The Interview

The Real Paris, According to the New Parisiennes

by Erica Firpo
The The new Paris: Rokhaya Diallo and Sarah Ourahmoune. All photos by Joanna Pai.

Here's a meetup we applaud: Our contributing editor in Rome, Erica Firpo, interviewed our good friend and contributor in Paris, Lindsey Tramuta, about her terrific new book The New Parisienne: The Women and Ideas Shaping Paris.

There was a time in my life when I struggled to understand why my wet hair didn’t dry in the perfect je ne sais quoi, just-got-out-of-bed look, and why I couldn't casually throw a silk scarf over my shoulders and redefine casual chic like a Parisienne. Aside from being a natural fumble fingers with hair that requires a boar-bristled roll brush, I just didn’t get how an entire country of women just a TGV away from Italy had the patent — ahem, the secret power — of being effortlessly cool, imperfectly perfect, and happily homogenous.

In her latest book, The New Parisienne: The Women and Ideas Shaping Paris, Lindsey Tramuta puts all the myths and lore about Parisienne women to bed — not by breaking them down, but rather by showcasing the real lineup of 21st-century superstars. Lindsey sat down in coffee shops and living rooms to interview 40 women who are working behind the scenes and on the front lines to change Paris. Activists, athletes, politicians, doctors, engineers, entrepreneurs, native-born, Paris-adoptees, and even Mayor Anne Hidalgo — the gathering is an amazing, diverse, and insightful examination of a cross-section of women from different racial, gender, and economic backgrounds.

In other words, it’s a real look at Parisian women.

Ajiri Aki and Leila Slimani.

I'm a long-standing Tramuta fan — as we all are at Fathom. Her writing is always wonderful, and her book introduction and introspective Q&As are exactly what I needed to get my fix. Lindsey dives deep into the Parisienne mythology, questions it, turns it over, and comes up for fresh air by introducing us to Next Gen Paris through every woman’s unique and profoundly inspiring story. For a dose of travel fun, every interview includes a roll call of everyone’s favorite spots in Paris — cocktail bars, green oases, happy places, and, of course, women-owned businesses. As I was reading, I felt like I was sitting in the room with each of them. When I put it down, I felt excited by what Paris is and will be thanks to these women.

To get more than my fill and give her a change to sit in the spotlight, I emailed Lindsey to learn more the new Parisienne.

Why does the Parisienne stereotype continues to persist? And will ever evolve?

There are many companies, organizations, and individuals who make a LOT of money leveraging this fantasy. Think about the billions brought in by luxury fashion houses, makeup brands, perfumeries. Think about the film and media industries that have successfully sold a set of ideas and attitudes to generations of people. Think about the tourism boards that don't want to deviate from a narrative that SELLS. And, of course, whitewashing the country's image is convenient, insofar as it means the colonial past can remain unaddressed. It's going to take a lot for those earning big money from these images to walk away from a formula that works.

In an article for Fortune, you wrote “I wanted to recast the archetypal Parisian woman and celebrate the stories, careers, and lives of some of the real women inhabiting and influencing Paris.” What was the motivator? Tired of the cliches?

Frustration was largely the catalyst! The myopic ways in which Paris has been depicted over the years inspired my first book, The New Paris, and it was a similar frustration that inspired The New Parisienne: a narrow perspective that turns both the city and its people to caricature. In the fourteen years I have lived in Paris, I have never identified with the Parisian archetype, yet I have struggled over the years with the implicit pressure to mold myself as much as possible to approximate it. It was important to me to write this book for the same reasons The New Paris felt important: to tell the other side of an incomplete story.

When I put it down, I felt excited by what Paris is and will be thanks to these women.

How did you choose the forty amazing women — who I want to meet and, even more, want my daughter to meet?

First and foremost, I tried to think of the women whose work I was fascinated by or whose ideas I had been following, both on social media and in traditional media. That alone created a strong list. I also considered the women who were in my broader network and found so many of their stories inspiring, their ambitions exciting. Finally, I sought recommendations from the women I interviewed and other journalists. I could have interviewed to so many more women, but I had to cut myself off!

Were there any particular stories that really impacted you?

All of them moved me in some way, but I felt drawn to the work and stories of Rokhaya Diallo (journalist, filmmaker, and antiracist activist), Elisa Rojas (lawyer and disability rights activist), Clémence Zamora-Cruz (inter LGBT spokesperson and trans activists), Ajiri Aki (founder of Madame de la Maison), Inna Modja (singer-songwriter), Poonam Chawla (cultural guide, author, and translator), Delphine Horvilleur (rabbi and author), and Sarah Zouak (social entrepreneur, filmmaker, and co-founder of Lallab). I know that's already a long list, but their stories stayed with me long after I had finished writing them. I learned so much from each of them — about the social injustices that persist in France, about sisterhood, about sheer fortitude.

Delphine Horvilleur and Christelle Delarue.
Delphine Dijoud and Elisa Rojas.

After reading the book, I noticed a common thread: that along with passionate commitment to their work and industries, each woman is fully committed to impacting both a present and future Paris. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

Yes, that is definitely a strong link between these women. No matter how the city may have wronged them, no matter how many obstacles are thrown their way, they continue to do the hard work because they know that if they give up on Paris and its people, nothing will change. They find hope and the resolve to continue the fight — whatever that may be in their world — to improve life here. I find that tremendously encouraging.

How do these women push through the frustrations that tend to hold most people back?

It’s partly looking to history and recognizing that so many of the social advantages and protections that are in place only emerged from challenging the state and from challenging the ideas at the top. They know that they have the power to influence perspectives and popular thought and lobby for legal change. In some countries, change and impact are elusive, no matter how vocal you are. Here, it may take time, but public sentiment is important. I also think that these women try to surround themselves with supportive friends and family wherever possible, and promote true solidarity. The idea that uplifting others will, in turn, uplift you was very strong among these women.

The author, Lindsey Tramuta, and her beautiful book.

Your book is English. Will it be translated into French? More importantly, how will you keep this conversation going?

I sure hope so. There is a German edition, which is very exciting, and I hope that a French publisher will be inspired to buy the rights to adapt it. I'm fielding that question almost daily from French readers, some of whom are willing to read the English version in the meantime. The conversation will continue through my podcast, The New Paris, and through continued storytelling both for the outlets I write for and in future projects.

The New Parisienne almost foretold the current atmosphere — socially and politically, from #metoo to #blacklivesmatter. Your book presents and explores a world of women who decidedly need to be known, a diversity that needs to be acknowledged.

I couldn't have predicted the global conversation to take this turn at once, but I'm happy that perhaps readers are more inclined or more open to educating themselves on these issues, wherever they may be present. The reality is that what has erupted in the United States mattered abroad, particularly in France, because of similarly unjust systems. I spoke to most of the women featured in the book in 2018, and even then their sentiment about the discrimination, sexism, and national amnesia that exist wasn't new. What is more novel is the way this has been forced into the spotlight in a way that makes many in the French political and intellectual elite very uncomfortable. I knew these women had stories and ideas we needed to read and hear, but I certainly didn't expect them to become as relevant on a global scale as they have in this moment. And I know that with their efforts, this won't just be a moment. It is truly a movement.

Get the Book

The New Parisienne: The Women and Ideas Shaping Paris, by Lindsey Tramuta.