Darren Star's eagerly awaited Emily in Paris release timing was spot-on, with fashion insiders who might usually be in Paris for fashion week binge-watching from home. Would it be another Sex and the City? In a word, yes, but this time set along the Seine, with the expected clichés and stereotypes about French women and the culture at large. Indeed, viewers looked forward to another tv show fantasy rabbit-hole to burrow in - enjoying Paris vicariously on the screen - as they adjusted to life at home.
Laure Guilbault, a Parisian fashion journalist thinks so. "Escapist entertainment is needed. There's now a curfew in Paris, so Emily's busy nightlife is distant — the fancy openings, events, and dinners aren't happening," she says, "Instead, sexy chefs are busy figuring out how to pay rent with no business, rather than flirting."
Beyond it's unrealistic view of Paris – seriously, no one walks around in the stilettos the way Emily, played actress Lily Collins, does — social media reactions revealed Parisians offended at how they are portrayed through Emily's new-kid-in-town 'faux pas'-ing her way around the City of Lights.
As Guilbault points out, the show is full of clichés. But ironically, the show achieves what Emily's new post at a staid, old-school marketing firm is meant to achieve — to create a buzz. Julie Gonssard, a Parisian art producer who worked for brands such as Louis Vuitton and Cartier and recently launched an online photography gallery, Galerie Incognito, was also struck by the American dynamic conquering the luxury sector.
"Old-fashioned arrogant French supremacy meets modern, efficient yet naïve American vision of luxury," she observes to TZR. "It looks like an advertising storyboard: girl arrives in beautiful Paris with her joie de vivre craving love, success, and fun ... Paris looking like a dream with irresistibly charming and seductive men acting like Pepe Le Pew."
Here, The Zoe Report breaks down some of those clichés in the show and asked French women how vraie ou faux, aka true or false, the show is.
The Cliché: Every French Woman Possess An Inherent Style
The French style mystique is known the world over. And the world tries desperately to achieve this look. But does everyone have it? You might say it depends on where you are from. Not everyone possesses a Parisian panache, especially les citadins who eschew fashion. But even they generally adhere to a certain decorum of dress not prominent elsewhere.
Parisian Annelise Michelson is a jewelry designer whose creations have been coveted by celebs such as Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Rita Ora, and chic women around the globe. Her cool French atelier is located in the Marais. "French-style heritage is passed from the mom and grandmother; the clothes, jewelry and accessories," Michelson tells TZR, who adds that she consequently enjoyed the light-heartedness of the show. "It's indeed easy and organic for French women to possess style," she admits, though noting that "the show was costume-y."
Patricia Field, the legendary stylist who also dressed the cast of SATC, expertly captured the phenomenon of ex-pats dressing more stereotypically French than the natives, a decades-old reality. Gonssard points out that the iconic actress Jean Seberg was an American. "Her style in Breathless is the only realistic portrayal of an American adopting French style in cinema."
The Cliché: Smiling Is A Bad Thing
In the show, Emily's nemesis, Sylvie, is her superior at the agency who portrays the older, snobby, but insightful French woman who doesn't suffer fools. In one scene, she tells Emily to "stop smiling, or people will think you're stupid." This statement perplexes the cheerful, eager-to-please Midwesterner taught to value positive gestures as a good thing.
In 2012, the film The Artist won three Oscars, including Best Actor for French actor Jean Dujardin. Awards-ceremony host Billy Crystal quipped after one award that "the French are feeling whatever word they use to replace joy" implying it doesn't exist. Are the French this dour and anti-smiling?
Julie de Libran, a Fashion Artistic Director who worked at Louis Vuitton and Sonia Rykiel and now has a namesake collection, is French but raised in the United States and Italy. A confessed fan of the show, she currently lives in Paris and agrees this stereotype rings true.
Michelson doesn't see it quite so literally. "The French they are not super enthusiastic, but we like smiling people. The woman who would say this is a total snob of a particular Parisian social class and represents an outdated French blasé attitude," she says while admitting that "too much happiness can be awkward because the French will question your happiness."
The Cliché: French Women Are Insincere
In the show, Emily tries desperately to befriend Sylvie, played by Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu. The French woman shows zero interest in getting too personal with her and barely feigns pleasantries either. De Libran and Michelson don't think French women are insincere but admit French women can be hard to know. Michelson insists they are direct, "we either like something or hate it," she maintains. "There is no fakeness or game playing in the French culture.
Gonssard chalks it up to that Je-Ne-Sais-Quoi. "French women are fearless enough to get rid of a pushy player," she says, alluding to the dynamic between Emily and Sylvie. "It's like a one-of-the-kind perfume that would be subtle and heady at the same time — one thinks we are impossible, another one would find us irresistible."
De Libran feels it is more to do with their innate differences. "The upbringing is different in terms of values and attitude towards competition," she says. "The American woman is success-driven, the French woman lives her life in a more personal successful way."
The Cliché: Change Is Impossible
Emily encounters a series of roadblocks that any tourist spending time in Paris can relate to. It's not uncommon to hear your fair share of C'est pas possible, aka 'It's not possible' from shopkeepers, taxi drivers, and of course, bureaucrats. This is a famous French expression, but Emily's other ex-pat friend in the show insists it's the national motto.
As a small business owner, and especially being female, Michelson agrees. "I've experienced this. It's hard to navigate this behavior when building a brand being young and without a jewelry background," she explains. "I struggle for my ideas because three manufacturers would tell me it wasn't possible, no one will buy that, and if it doesn't exist, it's for a reason."
Gonssard disagrees, as her experience growing up, she was taught the opposite. "I grew up in Brazil, and the first old French expression I learned from my parents was Impossible n'est pas Français! Or Impossible is not French. Which isn't to say they are never rude. We can be very rude to foreigners. This behavior has resulted in Paris Syndrome," she explains of the very real phenomenon in which new visitors to the city experience extreme disappointment, sometimes delusion, due to finding that the city isn't as they expected. Gonssard says the French are known to say what is on their mind but this isn't fully the cause. It's also due to the romanticized version of Paris some foreigners have.
The Cliché: Everyone Is Having An Affair
Paris is for lovers — the saying exists for a reason. Michelson and De Libran attribute affairs to long-married older generations, or to give the illusion of having one. "Even pretending, they like to feel they have the freedom to have one," surmises de Libran. Gonssard believes it's a matter of confidence.
Perhaps more perplexing to French women is the American attitude, which seem puritanical but full of contradictions. "They may seem morally uptight but then are thought to be easier sexually speaking than French women," said de Libran.
Michelson senses a dichotomy as well, but centered more around the media. "It's a mixed message we see from the U.S. that we don't understand [with] super aggressive visuals," she says, "but then you can't speak about sex." She feels that the French still live for the thrill of romance, making them culturally more relaxed about romantic encounters.
"French people's behavior skews more Latin than the Gauls after a couple of drinks, well…" she says implying that moods loosen and traditional romantic rituals ensue. Michelson feels French women have taken back the power of seduction and do it more for themselves than men. On this idea, even this American can agree.