At 58, Emily in Paris star PHILIPPINE LEROY-BEAULIEU has just been crowned one of the world’s most stylish women. Her secret? Wear what you love and ‘don’t give a damn’, she tells Joanne Hegarty FASHION EDITOR: SOPHIE DEARDEN PHOTOGRAPHS: RALPH WENIG
When the young cast members – including the show’s main star Lily Collins – were shooting Netflix’s Emily in Paris, they enjoyed many fun-filled nights out together at the restaurants and bars in the city’s fashionable Marais district.
But Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu, who plays Lily’s fabulously French boss Sylvie to perfection – ice cool, no-nonsense, one eyebrow faintly raised in permanent disapproval – didn’t join them. Instead, she chose to go home alone each evening. This aloofness wasn’t because she is unfriendly but rather to aid her portrayal of her brilliantly sardonic character who has become such a huge part of the insanely successful show.
Philippine, 58, explains that she likes to keep her young American co-stars, who she calls ‘the kids’, a little scared of her – both off and on set. ‘When I’m Sylvie, I’m in character, so I can’t go out and have fun with the kids, which is a pity because I would have loved to.’
Such is her distance that even Lily – who stars as Emily – is ‘a little wary of her’, Philippine admits. ‘Lily, who is a darling, really adorable, and the boss of the set obviously, looks at me sometimes in that kind of “uh-oh” way.’
I have to confess that as I waited to interview her at Paris’s famous Café de Flore, as well as feeling excited I was also, just like her co-stars, a little scared. When she arrived, it wasn’t until she took off her fedora, scarf and tasselled jacket and smiled that I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. I told her that I had been expecting her to tell me off – something that elicited the warmest of laughs.
As it turns out, Philippine – who speaks perfect English – isn’t remotely Sylvie-like in real life. Instead she’s funny and open. She’s also beautiful in that not-trying-too- hard French way and, today dressed in a stylish yet simple black poloneck and trousers, chic. So chic, in fact, that British
Tailoring is a sophisticated way to create a sexy silhouette. Elevate it with cut-out details or embellishments Vogue crowned her one of the world’s most stylish women following her stunning appearance at a recent Ami fashion show.
She’s also enjoying this second act of her career immensely and tells me that Emily in Paris, which reached a global audience of 58 million in its first month of release and has a third season due to start shooting this summer, has opened new doors for her. As if to prove the point, our interview is suddenly interrupted by two Indonesian tourists who excitedly ask for a photo ‘with Sylvie’.
Having warmly greeted the women like old friends and taken the requested snap, Philippine returns to our conversation saying: ‘I have received a lot of offers but I have been lucky enough to be able to turn them down because they lack imagination. I don’t want to be typecast. I’ve already been a French bitch and she is perfect. I don’t need another one. So I will wait and trust that the right thing will come along.’
She then gives YOU a tantalising exclusive: she will be appearing in the fifth series of Netflix’s other blockbuster The Crown. ‘I’m not meant to say it but I will anyway. It was a very small thing but it was a lot of fun and I was so, so happy to be in it.’ She won’t reveal any more but says she thinks the show’s writer Peter Morgan is a genius. ‘Season four was amazing. Every episode is like a little film on its own. That scene when Margaret Thatcher goes to Scotland – wow! It’s crazily well written.’
So has being in Emily changed her life drastically? Honestly, no, she says. ‘Well, aside from people asking for a picture, but that’s cute. I am amused and charmed by that, but it doesn’t fill my ego.’
The show has been controversial in her native France because of the way it joyously embraces every cliché about the French, which makes me ask, do her friends watch it? ‘Some have and liked it, others have hated it. But it’s meant to be fun and not taken seriously.’
The cultural clashes between Emily and her co-workers are one of the best things about the show. Its American creator Darren Star clearly relished sprinkling a little pepper here and there. Was there a French revolution on set mirroring that at the end of series two when Sylvie leaves the American-owned marketing firm Savoir to set up on her own and invites Emily to defect, too? ‘The Americans on the show did come to Paris thinking the French didn’t know how to make TV and movies. One of the directors even told me they didn’t know if the French crew were going to work as well as the Americans.’ She then adds with a laugh: ‘We did invent cinema, by the way!
‘It was funny to see how scared they were that they wouldn’t find satisfaction,’ she continues. ‘It’s the same as with Lily’s character Emily. She comes to the office and declares: “You don’t know how to work – I’m going to show you all how to.” She’s a Miss Perfect, a know-it-all, which really triggers Sylvie. And it triggered us French when the Americans were like that, too. We have to learn from each other, that’s what I think. It’s what I like about meeting different cultures – we always have things to learn.’
Fashion is a huge thread running through the series and has made headlines around the world – especially Emily’s exuberant and experimental work outfits. However, my own favourite wardrobe is Sylvie’s. Philippine works closely with the show’s costume designer Marylin Fitoussi to create an immaculately French look – drop-dead sexy yet very wearable. ‘Yes, Sylvie’s clothes are very French. This was on purpose because in season one Emily looks up to Sylvie as she is so naturally chic and then tries to dress like the Parisians, which is so endearing to me because she doesn’t understand it and gets it all wrong.’
As for her own look, Philippine says: ‘I’m simpler, as you can tell by what I am wearing today. But I do love beautiful things. I still have the little girl in me that sees a dress and thinks, “Whoa, that’s nice!” even if I wouldn’t necessarily wear it.’
Philippine grew up with fashion; her mother Françoise was head of accessories at Dior. Philippine based Sylvie on the real-life characters she met as a child. ‘I grew up in a world full of women who were both powerful and vulnerable. Powerful in that they were editors-in-chief, fashion assistants or muses. But they were also vulnerable to losing their power and positions. They had this frailty that I could spot right away. My main inspiration was them. My mother used to always talk about beauty and good taste at home. I was bored by that. I did not give a damn about fashion for a long time.’
Does she have a big wardrobe in real life? ‘I probably do have too many clothes but wear the same things over and over. I have favourites – four pairs of pants, five sweaters and two jackets. I don’t have time for fashion. I dedicate enough time to that when I am in character.’
In the second series some of the scenes with Sylvie – who has fallen for a younger man – involved body close-ups and bikini shots. Was this intimidating to do at 58? ‘It was. We came out of lockdown and everyone had been eating chocolate and drinking wine. So when I got wind of what was going to happen, I went on a diet,’ she says. ‘But, at the same time,’ she adds, ‘I don’t give that much importance to how I look.
When you’re my age you stop worrying.’ Philippine – who has a daughter, Taïs Bean, an artist and musician, who lives in Sussex– isn’t currently romantically attached. ‘No offers – everyone is scared of Sylvie,’ she jokes. ‘They were scared of me before. Now it is even worse! Men are really afraid of women who have a bit of character. At least they are in France. I don’t know what it is like in the UK – I might have to come and shop there.’
I tell her I think she’s doing a lot of good things for older women in the acting world.
Her response is thoughtful – and fascinating. ‘There is a whole narrative about what the industry is doing to older women. We don’t get as many roles, et cetera – yes, it’s true, but do we want to play victim all the time? Or do we try to take our existence back by saying: “We are what we are”?
‘It is true that in France they are hard on women. It’s hidden, but they don’t like empowered women. They like women in stilettos and tight dresses. The worst thing that happened for my generation was that women thought they had to behave like men to gain power. That’s kind of horrible– we have to be women or else the feminine is going to be squished. And the feminine has to exist. I don’t know what femininity is now but it’s a much bigger thing than just wearing a dress and being kind. I’m also very wary of the feminist movement because they have ideas of what women should be like, which, for me, is wrong.’
And with that she is done. I’m left thinking Sylvie is fabulous but Philippine even more so. What a tonic to meet a woman who at 58 is so comfortable in her own skin that she exudes such style, sexiness and success.
Picture editor: Stephanie Belingard Assisted by: Luisa Avietti Fashion assistants: Stephanie Sofokleous, Jessica Carroll Make-up: Houda Remita at Wise& Talented Hair: Tié Toyama at Calliste Agency