A continuation to our previous post, on Lily being on the cover of the Global Winter 2020 issue of L’Officiel ART, it has been released by L’Officiel the interview, where Lily speaks to Alber Elbaz and Joshua Glass about Emily in Paris, Mank and the future. You can read the full interview below, and our gallery’s been updated with new outtakes!
When Lily Collins arrived in Paris over a year and a half ago to start filming Emily in Paris—the unsuspecting Netflix feelgood that became an overnight fame monster—the city was not as she’d expected. Born in Surrey, England but raised in LA, the daughter of Phil Collins has long been a Francophile, but upon returning to the French capital as Emily, an American hopeful trying to infiltrate the world of high fashion, the city’s volume seemed softer. With August’s heat seducing most Parisians to Biarritz or Provence for holiday, Collins and crew found themselves almost in a world of their own—that is until the rest of the world took notice.
Signatured by his oval-shaped frames and unperturbed glee, Alber Elbaz had a similar experience when he first immigrated from New York. “I was like, where is everyone?” recalls Elbaz, who moved across the Atlantic to work under Guy Laroche in the mid ‘90s. The fashion designer, who would later go on to Yves Saint Laurent before forging his legacy by reshaping the house of Lanvin—and contemporary women’s fashion as we know it—was, however, home that summer. Fate in the form of a mutual friend brought Elbaz and Collins together, and the two continued to run into each other in the weeks that the Darren Star–created series filmed. “At one point I was like, am I in this show?” he laughs. Elbaz was, in fact, not, but the pair’s parallelity was sealed in more ways than one.
Many months of Internet memes and record-breaking numbers later, Collins, with her beret temporarily retired, is no less Emily today as she is no less her old self, either. Newly engaged, the actress is embarking on what might be the most important phase of her career with Mank, David Fincher’s new biographical drama about Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and his notorious feud with director Orson Welles. Demure but biting, Collins plays Rita, the wispy secretary to Gary Oldman’s Mankiewicz and voice of reason to the overlooked writer’s domestic chaos. The black-and-white film was written by Fincher’s late father, Jack, and glorifies Old Hollywood drama through the director’s masterful style. Nine hours ahead in France, Elbaz is tiptoeing on the cusp of newness, too. Since his departure from Lanvin in 2015, the influential designer has purposely kept himself out of the fashion arena, collaborating instead on beauty, footwear, and even cinema projects—that is, until now, with the slow launch of his largely secretive, Richemont-backed fashion startup, AZ Factory, which debuts in January. Displaced from the cobblestones of Paris, the actress and the designer reconnect to discuss their shared excitement for one another, creativity in quarantine, and joy ahead.
JOSHUA GLASS: Emily in Paris satirizes so many different things, but at its core the show is really about being an outsider—to an industry, to a point of view, to an attitude. What does that feeling mean to each of you?
LILY COLLINS: There’s no transformative scene in the show where Emily goes into a dressing room as Emily in Chicago and comes out as Emily in Paris. She stays who she is throughout the season while learning and growing. Every time I go to a new movie set or a new TV set myself, I still feel a bit like this—like a fish out of water. It’s the experience of going into a new environment, not knowing anyone, and having to bring whatever it is you prepared to the table. It was interesting to play her, a young woman in a foreign situation who has to adapt but maintain who she is. I think many people can relate to that idea of not wanting to change who you are in order to fit in.
ALBER ELBAZ: I think the message for me ultimately is that it pays to be nice. Because you could be a bitch, Lily, but you weren’t. You as Emily were a good girl with good values. You didn’t understand why people didn’t cooperate with you or didn’t get you. But it was also very much a culture shock. I’m reminded of the immigrant experience. I’ve been an immigrant a few times in my life: I was born in Morocco, raised in Israel, and then I went to America. In New York City I had an apartment the size of a table and two roommates, one of them named Muffin. Yes, Muffin. You had to see New York through your own eyes to understand it, and when I arrived, I was not only an outsider—I was nobody.
JG: No one could have predicted how incredibly popular the show would become, and Lily, it’s easily your widest-reaching role yet. Alber, in your long career have you had an Emily in Paris moment?
AE: Once when I was in New York I came across these gorgeous roses, and I said, “Wow, they’re beautiful!” The florist told me, “18 dollars.” I didn’t even ask the price. A few months later I was in Paris, and I came across another stand. “Wow, these roses are gorgeous,” I told their owner. “These are roses named Piaget,” he said back. “And they grow only one time a year. Smell them. They grow in the sun!” I asked, “So how much are they?” And he said, “We are not sure of the price.” It’s little things that show the difference between people, cities, and cultures. In Paris they invented perfume, so there is always that sense of dreaming. I always remember what my mother used to say about perfume: “Just smell it, don’t ever drink it.”
LC: Too much of a good thing?
AE: Yes, and it also applies to success. One of the biggest dangers of success is when you start to believe that you are too fabulous; that you are bigger than life. I always bring it back to that moment of perfume. I tell myself, Don’t drink the perfume. Just sniff it.
JG: Almost similarly, you’re both turning the pages of two very big chapters in your lives. Lily, your new film, Mank, directed by David Fincher, premieres this week on Netflix, while Alber, your new fashion startup, AZ Factory, launches next month. Where do you two find yourselves emotionally?
LC: I never thought I’d get to work with David. The idea that he believed in me to take on this character and to be a part of something of this caliber—another dream-like project— was a real gift. David is a genius in his field. He knows exactly what he wants and how to get it, but he’s also open to collaboration. He respects you, while you—and the whole crew—have immense admiration for him. When you’re a part of something like that, it changes the bar you’ve set for yourself. We filmed it at the same time we were filming Emily, so it was such a dramatic contrast to go from literal color to black-and-white to humor versus stoic no-nonsense drama. Flying back and forth from Paris to Los Angeles, I was exhausted, but I felt so creatively fulfilled.
AE: For every artist the blank page is the scariest thing to face. I don’t know how it is with acting, but I feel like sometimes what I do is almost like the birth of a baby. It begins and you aren’t like, Oh, wow, life is gorgeous! It’s more like, Ouch, ouch, ouch! But then it comes out and you forget the pain. But to get into it and then leave it, is really hard. [After Lanvin], I decided not to do fashion for a few years because I was not in love anymore. At the same time, it was the only thing I knew how to do. I don’t even know how to drive a car, so I couldn’t even be a taxi driver! I had all these offers from all these big fashion houses, and I didn’t want to be a diva, but I felt that something wouldn’t let me start again so soon. I started to teach. I went to all these amazing schools around the world to understand what is next and where the world was going— this is before COVID-19, of course. Then I signed with Richemont, and I opened up this startup.
LC: First of all, congratulations, it’s so exciting, and I mean there’s very little that anyone knows about it, so I’m curious; what can you share?
AE: There is a big difference between creating and recreating, and in the past my job was often about not only recreating but replacing. This time I wanted to start from scratch. I’ve been observing women for the last five years; looking at everything that they are going through, the changes in their lives. I’ve always said that if I was ever a producer in Hollywood, the next James Bond would be Jane Bomb, and she wouldn’t be an ex-model. She would be a smart woman that has no age and no size, because it doesn’t matter. Looking at the lives of women today, you can see them running in ten different directions trying to be the best mother, the best wife, the best person you work with, etc. I realized I had to start working on a solution, so that’s what I’m doing now. I’m introducing new technology, but I’m also trying to go a little bit deeper than just looking fabulous. I’m trying to listen to women to see what I can do to bring them their dreams, because at the end of the day, we are just not living in a world of only data and algorithms or instinct and emotion. We can put them both together as yin and yang. It’s not either-or; it’s both together.
JG: How does it feel to be working on such momentous projects when the world has never been more different from how we’ve known it?
LC: I think it’s been really interesting for me—or for all of us within the industry, really—to experience something come out during quarantine. I’ve loved it, actually, but it’s very different. I miss the social element: going out on photoshoots and being around people, but it’s been really lovely to experience the joy and the laughter and the smiles that Emily has brought to so many people, because it came out just when we needed to smile and laugh the most. On the other side, quarantine has been a great way of separating work and personal life in a way. Right? I mean, I got engaged during quarantine, and even though I have Mank coming out, I didn’t have to immediately leave for weeks to go on a press tour for it. I’ve been able to talk about the movie, which I’m so passionate about, from home and then go on a walk with my dog after. I really rely on my friends and family and—to some extent even myself—to bring me back down if I ever find myself wanting to “drink the perfume.” It’s been really amazing to be at home and watch Emily in Paris become this global sensation that no one expected but also humbling to not have it become my everything. To keep sniffing it, like you said.
AE: Everything about COVID-19 has been so depressing and horrible. What I miss more than anything else at this time is being hugged and the ability to hug others. I don’t even want to sit in a café, just physical contact. I’m also a hypochondriac, so this has not been easy for me. Yet, I think this moment that we’re living in will also take us to a different place. It’s kind of a detox. It’s forcing us to not only change but change faster, too.
LC: This has been such an intense experience of self-reflection and identity crisis. It can be scary, especially when you’re surrounded by the same space and have to look inward to face the things about yourself or your future that you really hadn’t had to before. There’s the metaphorical mirror everyday of: Who am I? What do I want to accomplish? What makes me happy without distraction? Aside from that, it’s been a really important time to think about greater issues in the world like COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, and politics in America. There’s been so much time to be quiet and sit still that I think there’s going to be a version of a Renaissance after this, where people are just dying to be creative.
AE: I read recently that [actor] Roberto Benigni said that poverty was the best heritage one could get. I think that we are all going through a sense of poverty today because we are without a lot—friendship, people, family, work, etc. Lily, the fact that you met the love of your life during quarantine is so symbolic because you met when you were really you. No decoration.
LC: What’s interesting is that Charlie [McDowell] and I met just before Emily in Paris, and we got engaged this September. Quarantine has made and broken up a lot of people, but the time together just solidified what we already knew about each other. As you just said, everyone has very much been who they are these last few months, because there aren’t any external distractions. We’re all really getting back to the core of who we are without the layers of society. When you’ve seen someone at their best and at their worst and you’re still right there with them, that’s a beautiful thing.
AE: Lily, you know, I’ve designed 32 wedding dresses.
LC: No way!
AE: Thirty-two in my previous life, and 31 are still married. You better call me when you need a dress!
JG: A final question either of you would like to know?
LC: Alber, setting out on an adventure like this is scary and nerve-racking, but you must be excited, too?
AE: I’m sure that as an actress, there are moments that you’re on set surrounded by all these people and you’re told, “Oh, wow, it’s amazing.” But we ask ourselves internally, Is it really? Are they going to get it? Are they going to love it? Because it’s not if they’re going to love it, but if they’re going to love me. We have become the it of whatever we do. But yes, I’m very excited. You know, I’m not the vacation type. I hate the sand. I can’t stand boats. But the first day I entered my new office here I said, “God, vacation just started.”
LC: What a wonderful way of thinking of it. You are one of the most beloved people in the world, and everyone is just cheering you on. You talked about Emily as someone who is so nice and warm and stays herself, but that’s who you are, Alber. Throughout everything and with every obstacle that’s come your way, you’re you. I’m so excited to see what’s next because you always make people and women feel so powerful and good about themselves.