Fashion is as much an attraction as the glorious cityscapes of Paris in the Netflix series “Emily in Paris,” but season-three costume designer Marylin Fitoussi insists she isn’t interested in starting any trends.
In fact, the show’s influence on fashion and the public’s thirst for it have surprised her. “I didn’t realize completely what was going on. It’s probably better this way, because I can work with no stress. My mind is clear and peaceful,” she said.
That being what it is, she listens to the critics and thinks it’s positive that some people hate the show. A few of the criticisms that she agreed with were that it was not fashion and probably featured too many prints, patterns and jeweled tones, but those are her style preferences.
“What they have to say helps me to be stronger, and to make things worse in a certain way. To have had so many critics [sounding off] about the previous season makes you grow. My mission was accomplished. If 50 percent of the people loved the show and 50 percent hated it, that means we provoked some kind of a reaction. What I did was not neutral. You can like it or hate it, but it was a real statement,” said Fitoussi, who took over the lead costume designer role for this new season, succeeding Patricia Field.
Fitoussi’s hope is that one of the takeaways is that her purpose in life is not to do fashion. “I was creating characters and not trying to make trends,” she said.
Having worked under Field previously, she approached the new season with much consideration for Lily Collins’ lead role as Emily Cooper, an enterprising and amusing American in Paris. Fitoussi said, “We knew we had to make an evolution. Now we know the young American is staying in Paris. I wanted to show how much she can embrace the French culture that she has been watching for the past few seasons.”
There was a lot to unpack with that — literally. Fitoussi and her team had more than 40,000 items between fashion and accessories. Valentino, archival looks from Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix, Kévin Germanier, Grace Ling and Victor Weinsanto were among the numerous resources.
“It was like a museum, but we were very well-organized. A team of two were receiving and bagging everything that was received at the office, whether those items were loaned or purchased. They also kept straight all of the dates for necessary returns and which items would be used for photo shoots. We are terribly organized. It is like an army inside our showroom,” she said.
Accustomed to working between 15 and 17 hours a day — very often without weekend breaks — Fitoussi does so because she loves what she does and she wants to be a perfectionist. “I don’t count the time. It’s not about glamour — not at all. Often you have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to be ready on set. But if you’re not passionate, you need to find another job. You need to embrace completely this type of product. It requires many hours [of work], much research and you need to challenge yourself all the time. If not, you can’t stay on your game. You need to think about the next step.”
The ”very clever, resilient and patient” Collins has a “mind that can sensitize many, many things at the same time” like a mathematician. Increasingly confident in her role, the actress and Fitoussi can speak candidly without any hard feelings, which has enabled Collins to be more subtle embracing different silhouettes and evolve her character on screen. Collins’ recall of every style she has worn through the show’s three seasons enables her to speak up if she feels a print or color are too similar to a previous style.
“That’s been very helpful to push me beyond my limits and to break boundaries,” Fitoussi said. “She’s a very deep person and respectful of all of the crew on the set. She knows everybody’s name on set.”
Fans’ zeal for Philippine Leroy-Beualieu’s character Sylvie has delighted the middle-aged Fitoussi.
“For a woman of her and my generation, she may be the [type of] person we have been waiting for. She decided not to hide the effects of aging on a body. In Season One, she had a scene where she could have had her arms and back covered. She decided to show the skin of a woman who was starting to age. She was brave enough and willing to do that, deciding that they need to see how her hands and body are now. And she is a very beautiful woman,” Fitoussi said.
Another crowd favorite is Samuel Arnold’s coworker role as Julian, due to his strength, flamboyance and joyful character, Fitoussi said. “When I first met Samuel, he was very shy. He was dressed in black or navy blue all the time. He didn’t wear any color at that time,” she said. “Now he is asking for color more and more. He is pushing me for more eclectic things and he wants me to take more risks with silhouettes.”
Season Three features bold hues like neon lemon and acid green, as well as unexpected combinations of sky blue and red. Color is a character in itself in the Netflix series and from the costume designer’s perspective, “Why not?”
Noting how the show’s creator Darren Star mused how France’s national colors for style were black, gray and white, Fitoussi said that is a reality, but not one that she adheres to. “Why are we so ashamed and afraid about color? What does it provoke in us? Do we feel too exposed?” Fitoussi said. “French people hate to be overdressed and to be the center of attention sometimes. They want to be neutral. They want to disappear but at the same time they want to have designer [labels]. I am questioning why the French are so afraid of the colorful world and why so few designers are using colors.”
For the third season “a mirror game” was created between Collins’ and Leroy-Beaulieu’s characters that personified their love-hate relationship. Viewers will see how “an arrogant, boastful Sylvie” can embrace color as boldly and confidently as Emily does. In return, Emily can interpret her boss’ trademark high-waisted leg pants into a signature style of her own. They borrow a bit from each other in admiration and competition and can signal a sign of respect without actually saying that, Fitoussi said
Another starting point came from Collins’ freshly cut bangs, which reminded Fitoussi of Jean-Luc Godard’s films, the French New Wave and the iconic ’60s characters portrayed within them. Working with only six weeks of prep time and solely on the first three episodes of the third season, Fitoussi had much to imagine. She also only had two day of fittings with Collins. The most difficult challenge of costume design for this type of series is not knowing what the next scene may entail — possibly a huge runway show or a costume party — and always having to be on alert.
“It’s quite difficult to anticipate. We had racks with a bunch of party silhouettes, business outfits, running outfits and casual ones. We never know what the screenwriters are going to imagine for her,” she said.
Born in the South of France, Fitoussi earned a degree in textile design in Paris and stayed on in the city for 12 years specializing in 18th-century costume design for films. She eventually moved to Mexico, where she lived for 13 years starting at age 33 and became emboldened with the freedom of mixing colors and patterns. She moved back to France’s capital a few years ago to live and work on “Emily in Paris” with Field. This season she took on the lead costume designer position.
But even as a teenager fashion was a focus and she routinely dipped into her grandmother’s trove of vibrant looks from the ’50s and ’60s.
At 16, she had no qualms about wearing some of her grandmother’s jackets and pencil skirts with stilettos, despite fellow students making fun of her. “I didn’t care. I still felt confident about the way I was putting clothes together and wearing clothes. It was always a statement for me to be different. It was not that I wanted to be the opposite of others. I just needed that to be well with myself,” she explained.
Next up for Fitoussi is the second and third films in a “Camelot” trilogy that are being led by Alexandre Astie. The plan is to complete those before the next season of “Emily in Paris.” Fitoussi said the films are not only “another challenge,” but also, ‘It’s nice to escape from the fashion universe and do what I know how to do in a period movie.”