Lily Collins Is in the Driver​​'s Seat


The first thing I notice about Lily Collins is that she’s cut her chestnut locks into a thick fringe. While it covers enough of her forehead to obscure her famously fluffy brows, the fresh look somehow feels remarkably fitting. It’s so fitting, in fact, that the moment when Emily in Paris costume designer Marylin Fitoussi laid eyes on it, she declared, "Oh, now I know where we’re going in season three for your character.” Emily Cooper wouldn’t exist without Lily Collins, but it’s Emily who gives us a glimpse into Collins’s most charismatic real-life qualities too. As showrunner Darren Star aptly put it, the success of a series like Emily in Paris stands on the shoulders of a single person. Enter Collins.

"Work is so much a part of who I am,” effuses a bubbly Collins. Of all the qualities they share, there’s one major resemblance that the actress bears to her starring character in Netflix’s smash-hit comedy series, and it’s the fact that they’re both exceptionally self-assured. "And I’m very much like my character [Emily]. I love what I do,” she continues. "I’m unapologetically work driven. But I’m also unapologetically life driven.” Just like it’s hard not to fall in love with the bright, bold, and eternally optimistic Emily—despite the bumps in her fish-out-of-water experience as an American living in France—it’s hard not to fall under the intoxicating spell of Collins. You see, the Emmy-nominated actress, budding producer, and Time100 Next recipient possesses a lightheartedness that’s impossible to ignore.


(Image credit: Daria Ritch; Styling: Blumarine jacket; Cartier necklace)

When we connected over Zoom last month, her image appeared across my screen, and she was fresh-faced and clad in a simple crew-neck sweater. She was perched in the middle of a bed in the guest room of her Los Angeles home, a carefully chosen spot where there would be minimal noise since our conversation was also being recorded for the Who What Wear podcast. It’s that kind of thoughtfulness that makes Collins, well, Collins. Indeed, as soon as I brought up our cover shoot, she eagerly recounted the details of the day, insisting that she relished the chance to experiment with the grungier hair, makeup, and styling, which are—let’s be honest—a sharp departure from Collins’s more polished preferences. It’s at this moment that I get the sense that, when she shows up for something, she really shows up. Nothing is half-baked in the world of Lily Collins.


(Image credit: Daria Ritch; Styling: Supplier jacket; Missoni jumpsuit; David Koma crystal top; Araks Harper Bralette ($120); Giuseppe Zanotti heels)

Over the course of our hour-and-a-half-long conversation, I come to learn that there’s no topic too light or too deep for Collins, and the range of what we covered is a testament to that. No matter what we discussed—be it the polarized reception of Emily in Paris, her mix-breed rescue Redford, or the importance of going to therapy—Collins brought a certain levity to all subject matter. They say that how you do anything is how you do everything, and I’m beginning to get the idea that Collins does everything with curiosity and openness. 

Despite being born in the English countryside to performer Phil Collins and Jill Tavelman, Collins spent most of her formative years in Los Angeles, where she went on to earn a degree in journalism from USC. As a teenager, Collins wrote a column, NY Confidential, for the British magazine Elle Girl. She has also written for Seventeen, Teen Vogue, and the Los Angeles Times. Although writing was one of her first creative outlets, Collins has never been a stranger to the camera—her first on-screen credit coming at the age of 2 for the BBC series Growing Pains. But it wasn’t until age 20 that Collins landed her breakout role in 2009’s The Blind Side, and she went on to star in audience favorites such as Mirror Mirror (2012), Love, Rosie (2014), and Rules Don’t Apply (2016), the latter of which earned her a Golden Globe nomination.


(Image credit: Daria Ritch; Styling: Christian Dior cutout top, jacket, and sunglasses; Coperni dress and hood; Miu Miu boots)

Despite the many noteworthy roles under Collins’s belt, there’s no denying that playing Emily in Emily in Paris is the thing that has propelled the career actress to a new level of fame. Before the Netflix series, you may have known her for one of her many previous projects or perhaps simply for her consistently dazzling ensembles that have been a staple on red carpets for over a decade, but regardless, the name Lily Collins has officially reached household status.

The Emmy-winning show is irresistible in its sweetness and intoxicating in its optimism. The outfits alone, for which iconic Sex and the City wardrober Patricia Field was a consultant, are a feast for the eyes. In a single day, Emily might change three or four times, rotating between a series of looks that are highly color coordinated, rarely practical, and always finished off with towering heels and the latest It bag. "It’s a suspension of disbelief,” Collins says, speaking to some of the unrealistic elements that critics have been shouting about since the first season aired in 2020. It’s that total investment in the story line that separates the Emily in Paris lovers from the haters. "We want to have the fashion be the fashion. And maybe she has a storage unit somewhere,” she jokes.


(Image credit: Daria Ritch; Styling: Balmain top; Namilia top; Priscavera skirt; Diesel boots; Cartier rings)

But in all seriousness, Collins seems to have an answer to the many criticisms the show faces. She tells me that from the get-go the aim was always to further explore French culture and the French language and infuse new ideas as the show progressed and received the green light for more seasons. "You only get to do a certain amount in season one,” she explains. "So when the show comes out and you have criticism/feedback, it’s an opportunity if you get to go to a season two to take note of what people thought, what their opinions were, what mattered to people, and what people were concerned about. That’s the beauty of listening to an audience and seeing what matters to people.” There it is, the infectious optimism of Collins.

Just like its influencer heroine, Emily in Paris just keeps capturing attention. While the internet had a lot to say about the 2021 nominations, the comedy nonetheless prevailed during the award season, garnering two Golden Globe nominations and two from the Emmys. It’s a testament to just how much the show has captured the hearts of its audience. Although Collins and the rest of the production never could have anticipated the global events of 2020, the arrival of the series to our Netflix queues late that year serendipitously came at a time when we most needed to take a mental break from the bleakness of the moment and dive into its super-sweet fantasy.


(Image credit: Daria Ritch; Styling: Eytys top; Paolina Russo corset dress; Namilia shorts; Diesel boots; Cartier rings; Arnette sunglasses)

At the time of our chat, Collins was preparing to embark on a press tour for the show’s third season. While Emily in Paris may be the focus now, she’s admittedly never one to sit still and is already working to establish another title for herself: producer. The transition into producing has become somewhat of a Hollywood default for actors with a certain level of seniority. After all, it makes sense that after years of interpreting other people’s stories you’d want to have more agency to tell your own, too. Collins retains all the passion of an acting veteran turned producer, but refreshingly, her approach to this next chapter is devoid of ego. "I don’t need to be the one telling these stories all the time,” she insists. "I want to empower others to be the face in front of the camera. If it’s not right for me, it’s right for somebody else.” Whether or not she’s the one in front of the camera, Collins feels that producing has "always been a natural fit.”

In fact, her entire demeanor visibly shifts when I bring up the topic. A relatively new venture for her, Collins attached producer to her credits on Emily in Paris, beginning in the second season, as well as the 2022 Netflix drama Windfall, directed by Collins’s husband, Charlie McDowell. But based on our conversation, the two titles are only the beginning. After the film proved to McDowell and Collins just how well their relationship can work in a professional setting, Collins told me the two have been full speed ahead on their creative collaborations. I joke that their dinner-table conversions must be one big brainstorm. She confirms, "Some of the most exciting creative conversations I’ve had in the last six months—if not even three weeks—have been about things that I’m behind the camera on.” Talk about passion projects.


(Image credit: Daria Ritch; Styling: Louis Vuitton bra; Diesel jacket, skirt, and shoes; Planet I sunglasses)

If Emily in Paris is over-the-top in its production, set, and wardrobe, then Windfall is its antithesis. A true COVID project, the dark drama features a cast of just four, was shot at a single location, and writes Collins into a role that is everything Emily Cooper is not. Her character wears one rather plain outfit throughout the film—just jeans and flats—and doesn’t even have a name. The film sees her character, simply referred to as "wife,” slowly unraveling mentally, and the irony was that Collins and McDowell were literally planning their wedding, picking out flowers and everything, in between takes. "He’d always be like, ‘Well, at least now I can see the furthest that you can go and what you’re like when you’re really mad.’ I was like, ‘I’m getting it out now,’” she says. But in all seriousness, experimenting with a diversity of roles isn’t just fun for Collins. She says it’s creatively necessary. "I’ve always wanted to bop in and out of different genres never to be put in a box, especially playing a character like Emily where I get to do it season after season (and hopefully for more seasons to come),” she explains. "But she’s a very specific character, and I need to creatively step outside that and play something very different.”


(Image credit: Daria Ritch; Styling: Blumarine jacket and pants; Miu Miu boots; Cartier necklace)

Light and dark. Optimist and realist. These aren’t just the dualities that define Collins’s current acting gigs. They expose the depth of her real-life emotional landscape too. Just beyond her bubbly exterior lies a version of Collins that’s actively healing by confronting her darkness. Her 2017 memoir titled Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me explores her battles with mental health, including the eating disorder she suffered as a teenager. It’s something she now sees as a source of hope and self-healing: "The more I opened up and talked about my past struggles, the more I can relate and connect to people, connect with myself, and further my journey.” It was that same year that she did To the Bone, a film that explores eating disorders, which she says was positive for herself as well as the audiences that saw their own struggles and experiences in it. "And then I do something like Emily [in Paris], where you can heal through laughter at a time when the world needed to remember what joy felt like or laughter felt like or travel felt like. And as I do that for audiences, I’m also doing it for myself,” she says. There she goes injecting that signature levity into the topic.


(Image credit: Daria Ritch; Styling: Givenchy T-shirt and skirt; Miu Miu boots; Cartier necklaces)

Collins is loudly outspoken about her mental health journey, and her willingness to be open about her struggles is a bright light in a spot of darkness that many young people, and really anybody, may face. Whether it’s going to therapy (which she’s a big proponent of), getting it out on the page ("I journal every day in the morning and at night. I love the Five Minute Journal”), or channeling it into her acting work, Collins insists that "art is healing, whether it makes you cry or makes you laugh.” 

It’s with that last remark that my image of Lily Collins starts to solidify. As she slips into the driver’s seat of her Hollywood career to make us laugh or cry or contemplate, we can all benefit from Collins and her unapologetic optimism.

Get the Look

Photographer: Daria Ritch

Stylist: Ashley Furnival

Hairstylist: Gregory Russell

Makeup Artist: Fiona Stiles

Manicurist: Thuy Nguyen

Creative Director: Alexa Wiley

Entertainment Director: Jess Baker


Senior Editor

Anna is an editor on the fashion team at Who What Wear and has been at the company for over five years, having begun her career in the Los Angeles office before relocating to New York, where she's currently based. Having always been passionate about pursuing a career in fashion, she built up her experience interning at the likes of Michael Kors, A.L.C., and College Fashionista before joining the team as a post-graduate assistant editor. Anna has penned a number of interviews with Who What Wear's cover stars over the years, including A-listers Megan Fox, Issa Rae, and Emma Chamberlain. She's earned a reputation for scouting new and emerging brands from across the globe and championing them to our audience of millions. While fashion is her main wheelhouse, Anna led the launch of WWW Travels last year, a new lifestyle vertical that highlights all things travel through a fashion-person lens. She is passionate about shopping vintage, whether it be at a favorite local outpost or an on-the-road discovery, and has amassed a wardrobe full of unique finds. When she's not writing, you can find her shooting street imagery on her film camera, attempting to learn a fourth or fifth language, or planning her next trip across the globe.