The Sex and the City creator, Darren Star, has struck again. This time, it is in the shape of a Chicago-born, Paris-hailing twentysomething American working for a luxury marketing firm (what else?). Netflix’s Emily in Paris has taken viewers to the City of Lights, and one thing is certain – the cliches are plentiful.
In an early scene, Lily Collins, better known as Emily in Paris, steps into her rather gargantuan chambre de bonne, neatly and conveniently located just one floor above her heart-throb-cum-chef neighbour. What does she do now, you may well ask? She takes a selfie, of course, with a piece of oh-so-French pastry, somewhat surprisingly labeled “chocolatine” (and not pain au chocolat, as it is usually called in Paris bakeries – but if Wikipedia says it’s the right word, who’s to complain?).
Collins spends her days dining at expensive restaurants (of course!), strolling around photogenic destinations in 1980s outfits à la Princess Stéphanie of Monaco and, most importantly, learning the rules of having lovers à la française – all the while being convinced she will teach the French a thing or two.
In France, the audience’s reaction to this reinterpretation of American-appropriated Frenchness was less benevolent but quite unanimous: “La plouc,” they said. “Plouc” literally refers to an outsider, neither from Paris nor bourgeois. Hard to be more condescending when you live in Paris.
The show is styled by designer of Sex and the City’s most memorable outfits, Patricia Field, and the clothes disrupt and reinforce modern myths. While her boss, Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), is dressed in a constant black monochrome, Collins opts for graphic or bright pieces, complete with a matching beret and ankle boots. Think Jacquemus-esque straw hat and Prince of Wales all in the same palette. The originality of the approach is to dig into and fuse several otherwise totally unconnected myths about Frenchness, quoting obvious codes in such a self-conscious manner that they suddenly become Americanised.
And what’s more – while Collins may be seen as tacky, she still has the privileged experience of a slim, white woman (“skinny as a toothpick”, as we say in French). Criticised for whitewashing the diverse streets of Paris, the show follows the path of another young American woman in Paris coming to grips with the city of lights, some 40 years ago: Jean Seberg in Jean-Louis Godard’s masterpiece, Breathless. But that was then and this is now …
• Je Ne Suis Pas Parisienne is out now