After a challenging 2020 for us all, Netflix’s new series Emily in Paris could not have arrived at a better time. Hitting our screens during a rainy and subdued Paris Fashion Week, the Lily Collins spectacular from Darren Star, creator of Sex and the City, is the perfect pick-me-up for anyone who’s missing the front row.
Some have taken great pleasure in picking the show apart (highbrow art it isn’t), but the pithy one- star reviews are missing the point. This show is knowingly ludicrous. The plot is centered around a mid-level pharmaceutical marketing executive from Chicago who is sent to Paris to become the creative director of various luxury brands, just because she knows how TikTok works. All while wearing a wardrobe of vintage Chanel that would cost her around 17 years’ worth of wages.
It isn’t realism. It’s a silly, fun, fantasy, which during a year when the outside world has felt overwhelming, is a much-needed dose of escapism. Judging by the show’s viewing figures—it’s number one on Netflix across the globe—people can’t get enough.
Here’s why TV’s most-talked-about show Emily in Paris is just so binge-worthy.1. The lead character isn’t always likeable, but that’s OK
It’s impossible to talk about the show without debating whether or not you actually like Emily. It’s pretty clear that she is at best annoying, at worst, evil. Her zero attempts to speak French. Her American ‘confidence’ that allows her to blurt out opinions about her superiors at inappropriate moments. Worst of all, perhaps, having made only one French friend, she dedicates her life to trying to steal her boyfriend.
Several times during the series, Emily gets called out on her behaviour, the best example being when a legendary French fashion designer looks at her in disgust and declares her ringarde—a basic bitch. But can you be basic in vintage Chanel? You decide. And do you actually like Emily? That’s a tough one.
Darren Star, the show’s mastermind, is most famous for creating Sex and the City with its iconic central character Carrie Bradshaw. Which provokes the question: is Carrie also, in fact, not the nicest person in the world?2. There’s a great love dilemma
Having ditched her boring back-home boyfriend within days, new-girl-in-town Emily soon has her hands full juggling an army of French suitors. As with other Darren Star shows, there’s a theme of choosing either sexy and troubled, or boring and successful (read: rich). Decades later, we’re still arguing about whether Carrie should have ended up with Aiden or Big.
For Emily, that choice is hot young chef Gabriel, played by Lucas Bravo, or the slightly slimy fashion house CEO Mathieu Cadault, played by Charles Martins. (The entire universe is screaming ‘Gabriel’.) Former Chanel model Bravo, who was also once a sous-chef, is the epitome of ‘sexy Frenchman’—right now, his name is being typed into Google the world over.3. Look past the less nuanced observations to find the real gold
Emily in Paris features more French cliches than a man in Breton stripes cycling with a baguette under his arm and a ring of onions around his neck. Everyone smokes, the steak is too rare and there are little dogs everywhere. In the opening episode, Emily makes her first friend in Paris, Mindy Chen, played brilliantly by Ashley Park. They meet on a park bench while Emily is literally eating a baguette and a wheel of cheese.
But criticising Emily in Paris for being an unrealistic portrayal of Paris is similar to being annoyed that Ugly Betty doesn’t realistically represent New York. And the US is equally typecast. We see Emily’s American boyfriend getting his first passport while she is constantly brash and unsophisticated. In fact, everything in the show is a trifle trite, but it’s obviously made by someone who adores the city.
Also, there are genuinely funny moments to be found throughout. You suspect that, similar to SATC, once Emily in Paris finds its feet and hits its second and third seasons, it’ll become a little more sophisticated and nuanced.4. It’s not a whodunnit, it’s a whoisit
In episode 10, “Cancel Couture”, Emily organises a fashion week show for legendary (fictional) designer Pierre Cadault, who’s at war with new kids on the block, American designers Grey Space. You don’t have to be Poirot to guess that Grey Space is a pastiche of Virgil Abloh’s Off-White, but who is Pierre Cadault?
The character (played by Jean-Christophe Bouvet) represents a whole generation of iconic Parisian fashion gods. The casting of Bouvet nods to Azzedine Alaïa, but there’s unquestionably some Karl Lagerfeld in there, too. The battle between Grey Space and Pierre Cadault reflects the real power struggles happening in the design houses of Paris, where the new wave of streetwear-influenced designers such as Abloh at Louis Vuitton, and Matthew Williams at Givenchy, are taking over historic houses.
The episode ends up in a homage-à-trois with Pierre Cadault’s collection being an obvious tribute to Viktor & Rolf’s internet-breaking SS19 couture show. Indeed, it’s almost worth watching the show just for the fantastic fashion references.5. Triumph against all odds
Much is made of Emily’s inability to speak French, her complete lack of experience of luxury brands, and her perceived American unsophistication and brashness. The Parisian team is utterly awful to her once she arrives. But Emily simply brushes these challenges aside with her unwavering determination and ‘fake it till you make it’ attitude, occasionally getting things very wrong.
But did the programme makers get anything wrong? French girl-about-town, high-fashion influencer and occasional Vogue contributor Camille Charrière, points out something only a true Parisian would notice. In one episode Emily jogs past a gym studio, where a group of customers are gathered outside. The gag is that they’re all smoking, but that’s not the mistake. As Charrière observes, you’d never see Parisian women on the street in gym wear. Never.
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