Does every white girl go through a Francophile phase? I sure did. I wore berets without irony. I thought I could pull off ballet flats. I listened to Françoise Hardy on repeat (still do). When I went Paris for the first time, I headed straight for Ladurée and Café de Flore. I came home with an Eiffel Tower keyring that I actually used, again without irony, until it broke.
Those wannabe French girl cliches and many more appear in new Netflix series Emily in Paris, starring Lily Collins as a giddily peppy American sent to the city of lights by her Chicago marketing firm to offer “an American point of view”, without knowing any French.
The buzz is real, and it’s because, maybe, expectations were high: the show was created by Darren Star, the man behind Sex and the City and Younger, and the costumes are by the iconic Patricia Field, of SATC, Younger and The Devil Wears Prada fame.
Maybe this could be SATC for a new generation?
Well, not quite. The reviews have been terrible…but it’s a fun watch and I finished its 10 episodes in two easy sittings. It’s sort of like TikTok: dumb fun with some rare moments of sharp, but maybe not deliberate, meta commentary.
A satire exploring the absurdity and snobbishness of the fashion industry, and the increasing influence of streetwear and reliance on gimmicks? Sure. A commentary on social media and American corporate culture? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just silly. And boy do we need silly right now!
In Emily in Paris, the social media platform of choice is Instagram. It’s Emily’s expertise, apparently, and she has a lot to say about engagement and brands and content. Outside of work she becomes an influencer of sorts after posting carefree photos of the Parisian way of life (eating a baguette, a small dog doing a poo on the footpath, skinny smoking locals, a gorgeous rooftop view). It’s all very Instagram in its early incarnation and doesn’t reflect it in 2020 at all (this story from Vulture reviewing Emily's ‘Bot-like’ account is hilarious).
The costumes too are very Instagram of an earlier time. Patricia Field is a legend and she knows what she is doing but…they are extremely obvious. If these costumes were about sending messages, they’re being screamed over a loudspeaker at full volume. But Patricia - the mastermind of the Devil Wears Prada's Chanel boots moment, and every single thing Carrie Bradshaw ever wore - is not known her her subtlety. At one point, there is literally a person walking out of a pastry shop holding a baguette while wearing a Breton top. Emily’s ensemble for her first day at the office is an Alice + Olivia shirt printed with the Eiffel Tower (she also later wears a bra with the tower on it). She wears a red beret. In Paris. God I’m embarrassed for her.
“You have no mystery,” Emily’s chic AF French boss Sylvie says to her with disdain. “You’re very obvious.”
“I need you to be…less,” she instructs in another episode, in case you didn’t get it.
Emily is American, and she is a lot. (She also has a lot of handbags)
The absolute funniest part of the entire series for a fashion nerd is the storyline involving fashion designer Pierre Cadault - a flamboyant and high-maintenance creative who I think is modelled off the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Jean Paul Gaultier (I would like to have a long bitchy lunch with him immediately.)
Emily and her colleagues visit his atelier in a bid to win the brand’s business, but he is deeply offended by…her heart and Eiffel Tower bag charm. “Ringarde!” he sputters in disgust - essentially calling her basic. Bag charms are dumb, and I nearly spat out my wine at this darkly funny shade.
Later, Emily takes a trip to the ballet in some Audrey Hepburn cosplay (wearing a black Christian Siriano dress and headpiece by La Compagnie du Costume, a reference to Audrey in Funny Face - another naive American in Paris). She confronts and charms Pierre in his private box, defending her dumb bag charm - and somehow neatly defining the global fashion business and the accessible luxury that helps keep it afloat.
“You’re right. I am a basic bitch with a bag charm. In fact, do you wanna know why I got that bag charm? Because my friends and I were obsessed with Gossip Girl. We all wanted to be Serena van der Woodsen in her gorgeous, crazy-expensive couture. But the only thing we could afford from any of those designers was a clip-on charm from an outlet mall in Winnetka. So…yeah. I guess that made us pretty ringarde.
“You think ringardes don’t respect designers. We worship designers so much that we spend all we’ve saved on a dumb accessory just to feel like we’re somehow on your runway. You may mock us but the truth is… you need us. Without basic bitches like me, you wouldn’t be fashionable.”
Later still, another storyline acts (maybe?) as some kind of comment on the rise of marketing superstars at the expense of designers - the new guard versus the old, gimmicks versus the craft.
It involves Pierre, an upstart young streetwear brand called Grey Space - surely a play on Off-White - and publicity stunts. So far, so fashion. There’s a guerrilla fashion show that’s clearly copying Viktor and Rolf’s campy spring 2019 couture ‘Fashion Statements’ show (but nowhere near as well-made or intelligent). At one point, plucky Emily suggests a collaboration between the two brands, holding up a grey hoodie. Pierre’s charming response: “Why is my logo on that piece of shit?”
Emily in Paris season 1 is on Netflix now.