My New Favorite Netflix Original: Atelier

A friend told me about this new show on Netflix called Atelier.  I heard the words "small business", "fashion", and "Tokyo" (my favorite city) and my interest was piqued.  I started watching the show and couldn't stop.  Even though Atelier is about a haute couture lingerie shop located in the swanky Tokyo neighborhood of Ginza, I can definitely relate to the characters and the trials and tribulations of growing a small fashion company.

Aterlier is about a country bumpkin named Mayuko Tokito.  She's fresh out of college and moved to the big city to start her career working with fabric.  Much to the chagrin of her new co-workers, Mayuko shows up to her brand new job at a high end, custom-made lingerie shop called Emotion wearing a frumpy, unfashionable suit.  Her new boss, owner and lead designer, Mayumi Nanjo who has a striking resemblance to Vogue's Anna Wintour, schools her in a Devil Wears Prada lumpy blue sweater-esque sort of way about the value of presentation, beauty, and personal style.  So over the course of the show, viewers see the evolution of Mayuko's fashion sense.  One of the things that I love most about the show is its wardrobe.  Mayumi and many of the ancillary characters (including the men) have impeccable style, and I wish that the lingerie created by Mayumi was available for purchase (in bigger cup sizes, of course!).

Mayuko's business acumen evolves as well.  As she earns the respect of her peers and Mayumi, she is given high level tasks such as working on a feature about Emotion with the editor of a major fashion magazine and putting on a runway show.  One of my favorite scenes is when a well-dressed regular at the bar that Mayuko and her friend frequent is really a well-known and highly regarded runway show producer.  The producer goes on a diatribe when he overhears that an amateur is tasked with putting on a runway show with VIP attendees.  

"You know what I can't stand?  Amateurs who think they can impress people without spending any money; thinking they can move people hearts and put on a polished show all on their own!  You are just an amateur and you think you can pull it off?  I can't stand that kind of naive thinking!  This isn't some school festival!  Don't underestimate my job!  A job that impresses others can only be done by a skilled pro...determination alone won't get you there!"

I've definitely made the mistake of trying to do everything myself and hiring service providers because they were cheaper than their competitors in order to save money, and I paid dearly for it.  My advice: stick to the pros.  You can always negotiate but remember, you get what you pay for.  In the show, Mayumi knows the worth of her craftsmanship and the overall quality of her lingerie (her custom-made pieces range from 70,000 to 114,000 Yen ($590 to $961 USD)), but is also willing to work within the budgets of less wealthy customers.  

Atelier is not simply a show about fashion.  Each character is multidimensional and the show tackles the micro and macro level issues that arise while trying to maintain and grow a business.  For example, does one stick to her roots or change with the times?  Can a custom-made fashion company grow without compromising quality?  How can a company grow with a limited budget?  Should one stay loyal or seek new opportunities?  How can a small company compete with a large company with deep pockets?  How can a fashion editor please the ad execs (get revenue through ad sales) while promoting quality products from companies that can't afford ads?  What can one do if someone or a company steals intellectual property?

There are also personal struggles such as can women have it all?  Can they be good mothers and good businesswomen at the same time?  I see a lot of myself in both Mayumi and Mayuko, and was definitely taking notes on what to do and what not to do in business.  I know that this is a fictional show but a lot of the lessons and issues featured, I had read about in entrepreneurial blogs and magazines.  Even though the last few episodes are weaker than the rest of the season, I definitely recommend Atelier.  I hope that Netflix makes a second season, but considering how it ended, I doubt it.

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