Netflix’s original series, Emily in Paris, has managed to both delight and offend viewers. The show was created by Darren Star, famously known for the series, Sex and the City. With Star’s name on the project, it’s no surprise that the show became an overnight must-watch for rom-com and fashion lovers alike. Yet, the reviews have been mixed.
The series follows Emily (Lily Collins), a Chicago-based young professional who works at a marketing firm. Emily’s personality, work ethic, and outfits are over the top, making her an amusing character to watch, but one you’re glad doesn’t actually exist.
Her employer acquires a Paris-based firm called Savoir and decides that an American representative should be sent to offer an American point of view. Taking her work ethic and outrageous outfits with her, Emily sets off for Paris, landing to a frosty welcome from her new Parisian co-workers.
Her boss, Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), is particularly unwelcoming. Perhaps it’s because Sylvie’s lover, Antoine (William Abadie), who also happens to be a client of Savoir’s, has taken a liking to Emily, as do most of the men that Emily encounters. Emily’s string of flings includes Gabriel (Lucas Bravo), a chef who lives in Emily’s building.
Between her flings, Emily befriends Mindy (Ashley Park) and Camille (Camille Razat). Mindy is also an expat who fled from China after an embarrassing stint on a televised singing competition. Camille is Parisian, although you don’t learn much about her history other than the fact that her family owns a vineyard. Oh, and that she’s *SPOILER ALERT* Gabriel’s girlfriend, which makes things très, très complicated.
Emily eventually breaks ground at work, which wins over her co-workers, all while becoming an influencer overnight, which could have been an interesting detail, but wasn’t.
The writing is perfectly campy and clichéd, making it an easy and enjoyable watch. The storyline is predictable but it is trending nonetheless, likely due in part to its time of release. Amid a pandemic, people want an escape from depressing headlines; Paris, through a TV screen, is as close as most people can get right now; and people miss putting on something other than sweatpants.
Where Emily in Paris really shines is the clothing.
Patricia Field, a costume designer, known for her work on Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada, is behind the series’ costumes. Field impressively built distinct visual identities for each character.
The writers may have failed Camille, but Field made her the most memorable character as far as costuming goes. Field nailed Camille’s French it-girl style using French designer duds to construct classic ensembles, with a twist.
Sylvie’s high-end, sophisticated style perfectly complements her poised and confident demeanour. Antoine exudes luxury in sharply tailored suits, making him a perfect match for Sylvie, despite their unlawful arrangement.
Speaking of unlawful arrangements… when not in a chef’s uniform, Gabriel looks perfectly understated in white tees and denim.
On the flip, we have Emily. At first glance, her style is alarming. The brightly coloured ensembles and gaudy accessories clash with, well, just about everything and everyone she encounters. Once you get past the initial shock, her style becomes oddly charming, like her.
Field expertly weaves in references to iconic on-film fashion and runway looks, inviting viewers on a treasure hunt for Audrey Hepburn inspired evening wear and Carrie Bradshaw-esque jewelry. Unfortunately, during your search, you may start to pick up on problematic tidbits throughout the show.
What’s troubling is that Emily is presented as a righteous, do-gooder who has arrived to save the French from themselves. She urges everyone around her to conform to her ways with complete disregard for the fact that she is the foreigner.
Waltzing into Paris, she expects everyone to speak English and seems offended when they don’t. Mindy offers a stereotype-ridden explanation for the supposedly rude behaviours of Chinese and French people, which wrongfully suggests all foreigners feel the same way about French people.
In the episode “Sexy or sexist?” Emily challenges Antoine and outright shames Sylvie for a marketing campaign that she feels is sexist and, therefore, offensive. Once again, French culture is negatively portrayed, with Emily there to guide them down a path towards gender equality. However, the last time I checked, shaming other women was not in style.
Emily is quick to judge her acquaintances’ lifestyles, especially those who sleep with married men. Yet, she finds herself lip-locked with Gabriel one day and in bed with Camille’s 17-year old brother the next (a highly unnecessary plot twist, if you ask me).
The show presents French people as outdated, sexist and rude, and positions Emily as their moral guide, which has reasonably and rightfully offended many people. Although I cannot speak on their behalf, I would guess that there are plenty of real French people already advocating for gender equality who have a more thorough understanding of their culture. They certainly don’t need a fictional American character by the name of Emily to come in and save the day.
The show ends with every plotline almost resolved, seamlessly setting up for a sure-to-be successful season two. Emily in Paris, if not taken too seriously, truly is delightful. Take pleasure in the fantasy-like fashion and take Emily’s opinions on Parisians with a grain of salt. Besides, if we can’t leave the house, we may as well head to Paris with Emily.