The sexiest and most stylish woman on TV: Not Lily Collins in Emily In Paris… but the 57-year-old Frenchwoman who plays her rude, ice-cold, manipulative and shoulder-shrugging boss
With Paris under night-time curfew and the UK frozen in various states of restriction, the TV series Emily In Paris is intoxicating nostalgia for a world before Covid. And it is wildly appealing.
What in other times might have been just another portrayal of an American in Paris is now a full-on wallow in the things we most miss.
As tempting as a dish overflowing with profiteroles, and just as easy to binge on, it has rapidly become one of the most popular Netflix shows around the world.
No Parisian cliche goes unexplored as we follow the initiation of Emily Cooper, played by Lily Collins, into the ways of the city, from the joy of buttery croissants to the twinkling Eiffel Tower, from the tiled mansard rooftops to the lunchtime verre de vin rouge.
In Netflix show Emily In Paris, Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, above) is a terrific foil to Emily, although they’re admittedly both pretty frightful: Emily, a Chicago millennial with a teeth-gratingly can-do lack of irony or nuance; Sylvie with her froideur, and manipulative, undermining outlook. Above, the boss in Roland Mouret Holden top, £460; sarong wrap midi skirt by & Other Stories, £65; and vintage metallic coat
The show was devised by Darren Starr, creator of Sex And The City, and it is the SATC costume designer Patricia Field who’s behind the wardrobe. Pictured: Sylvie is the ‘mistress of the gesture’ and gives nothing away here in a Yohji Yamamoto dress, £1,646
Never one to dial down the fashion, Field (who also did The Devil Wears Prada and Ugly Betty) has wasted no opportunity to force home the characterisation through wildly over-the-top costumes. Above, Emily admires Sylvie in a dazzling off-the-shoulder emerald Alexandre Vauthier asymmetric evening dress, £1,685
I say bring them on – all of them. Especially those involving Emily’s boss Sylvie, who, in her chain-smoking, sashaying figure is the stereotypical Parisienne bitch of our dreams and one who, in contrast to the heroine, most certainly knows how to dress.
The thing about cliches is they are rooted in truth, of course, and in Sylvie’s style I recognise many of the Parisian women I came across during 25 years of Paris Fashion Weeks.
And it is important here to acknowledge that we are talking about Parisian women, Parisian style, not French. Not for nothing is French Vogue called Vogue Paris. Paris is a style world of its own.
Smoking hot: Sylvie, who ‘knows the value of a bare shoulder’, reveals both in a simple but oh-so-smart Rick Owens mesh-panelled sleeveless dress, £615
High Street classic: Casual but chic in a Topshop silk green wrap dress, £39, with a statement Les Merveilles de Babellou vintage necklace
Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu) is a terrific foil to Emily, although they’re admittedly both pretty frightful: Emily, a Chicago millennial with a teeth-gratingly can-do lack of irony or nuance; Sylvie with her froideur, and manipulative, undermining outlook.
The show was devised by Darren Starr, creator of Sex And The City, and it is the SATC costume designer Patricia Field who’s behind the wardrobe.
Never one to dial down the fashion, Field (who also did The Devil Wears Prada and Ugly Betty) has wasted no opportunity to force home the characterisation through wildly over-the-top costumes.
But do we care? No.
We roll our eyes, but benevolently, when Emily appears in an Eiffel Tower print shirt on her first day at Savoir, the luxury goods marketing company where she has been seconded.
We wonder why she thinks navel-baring crop tops are appropriate office wear and why she has to overdo the eyebrow colour.
But with every increasingly ridiculous get-up, like the shocking-pink Kenzo coat accessorised with matching coloured Christian Louboutin pumps and violently pink knee-high socks, or her weird striped raffia flying-saucer hat that looks like something we might have made in kindergarten, her bonkers clothes become more part of the allure.
So bad they are not good, but transfixing all the same.
But it is Sylvie’s look that’s closer to the real thing. She’s 24-carat Paris.
Today’s popular French style role models like Caroline de Maigret with her 931,000 Instagram followers, Vogue editor Emmanuelle Alt, Carla Bruni (OK, she’s Italian but she’s pure Paris in attitude) share a tribal uniform. They love any colour so long as it’s black – unless it’s white or denim.
Emily… fashion so bad, you can’t stop staring!
Lily Collins as Emily in a selection of her ‘bonkers’ fashion choices for Paris
With Paris under night-time curfew and the UK frozen in various states of restriction, the TV series Emily In Paris is intoxicating nostalgia for a world before Covid. And it is wildly appealing
Increasingly ridiculous get-ups: Lily Collins as Emily in yellow boots… and her shocking pink Kenzo coat with matching Louboutins and knee-high socks
They slouch in black leather, shimmy in ankle-strapped heels or ballerina flats, and work a trench coat like no one else – waist cinched in, collar high, sleeves always rolled up above the wrist.
Maintenance is all and they spend a fortune looking as if they don’t bother. Their hair will never be ostentatiously styled but will be casually and super-artfully tousled in an equally time-consuming manner, just like Sylvie’s.
They wear little make-up, perhaps a daub of blusher, a pop of lip balm and for the evening a coating of mascara, but they spend expensive hours at the facialist having complex (and very painful) massages of the inner cheek, wrinkle reducing injections and lip fillers.
At 57, Ms Leroy-Beaulieu looks fantastic – and in some ways, she’s the real star of the show.
Perhaps for true authenticity Sylvie exposes too much bare flesh. With the exception of Brigitte Macron, chic Parisians don’t flaunt their legs, and they never expose cleavage.
But that aside, her wardrobe certainly rings true. Her wrap tops, whether by Rick Owens (a favourite designer of this gang) or Topshop, slither across her torso with the flattering ruching that disguises the unlikely possibility of middle-aged spread.
She knows the value of a bare shoulder (though it was American designer Donna Karan who led the field in this look).
Sylvie’s accessories are always one knock-out bracelet or necklace – nothing twee. She wouldn’t be seen in her grave carrying a kooky bag like the one Field gives Emily to take to dinner, decorated with an applique of white spectacles.
Sylvie, like her real-life counterparts, is the mistress of the gesture: a dismissive shrug, emphasised by the coats she slings over her shoulder, deliberately swaying hips as her pencil-skirted figure departs down the panelled suite of rooms in her office, and – importantly – a controlled expression that never reveals her intention. Parisian women give nothing away.
Emily In Paris is hardly The Crown, let alone Chernobyl. It’s about as credible as Snow White, in fact. I doubt it will win many awards. But for all the sneering of the critics, it’s winning legions of fans not just here, but – cliche or no cliche – in France itself. And in these gloomy times, a bit of escapist froth is no bad thing.
Especially when it’s the only show I’ve seen in recent times that doesn’t feature a single trainer.
Additional reporting: Saskia Hume
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