Darren Star’s French-accented romantic comedy Emily In Paris became a cultural phenomenon when it premiered on Netflix in 2020. Three seasons in, with a fourth greenlit and en route to production once the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes end, the series’ costumes and make-up have taken on a life of their own with a cult following across the globe.

The team behind the lavish looks have been nominated for three Emmy awards this year: outstanding contemporary make-up, costumes and hairstyling for a series following previous nominations for best comedy series in 2021 and production design in 2021 and 2022.

Paris-based make-up artist Aurélie Payen has worked on the series since the beginning, tasked first as the personal make-up artist for Emily star and producer Lily Collins in the show’s first two seasons before being promoted to head of make-up for season three and the upcoming season four.

Payen has long been the go-to beautifier for visting A-list talent including Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Anya Taylor Joy and more recently Cate Blanchett, Demi Moore and Jessica Chastain. Payen signed with the Wall Group in 2015 and regularly works on advertising and media campaigns.

She began her career on film sets after studying cinema and media at university. “I always knew I was predestined to work in cinema one way or another,” she says.

Payen worked with Collins to create Emily’s look. “I found Lily to be magnificent. Her aura was already attractive,” she says of the US-based actress. “Often, I’ll bring Lily two or three ideas for a look, but in my mind, I know exactly which one I prefer, but I give Lily the choice anyway. 99% of the time she picks the same one.”

After all, following three seasons of four months each and 12-hour days, five days a week, “We really know Emily by now. We’ve matured with the character. When I’m shooting Emily, I go to bed with this character. I think about her all the time.”

Payen works closely with hairstylist Mike Desir, joining forces season three with lead hairstylist Carole Nicolas, and with the show’s chief costume designer Marylin Fitoussi and her fashion squad.

She continues to design and execute all of Emily’s looks with and for Collins, but now is “the artistic and logistical interface” for all things make-up on set, spending her time navigating between screenwriters and producers, actors and other crafts crew members. While lead characters including Mindy (Ashley Park) and Sylvie (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu) were already well-established by seaons three, Payen’s elevated role means she defines the looks for all of the new characters.

It is down to Payen to recruit a team and dispatch them to the actors. She manages the schedules for each person, clocking their hours and handling the show’s make-up budget, all in addition to being Collins’ hands-on make-up artist all day, every day, on set and coordinating the looks for all of the characters. “I’m always behind the monitor looking at each sequence to see what’s happening,” she says.

Script to skin 

emily in paris

Source: Netflix

‘Emily In Paris’

The process from script-to-skin begins with the screenwriters before heading straight to the dressing room where “Marylin and Lily decide on the costumes together.” Once they are validated for a particular scene, Fitoussi brings the selection along with a back-up option or two and Payen and Desir design the looks based on the costumes and the script.

“We ask ourselves, ‘what story do we want to tell?’” says Payen.

She works to ensure all of the characters in scenes with Collins are colour-coordinated and never clash on an artistic level. “There always needs to be a visual harmony,” she explains, “We aim for cohesion between all of the characters. No matter how small the role, every single character has to stand out and our job is to make sure they are synchronised.”

Plus, she adds, unlike feature films that have a clear beginning, middle and ending where the crafts teams know where the script is leading, “we never have the scripts in advance.” Production, she says, “works in blocks of a few episodes at a time and not necessarily in order, so we always have to anticipate what’s coming next and stay on our toes.”

On the ground, she says, it’s all about shifting strategy – and skincare. “Make-up is all about telling a story within the story. I have the script on the page and, in my mind, I say ‘how can I subtly add make-up to the mix and make a statement, but only as an expression of what the writers are trying to convey?”

A large part of her job also entails making sure everyone feels comfortable in their skin. “We’re the first faces the actors see in the morning when they arrive on set and the last before they leave, so we need to stay positive and make them feel comfortable,” she says.

Creative process

“My artistic approach has always been not to force anything,” she reveals. “I’m all about subtlety. The make-up is elegant – occasionally erring on the audacious side, but it needs to make sense for the storyline.”

As the characters evolve, so too does the make-up. “In season two, we played with Brigitte Bardot-inspired lips for Lily when Emily is in St. Tropez. In season three, it was more of a nod to Jane Birkin’s style. I love to blend vintage references with contemporary beauty trends and even a more futuristic look like with Jeremy O’Harris’s character in season three. I’m always thinking about what we can propose today that will be fashionable tomorrow. 

Payen says she focuses on products “that evoke emotion.” “I am inspired by textures and colours and love to play with nuances,” she says of the more than 30 shades of lipstick she used for Collins’ character in the most recent season alone.

Each look is carefully calculated based on character development. “When we first met Emily, she was a young American girl who came to Paris and just dove into the culture. She has always had a voice and says what she feels. I wanted to focus on her mouth from the beginning. I saw an inner strength in her and we expressed that on her lips. In season two, we used more colour. In season three, we aimed for a more mature look. She became more and more a woman and her make-up needed to reflect that evolution.”

As far as the other make-up artists and hairstylists surrounding her, Payen says diversity is key. “It’s important for us to have as many men as women, of all ethnicities and backgrounds. Representation is important. I want each actor who steps onto the set to feel at ease.”

For Payen, constant communication is also essential. “We’re a team and we’re all moving in the same direction with the same destination. If Marylin opts for prints and if I think the look we had in mind is too much, I’ll soften the make-up. It’s important to leave room for creativity and let each department have their moment to shine, but it has to make sense for the characters and the story.”

She cites a scene at the Paris Opera House in the show’s first season where Emily’s look channels Audrey Hepburn with a little black dress, a diadem in her hair and elegant make-up. “There was a real exchange between each department. When we saw Emily come down the stairs, it’s incredible and nothing about the look is gratuitous. We want to create wow moments.”

The final validation is always the show’s producers and showrunner Star who Payen says is the final step in the approval process and extremely hands-on, but, she says, “we’re lucky in that Darren and the producers really trust us and our creative process. When we come with proposals in general, they’re rarely refused. We all know what direction we’re headed so there are rarely any surprises.”

“There’s a lot of love on this set and it’s reflected on the screen.” She adds: “This has been the experience of a lifetime. In season four, we’ll work hard and do it with love like we always have, but now we know we can’t disappoint.”