More is more, less is a bore: Appreciating Emily in Paris Season 2’s unapologetic maximalism in minimalist Paris

Parisians might be known to be chic but they dress rather plainly, often in monochrome. It is left to an American like Emily and her posse of immigrants to bring colour (lots of it) to the city in Season 2 of Emily in Paris.

Manjima Bhattacharjya January 11, 2022 08:01:22 IST
More is more, less is a bore: Appreciating Emily in Paris Season 2’s unapologetic maximalism in minimalist Paris

Lily Collins in Emily in Paris Season 2

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My friend K lamented yesterday that there has not been a decent rom-com made in a decade. “Perhaps even since Notting Hill”, we both agreed. The lack of decent rom-coms feels especially acute in the holiday season which is, as we all know, about winding down the year, and taking a shot of the Rom-Com Vaccine, to remember all that is sweet, hope-filled, and mushy to bring in the new year. 

In the absence of such, I turned to watch the just-released Season 2 of Emily in Paris (on Netflix), about a young woman (Emily Cooper, played by Lily Collins) from Chicago posted by her company to spend a year in Paris at Savoir, an advertising agency the company has just acquired, where she finds new colleagues, friends, and a complicated romantic interest. 

Emily in Paris Season 1 had come in for some bad press for its outlandish style, so much so that people even dressed up as “Emily Cooper” for Halloween. Emily's “polarising personal style” – you loved it or you hated it - has been called bold, idiosyncratic, eye-catching, outrageous, audacious… you get the picture. But in Season 2, the makers have embraced this as a quirky characteristic of Emily Cooper (the one with “weird clothes”), and gone the so-bad-it’s-good way. 

Despite being in a city considered the benchmark of fashion, "Emily does not dress like a Parisian." Parisians might be known to be chic but they dress rather plainly, often in monochrome. It is left to an American like Emily and her posse, including a Chinese best friend and other immigrants, to bring colour (lots of it) to the city. Emily’s wardrobe this season will make you wonder if you have come upon a Delhi winter wedding with its parrot greens and aubergines, mustards and maroons, sometimes even in the same frame. But this Kanjivaram silk palette that pops up often is a reminder that Emily is not Parisian, as she is called out as a hicky or “ringarde” repeatedly by the “real” fashionistas in the show.

More is more less is a bore Appreciating Emily in Paris Season 2s unapologetic maximalism in minimalist Paris

The heart of Season 2 beats around the clash of the American and French corporate values and ways of working – profits vs relationships, fast vs slow, and cultural differences on either side of “the pond.” But fashion is where the Americans and the French often find a sometimes-competitive common ground. In fact, the origin of Fashion Week lies in this history. With Paris under siege during World War II, American fashion magazines faced a slump with the lack of French ‘inspiration,’ which was their mainstay. An enterprising fashion publicist brought together American designers to showcase their work in what she called 'Press Week,' erecting massive white tents for the shows where they could run their designs past American fashion followers. Over time, this became New York Fashion Week. 

Emily’s American boss calls her their "mole in Moschino," which references one of the many fashion brands which, no doubt, Emily is wearing through the season. I, for one, cannot identify any of them, although other viewers may have had fun doing so. But somehow, that was not the point of the show at all, and for that, I am grateful. Instead, the fashion and costuming focused on expression and… on having fun.

More is more less is a bore Appreciating Emily in Paris Season 2s unapologetic maximalism in minimalist Paris

Neon colours on gloomy days, hats, berets, tulle gowns, little bags, poches, capes, cloches, gloves, even useless yellow fingerless gloves (the gloves are now available for sale, called “the Emily”).  She is the unapologetic maximalist in minimalist Paris, for whom ‘more is more less is a bore’. How can Emily afford this wardrobe? “We’re doing a romantic comedy, so we don’t care about reality,” say the stylists of the show disarmingly. 

The wardrobe in Emily in Paris Season 2 goes beyond a smarter Sex and the City 2.0 costume and styling (although the consultant stylist for the show, Patricia Field, did actually work on the original Sex and the City). It is all “fantastic eye candy” but it is also something deeper and unruly, and a little disruptive to conventional ideas of fashion and style. Emily dresses for herself, whatever the world might say. This capacity for fashion as self-expression, self-love or even self-preservation has been central to creating many memorable characters in other shows too. Take, for instance, the most fabulous Eric Effiong in Sex Education or Beth Harmon in The Queen’s Gambit, who never stops dressing immaculately in a hyperfeminine style to preserve herself in a competitive sport filled with men. 

More is more less is a bore Appreciating Emily in Paris Season 2s unapologetic maximalism in minimalist Paris

Although I didn’t get my rom-com fill with the limp storyline of the show, Emily Cooper’s wardrobe did bring me some cheer.

Emily and her world wear whimsy on their sleeve with a light playfulness that is charming, even though Emily herself is a serious, conscientious character.

It reminds me what fun costuming is. It reminds me of a person I knew who would wear one thing every day, even if it was a humble clip, that made them happy or made them smile. It reminds me of a line from the wise poet Mary Oliver that goes: “You must not ever stop being whimsical.”

All of us could do with some playfulness, some colour, some delight, some whimsy. It is a good thought to start the new year with: in the bustle of everyday life, dress for yourself, and do not forget to have some fun.

Emily in Paris is streaming on Netflix.

More is more less is a bore Appreciating Emily in Paris Season 2s unapologetic maximalism in minimalist Paris

Manjima Bhattacharjya is the author of Mannequin: Working Women in India's Glamour Industry (Zubaan, 2018) and Intimate City (Zubaan, 2022).

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