Did ‘Emily in Paris’ satiate my wanderlust?

It’s fall in Paris, and according to the weather forecast, rainy. The opaque gray sky reflects on wet sidewalks, and I imagine, the ceaseless rattle of rain has people curled up inside umbrellas and in their homes. California, however, remains in the clutches of another heat wave. Yes, even in October. Though we’re a world removed from it, our single, most pressing goal for the day is to travel to Paris in our pandemic-stricken world —  you know, without actually setting foot on a plane. It requires a giant leap of imagination, but somehow my blogger bestie Kristin and I convince ourselves that we’re in the City of Lights — especially when traipsing around Pasadena’s ornate architecture that dates back to the 1880s and reminds us something of Europe. And especially because of the way we’re dressed, which is to say, matched up, on theme and tres chic. 

We’re donning our version of the iconic newspaper dress that Carrie Bradshaw wore during that cringeworthy lunch with Natasha, and again on her date with Big in the first Sex and the City movie almost eight years later. The newspaper-print, bias-cut number, designed by John Galliano, has become somewhat of a star in its own right. It is, hands down, one of the most sought-after SATC outfits. But we’re not paying homage to the series per se (I mean, we are sort of, but that’s not the main reason we’re wearing what we are). We’re celebrating a different show that just hit Netflix — one that we’ve waited a whole year for — and that’s Emily in Paris

Emily in Paris is a new dramedy created by producer Darren Star, who also dreamed up shows like Beverly Hills 90210, Younger — and you guessed it  — SATC. Which is really why I’ve been waiting for this as impatiently as a tot on Christmas eve. The truth is, I’ve been watching SATC on repeat throughout this pandemic. I’ve been living vicariously through its characters — window-shopping on Fifth Avenue, sipping cocktails with “the girls,” devouring life advice and indulging in honest, relevant (even now) conversations. Of course, I’ve been ogling the fashion, too. 

Which is why, when preparing for today’s socially distanced outing, the outfit was key. And the location. What better place to replicate French opulence and glamor in California than at the Huntington Library? (You might already know that this is one of my favorite places in my neck of the woods, given that I’ve written about it many, many times.) That’s how we spend the afternoon, wandering around, pretending we’re in Paris, and since we don’t quite know Emily as a person yet, we settle snugly into Carrie’s character for the day. In the evening, however, we slip back into ourselves — and by that I mean, a pair of comfy shorts and t-shirt.

“It’s happening!” I shriek in excitement. It almost doesn’t feel real when we finally hunker down in our comfy attire in front of the TV, four boxes of wood-fired pizza wide open in front of us — and of course, a bottle of rose. For the next few hours or so, we follow Emily Cooper (played by Lily Collins), a Midwestern marketing genius, as she moves from Chicago to Paris, where she eats croissants, plays dress up and encounters her fair share of eligible men. Sent to bring an “American perspective” to Parisian marketing company Savoir, Emily is fiercely independent, assertive and basically good at everything she does, which includes, but is not limited to, her job, friendships and fashion.

This, of course, invites comparisons to Carrie Bradshaw. But unlike Carrie, Emily’s plucky and overzealous character is virtually unchanged throughout the series. We never see her fail (not really), and her actions have very few consequences — if any at all. Her can-do attitude and marketing prowess help her swat harsh criticism like bugs and ignore naysayers, win over her difficult-to-please boss Sylvie, get out of sticky situations at the drop of a (Dior) hat and emerge as a go-to expert at a French marketing company without speaking a drop of the language. In other words, she’s a total Mary Sue, steady and unmoving as a boulder in stream, and perfect from the get-go. As a viewer, I love watching characters fail, learn from their mistakes and grow on screen. But with an already-flawless base, where will Emily go from here? 

Things just work out for our protagonist in a way that often elicits eyerolls and many, many instances of “oh, come on!” Like, come on, you don’t just gain thousands of followers overnight by posting less-than-mediocre images of cheese and dog poop. And come on, Emily can’t be the object of everyone’s desires. And really come on, don’t you see that cheating is cheating is cheating? (One of my biggest pet peeves is how shows and films normalize cheating simply because the guy is more “right” for our lovely protagonist.) And lastly, before you get tired of the “come ons” (trust me, in saying them so frequently during the show, I am, too), how can our gal afford Chanel handbags and Louboutins on an average salary? (This was something SATC was also guilty of, though it did it less blatantly and with some semblance of an explanation). I couldn’t help but wonder … 

So, really, to enjoy the show, I have to suspend disbelief and let go of my high hopes and expectations — and that was, to witness a show that brought on the same level of cultural commentary and debate that SATC did back in the day. To see characters that, underneath all the designer clothes, were a complete mess and constantly evolving, imperfect human beings. To be a fly on the wall in conversations on what it’s like being a female in a male-dominated workplace, fears of growing old alone, dating a man with a less financially stable lifestyle, dealing with fertility struggles and many unspoken-about, unsexy topics. (Yes, I do realize a lot of SATC moments haven’t aged well and that it was annoyingly white, but there’s something to be said about the fact that the show is still being talked about and referenced today.) I guess, even though Emily in Paris was marketed to us as a Parisian version of SATC, I shouldn’t have compared. That’s where I went wrong. 

That said, when you don’t question it, when you let the cliches and the caricatured version of the French slide, when you let go of logic and ease into the fantasy, Emily in Paris becomes really enjoyable. It does for me, at least. So, the question, at the end of the day is: Does the show whisk me away like I wanted it to? And the answer is: mais, oui! Emily takes us to gilded halls of the legendary Palais Garnier and to the often-trotted and iconic Café de Flore. She jogs through the Jardin du Luxembourg and cycles through the picturesque vineyards of a château in Champagne, and we go along for the ride. We hang out with her on the Pont Alexandre III bridge, and eavesdrop on her chit-chat with best friend Mindy at Jardin du Palais Royal. 

The scale and ambition of the beautiful sceneries and backdrops are, in my opinion, worth watching alone. Even the less grandiose scenes at cozy, tucked-away Parisian restaurants and bistros give me wanderlust goosebumps and provide something of a distraction. Watching the show reawakens a distant, though not completely forgotten, past, and with that, gives us hope for the future. It might be comforting to remember that these pleasures — or some form of them, at least — still lie ahead of us. So, lest you forget the transporting power of a well-visualized (albeit a little unrealistic) world on screen, Emily in Paris is there to remind you. 

Writer’s note: Kristin is in my quarantine pod or “bubble,” which requires us to be honest, restrictive and responsible about who we interact with and where we go. Also, our masks were on the whole time save for the moments we took photographs and sipped water (which we had to, given the heat wave!)

Shop My Look

I’ll be posting a standalone story on where to shop for newspaper dresses in case you want recreate Carrie’s iconic look — just in for Halloween! Come back next week for more options and tips.


String Along Mini Dress

Writer’s note: Since the dress was a bit looser on me that I would’ve liked, I did get it tailored and taken in.

As an Los Angeles-based journalist and fashion writer, Mari Alexander highlights local and global talents through runway reviews, designer interviews, and trend reports.

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