Raise your hands if you’ve ever felt personally victimised by Lily Collins’ wardrobe in Emily In Paris.
Not since the days of Sex And The City (SATC) or Gossip Girl has a TV show so collectively unified (or horrified, depending on which side you land on) us in our sartorial opinions. Just take a quick scan through Google and you’ll know what we mean.
“Deconstructing the Exquisite Tackiness of Emily in Paris” wrote one fashion critic, followed by another op-ed a week later on “How the French Really Feel About Emily In Paris‘ Style”. From the latter piece, some choice direct quotes included “not my style”, “too showy, too cartoonish” and just simply “Allergic”. Suffice to say, the French were not on board.
The Netflix show plays up the whole “an American in Paris” trope, showcasing the title character Emily in her brash, colourful, and oft times odd wardrobe choices, juxtaposed against the chic, effortless backdrop of Parisians and their seemingly effortless looks (Yes, Camille and Sylvie can do no wrong.).
Just like SATC, the show shares two major collaborators — show creator Darren Star, and more importantly, costume designer Patricia Field. While Field usually knocks it out of the park with her brilliant and irreverent styling, her characters always maintained a sense of believability in their personal style, without compromising on looking chic. Just look at SATC’s Carrie Bradshaw prancing around New York in a tutu or The Devil Wears Prada‘s Andy Saachs in her Chanel boots.
But beyond the divisiveness and general disappointment of the costumes featured in Emily in Paris, the show has once again proven that fashion in the context of TV tends to provide some sort of escapism for many, especially so in 2020 with many of us still trapped in some form of lockdown or quarantine.
The Small Screen Appeal
Even though fashion on the big screen isn’t anything new, it’s only had a huge boom on the small screen in the last 10 to 15 years thanks to shows like The O.C, Gossip Girl, Ugly Betty and even reality TV like America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, Next In Fashion, The Hills and more.
Fashion, once illusive and shrouded in mystery, was brought to a mainstream audience and became a fun tool for visual storytelling, even if you didn’t consider yourself a fashion lover. In fact, it even awoke something dormant in many, bringing out a sartorial hunger in us to devour these looks week after week. Fashion blogs such as WornOnTV.net, popped up, dedicated to cataloging outfits meticulously in a time when Instagram and social media were non-existent.
For many of us who watched these shows during our formative years, these shows taught us that you could use style as a way to form an identity.
Even if you were in the midst of discovering who you wanted to be, identifying as a “Blair” (Gossip Girl) or a “Marissa” (The O.C) helped to isolate key personality traits within yourself that helped you to relate to the main characters in these shows. Even if we couldn’t be them, we could get one step closer to the characters that we were trying to develop within ourselves by dressing exactly like them.
While shows like Emily in Paris and Big Little Lies are a chock full of Chanel bags and Christian Louboutin stilettos, it hasn’t always been this easy to score designer looks on TV. Nevermind that Patricia Field might have put SATC on the map, but even her protégé Eric Daman wasn’t afforded the same pull when he worked on the first season of Gossip Girl.
“Doing season one was like pulling teeth to get anything,” he mentioned in an interview before. “We’d get some of the downtown designers that I knew from when I was styling to give us stuff, but overall, designers didn’t want to lend to television at all. The kids weren’t known in the beginning, so it was definitely a challenge, season one, that we didn’t have many designers participating. “
But after the network gave the show the advertising push it needed, landing stars Leighton Meester and Blake Lively on the covers of magazines, big name designers came running. “Once we got one bigger designer to say yes, it’s like letting the flood gates open, and early on, Chanel said yes,” Daman continued. “All of a sudden, everybody wanted to be a part of it. Because there was so much paparazzi and the girls were constantly getting shot on the street holding their Chanel bag or their Fendi bag or their Chloé boots, they were getting editorial attention from that and everyone jumped on the bandwagon.”
The moral of the story? That fashion matters on the television screen, as much as it does off-camera; where paparazzi pictures, fan-generated content and the many reminiscing throwbacks in the following years would offer brands even more invaluable coverage.
The Importance Of Product Placement
Soon the floodgates opened, and luxury brands saw the PR value in getting their items featured. Television was no longer low-brow. By season four, the characters were wearing Balenciaga and Balmain during a trip to Paris and in the final season, we witnessed Blair Waldorf getting married in an Elie Saab couture dress, straight off the runway. Not to mention, Manolo Blahnik could probably never repay Sex And The City for turning the luxury shoe label from a fashion insider secret to a household name.
While fashion thrives on exclusivity, it seems like the press afforded from television exposure wasn’t considered pedestrian anymore. In fact, it meant commercial viability, and more importantly, translated into sales. And mind you, the character doesn’t even have to be stylish for the brands to profit off of this visibility.
As it turns out, shoppers are still trying to dress like Emily. Sure, the looks might have been awkward and cringe-worthy, but the individual pieces were not, and many of the brands and items featured in the show received a significant increase in searches after the series premiered.
According to a report released by shopping platform Lyst, searches for Kangol bucket hats increased by 342 percent on the platform and red berets rose by 100 percent. Emily’s handbags were also a point of interest where Aldo bag searches increased by 64 percent, Marc Jacob’s Jelly Snapshot Camera Bag rose by 92 percent and searches for Kate Spade New York were up by 34 percent.
And all that Chanel we mentioned earlier didn’t go unnoticed either. At Vestiaire Collective, searches for Chanel rose 11.8 percent globally after the show’s debut. US resale site Thredup sold 25 percent more Chanel items during the two weeks that followed the show’s premiere, proving that while Emily might be considered ringarde, her influence was not.
Hallyu And The K-Drama Effect
And if we looked a little closer to home, cleverly styled characters dressed head-to-toe in designer labels are rife in Korean dramas. Ever since the Korean government made significant efforts to develop entertainment as a cultural export, there’s been a rapid growth of K-dramas in Asia. Now that’s a whole lot of eyeballs looking at your product if you get into the right show.
Take the meteoric success of 2014’s My Love From The Star, a drama about an alien who falls in love with an actress. In one particularly iconic scene, the actress, played by Jun Ji-hyun, cradles a pair of glittery anthracite US$625 Jimmy Choo pumps called The Abel. The plot line called for a Cinderella type shoe that would play a key role, and led to many close-ups of the shoe.
This unwitting product placement caught Jimmy Choo off-guard as the shoes started to fly off the shelves in Shanghai and Beijing. In a statement to The Wall Street Journal, a spokesperson confirmed that Jimmy Choo did not pay for a product placement on the show. In fact, the Abel had already been in stores for months before its serendipitous appearance in episode two. The shoe made its appearance on 18 December, and by January, the anthracite Abel sold out completely in Asia and in the US by late February.
By then, production of the shoe (which was part of the brand’s fall 2013 collection) was long finished, with the company producing shoes for fall 2014 already. Jimmy Choo’s CEO Pierre Denis soon demanded a re-order of the anthracite Abel in a couple of thousand pairs (the brand usually only produces a few hundred pairs of each style). This was no easy feat as production for handmade shoes usually takes four months. This massive re-order required major re-jigging of production schedules among the Italian factories.
Next Stop, Streaming Platforms
With budget cuts and extravagant events out of the question thanks to social distancing measures brought on by COVID-19, luxury brands have been forced to rethink their marketing strategies.
One of them is to shift its focus onto digital channels and the continued placement on Korean dramas. And with everyone stuck at home with nothing to do, this seems like the perfect way to expose your brands to the millions of Gen Zers and Millennials binge-watching their favourite drama on streaming platforms in quarantine.
“Korea is one of very few countries in the world where production is back on, although strict safety practices have been put in place,” says Inhae Yeo, director of global communications agency Oikonomos. “So filming is happening as we speak, which is phenomenal, and I think it’s the perfect opportunity for luxury brands to be more creative and engage more actively from the production planning stage.”
Just take a look at Netflix’s It’s Okay Not To Be Okay. While the spotlight it shone on mental illness was commendable, it was Seo Ye-Ji’s wardrobe that took everyone by storm. Tons of listicles popped up on the internet and press teams worked overnight to send out press releases on the items featured. From Prada to Louis Vuitton, the character’s wardrobe read like an enviable closet for every fashion fanatic out there.
“These K-dramas have such a wide reach, with audiences and fans not only in Korea but all over Asia, and even sometimes in Europe, as well,” says Maria Cristina Lomanto, brand general manager of Roger Vivier (Worldwide) in a press statement. For them, Roger Vivier had prime placement in the hit Korean show Crash Landing on You earlier this year, where the lead actress Son Ye-Jin wore several of the French brand’s shoes and bags.
And with new shows like Record of Youth and Private Lives already steadfastly climbing the fashion ranks (and this time in trendier streetwear looks to the delight of younger audiences everywhere), it certainly seems like fashion’s place in telly-land is set to last.