Part 2 of my DRG film strand, Petit Déjeuner takes us to the fashionable heart of Paris for coffee and comedy chat with my favourite raconteur…
Phyllis Wang and I are balancing in heels on the back of her sofa, checking ourselves out in the mantelpiece mirror. We’ve just been trying on Céline shoes, talking about her comedy club, her love of Parisian life, her Asian mum and the joy of socks. She has downed her third coffee of the day. Although it’s afternoon, it’s technically breakfast time for this Taiwanese-American Parisienne, who works nights as a stand up comedienne, moonlighting as a fashion collaborator between shows.
As a brilliant raconteur, Phyllis is a magnet for interesting people and projects. Born in New York, but growing up in L.A. she arrived in Europe to study drama in London, followed by a year in Paris. She never left. A conversation at a dinner party might lead to a stint consulting on a designer’s label, or indeed producing a comedy night as she does now, called Comedy Rive Gauche. A fashion week favourite, it’s where the stylish but oh-so-serious go to finally let their hair down.
When we arrive at her light-flooded St Germain apartment, she’s full of wry one-liners, yet the perfect hostess. “It’s my Asian side, I’m a people pleaser,” she explains, while admitting how painful mornings are for her. “First thing? I’m like WAHHHAHHHARRGGHHHH! WHYYYYYYYYYY!” she demonstrates with a heartfelt wail. “I have a big moan, that’s how I start my mornings. Yeah, mornings are a bit difficult for me…”
We talk about identity, a subject she knows well. Beautiful handmade masks, hats and props are a part of her stand-up routine, augmented by a supporting cast of enviable outfits from Sacai, Chloé, Thomas Tait and the odd vintage military boilersuit. “When I started performing I used to wear really basic Keds, white-washed jeans and a sweatshirt with a panda with googly eyes. I was trying to look like a comedian!” That all changed and she now dresses for her mood. A sequin hat is sported with her boilersuit and Chloé heels. A supermodel-like pose is struck. “You’re supposed to play with clothes! Remember in the eighties when Gianfranco Ferre had this really great ad with Linda Evangelista? She was always touching her clothes, playing with them and slouching in them.”
Off comes the boilersuit and on go a pair of Loretta Caponi pyjamas, accessorised with her mum’s Hermès bag. Next she flings on a Franck Sorbier couture coat fringed in upcycled plastic film reels with the casual élan of one of her Thomas Tait leather jackets. An avid fan of artisanal talent, she was an early Tait supporter and these bikers are now treasured possessions. “Oh I love Thomas’s leathers!’ she sighs.
Her look is as contradictory as her personality. Elegant and refined, yet unpredictable, Phyllis’s childlike energy has her diving pell-mell to unearth treasures from Chanel hatboxes and not-yet-unpacked suitcases. There’s a wall of custom fitted wardrobes but no proper mirror, hence the sofa acrobatics to get a full length view. And her maverick side has a tendency to wrestle with her conservative Asian upbringing, often with her mum’s voice ringing in her ears. “Sometimes in the morning I think, ‘is this a Lego or a Playmobile’,” she quips, patting her poker-straight Louise Brooks bob. “My mum said, “Why did you cut your hair like you got the menopause? You look like a lady who’s gonna lose it all!.””
She jests of course, because she looks amazing. Even in her half-awake state she has poise and finesse, throwing on her Pilates pants with a Thomas Tait biker, Hermès bag and supersized shoes. Plus her favourite accessory; novelty socks. “People are like, “Phyllis, why are you wearing funny coloured socks that only you can see?” But that’s the whole point – it makes me happy on the inside.”
Coffee at a local brasserie is part of her ‘morning’ routine. It gets her out of the house and around people, her happy place where she can stand at the counter, banter and observe. For all its LOLs, comedy is a serious business, after all. “Comedy is about observing the world and understanding yourself in relation to what’s going on around you,” says Phyllis. “In stand up, there’s a sense of urgency and a certain amount of being uncomfortable and being present. Maybe it’s just my nature but I like that challenge.”
Watch the film on my Youtube channel
Watch part 1 of Petit Déjeuner here #DRGPetitDejeuner