If Sex and the City were filmed today, its fashion would look a lot like that of Emily in Paris. It might be an easy comparison to make, given that both the creator, Darren Star, and the costume designer, the legendary Patricia Field, are behind Netflix’s newest show, but its nods to the late ‘90s/early ‘00s HBO show are subtle enough to entice fashion-loving viewers who’ve never seen an episode, and absolutely delight those who watched every single one (many times over).
Emily in Paris follows 20-something Emily (played by the newly engaged Lily Collins), a Chicago marketing executive who gets sent to Paris for a year when her company acquires a French luxury marketing company that needs (but doesn’t want) help with their social media strategy. From the start, there is no doubt that Emily, much like Collins in real-life, watched Sex and the City as a young woman, and was inspired by Carrie Bradshaw’s unapologetically over-the-top style. In the most obvious example, in episode 2, Emily wears an Alexandre Vauthier strapless top with a black tulle skirt, an homage to Carrie’s tulle skirt in the series finale of Sex and the City, which also takes place in Paris. In another, she dons earrings that say “Emily” in cursive, a nod, of course, to Bradshaw’s famous “Carrie” necklace.
There are more sly references, like Emily’s love for kitschy prints and accessories that would look gaudy on anyone who’s less fearless when it comes to fashion. When she shows up for her first day at work in Paris in an Alice + Olivia blouse depicting the Eiffel Tower — paired no less with Christian Louboutin heels that say “Paris” — it’s so on-the-nose that she gets looked down on by her new boss Sylvie (Philippine Leroy Beaulieu) whose quintessentially Parisian all-black looks are, no doubt, plucked from the runways of Rick Owens and Yamamoto. (This type of cold assessment repeats when a haute couture fashion designer calls Emily the French equivalent of a “basic bitch” for wearing an Eiffel Tower charm on her handbag later in the season. Harsh!)
But Sex and the City isn’t the only inspiration for the Emily in Paris fashion. Field, who came up with the looks in collaboration with French costume designer Marylin Fitoussi, also took a lot of inspiration from the 1951 movie An American in Paris. For a night in the opera, Collins wears an exquisite strapless gown look paired with full-length gloves, an elegant nod to Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face.
The labels featured on Emily in Paris read like a list of brands on fashion-forward retailers like Farfetch, Luisa Via Roma, and Net-A-Porter. They range from more affordable contemporary French favourites like Maje, Sandro, and The Kooples to French luxury powerhouses like Chanel, Christian Louboutin, Dior, and Kenzo. The show also features looks from decidedly American designers like Christian Siriano (who is behind the opera dress) and Off-White’s Virgil Abloh (a clever wink given that both Emily and Abloh have ties to Chicago), as well as clothing that looks newly acquired by Emily in Paris — unless I am the only one who has a hard time finding adult-size Aigle rain boots in the US.
Like with Carrie, it’s unclear how Emily can afford so many designer clothes. Though it’s not discussed how much money Emily makes, it’s still hard to believe that a young professional who ships peanut butter to Paris and gets put up in an apartment that the rental agent describes as “a room for the housekeeper” can pay for a wardrobe made of numerous Chanel jackets and handbags and a Christian Louboutin collection that could rival Blake Lively’s.
Speaking of the Gossip Girl star, there’s definitely traces of the late-‘00s show, about Upper East Side high school students, present, too. (This makes sense as Emily admits to watching it in the series.) While Emily doesn’t have Blair Waldorf’s love for all things preppy, there are traces of Queen B in the green Chanel jacket she wears to an influencer lunch, and in her plaid skirts. There is also Emily’s penchant for hats — classic French berets (I imagine Emily bought them specifically for Paris), Kangol bucket hats, and beanies all make an appearance! — and bold outerwear that includes brightly coloured coats that look to be made out of cashmere, as well as statement jackets.
What’s most interesting about the fashion in Emily in Paris is that, while Emily does undergo a style transformation over the course of the show, it’s not as obvious as those we’ve come to expect from fashion films like The Devil Wears Prada, featuring a young woman trying to fit into an industry that tries vehemently to keep her out. Instead of transforming herself with a makeover to gain inroads into an exclusive circle, Emily instead continues to wear kitschy prints and quirky accessories — a look that prompts Mindy (Ashley Park) to say that she “look[s] American” upon first meeting her.
But, as the 10-episode show goes on, though Emily begins to adopt a more French aesthetic, which includes a muted colour palette and timeless silhouettes, she still keeps mixing it with her own clothes for looks uniquely her own. The result? Standout style that would make Carrie Bradshaw proud.
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