It’s Sylvie season everyone.
“When she wore the double Elsa Peretti for Tiffany Bone cuffs in the first episode, I died!” Just one example of the WhatsApp messages I received over the Christmas period, whilst simultaneously bingeing the third season of Emily in Paris and wheels of (French) cheese. There was a distinct air of tumbleweed around the show’s Midwestern protagonist (the less said about Emily’s headache-inducing wardrobe of clashing patterns, Sisyphean Instagram Lives and madcap advertising schemes incorporating live marriage proposals, the better), but my DMs overflowed with adoration for luxury marketing magnate, and Emily’s boss, Sylvie Grateau.
A note on Sylvie’s wardrobe, masterminded by Paris-based costume designer Marylin Fitoussi. While her American counterparts demonstrate very little acumen when it comes to moderation or minimalism—preferring instead to serve dressing disasters as layered as a Chicago deep dish pizza—the ex-Savoir CMO, played by 59-year old acting veteran Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, is the very semblance of chic. Subtly surrealist and gold-buttoned Schiaparelli, corseted Vivienne Westwood in zebra stripes, an arsenal of honed bicep-enhancing vest tops… Sylvie’s style language is as resonant as a Rossini crescendo, while Emily’s is (quelle horreur!) as discordant as her bad French accent, when she struggles in episode four to differentiate between champagne and champignons.
Next to the cast of twenty-somethings grappling with the early pitfalls of climbing the career ladder and messy love lives (see Emily’s inability to choose between French chef Gabriel and English banker-turned-fragrance-CFO Alfie, or her inability to choose between jobs at Savoir and Sylvie’s newly-minted Agence Grateau), Sylvie’s drive, conviction and sense of loyalty look as powerful as those Peretti accessories.
She makes an enemy of luxury’s greatest financial force, JVMA’s Louis de Léon, in support of her longtime friend and fashion grandmaster, Pierre Cadault; risks financial and professional peril to forge ahead with her own business, and can always be relied on for a dry witticism or laconic remark. We can forgive her for being unaware of the watertight non-compete agreements associated with departing a business as CMO, because who needs the Boucheron account when you can make even pet food tres élégant?
It’s also gratifying to note that, despite being surrounded by a younger cast cavorting on grand pianos in cut-out Mugler catsuits (Mindy), or sipping fizz on sun loungers in ’50s pin-up bikinis (Emily), the middle-aged Sylvie is astoundingly sexy on screen. After stripping off to avoid stings from bees caught up inside her clothing, she cavorts topless in a swimming pool with her ex-husband Arnaud Binard. She visits Pierre Cadault in hospital wearing a plunging Rick Owens gown, attends a cocktail party in a dress complete with look-at-me nipple adornments, and is frequently found braless in a ribbed vest in bed.
When Emily in Paris first aired back in October 2020, French audiences were horrified by the show’s cultural clichés. But surely they should welcome a character like Sylvie with open arms. She is the Michelin-starred tasting menu to Emily’s “McBaguette”, the chilled Evian to Madeline’s gargantuan water bottle, the savoir faire to Alfie’s bad suit. She’s the reason I’ll still be watching when season four rolls around. My dedicated WhatsApp chat awaits.
This article was originally published on British Vogue.
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