meager times.) Oh, and the city looks great. No matter what silliness is set in its streets, it is, after all, still Paris.
Say oui to new possibilities! Emily in Paris, a new series from Creator of Sex and the City, Darren Star, premieres October 2. Only on Netflix.
Gallery Links: Emily in Paris | Official Teaser