With its rich culinary prowess, deep cultural roots, and mainstay seat in leading the world’s fashion industry, France’s imprint in the cultural zeitgeist has stood the test of time—but it’s also not shy to reinvent itself. France’s latest wave of creative ingenuity is thanks to a number of immigrant women, who have moved to the country and made it their home base for flourishing projects.
From Paris to the Côte d’Azur, women artists, chefs, and designers are breathing life into historically rigid industries, including food and fashion. In the City of Light, the Palestinian chef Ruba Khoury serves Mediterranean dishes at her restaurant Dirty Lemon, with each plate showcasing the ancestral palate of her home country. Nearby in the Buttes Chaumont neighborhood, designer Usha Bori celebrates Indian textile techniques like block printing and weaving. In Provence, chef Georgiana Viou is leading the area’s culinary renaissance with flavors from Benin, while German painter Joelle Meissner and Austrian buyer Marie-There Michel in Côte d’Azur are ushering in a new wave of artistry.
Lindsey Tramuta, the Paris-based journalist and author of The New Parisienne, says these women are the definition of today’s “Parisian woman,” despite the fact that a longstanding stereotype promotes just one type of Parisienne. “There’s long been a disconnect between the representation of the Parisian woman and what she contributes to society and the women on the ground who are actually working to build a life for everyone in Paris that is more equitable, more accessible, more creative, more innovative, and more thoughtful,” says Tramuta. “What these women look like and where they come from—Paris, the suburbs, elsewhere in France, or from much further afield—is far more diverse than what is commonly depicted in mainstream media and through pop culture.”
Tramuta is also an integral part of introducing these change-makers to visitors: Currently, she hosts a private literary salon on a Wild Terrains trip, which offers women private workshops with these interesting entrepreneurs as part of a week-long itinerary.
These are some of the immigrant women steering France’s creative scene.
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Indian textiles and Palestinian cuisine in Paris
In the lively Pigalle neighborhood, down a quiet cobbled street away from the area’s convivial bars and bistros, is Hotel Le Ballu, a 37-room boutique property by the hotelier Julia Vidalenc. After working in Paris’s finest luxury hotels for 15 years, Vidalenc, who grew up on Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar, decided to open her own property as an ode to the design aesthetic of 1960s Eastern Europe. The hotel is an ideal base from which to visit even more of the city’s top female creatives, including Jacqueline Ngo Mpii, the founder and CEO of Little Africa. Born in Cameroon and raised in France, Ngo Mpii opened her cultural agency and travel company to amplify the influence of African culture in Paris. At her latest project, Little Africa Village in the La Goutte d’Or neighborhood, visitors can browse goods from diaspora creatives in the city, and later walk the neighborhood with Ngo Mpii to learn about the 18th arrondissement’s African heritage. “I love sharing and teaching travelers about France’s African history, and sharing this history as part of the Parisian culture,” says Ngo Mpii. “The world comes to Paris, and I want them to see it with its different shades and cultures because that’s also what makes Paris a unique place.” Likewise, at Jamini Designs in the Buttes Chaumont neighborhood, proprietor Usha Bora showcases Indian craftsmanship with a French twist. After working as a buyer of Indian textiles for French fashion houses, Bora decided to create her own brand that focuses on celebrating Indian techniques such as block printing, weaving, and embroidery. And then there’s Dirty Lemon, a cozy eatery helmed by Palestinian chef Ruba Khoury. After working in the city’s top restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Frenchie, Septime, and Yam’Tcha, Khoury opened her Mediterranean-forward spot to showcase the ancestral palate of her home country—and the result is a can’t-miss dining experience, featuring dishes like grilled eggplant spiced by tangy sumac, and a kebab sandwich slathered with homemade tahini.
African-influenced culinary delights in Provence
Known for its rolling lavender fields and fertile valleys that yield some of the world’s finest wines, Provence’s most interesting culinary movement is being led by women, specifically two African chefs who have a knack for preparing recipes inspired by their home countries. Originally from Benin, chef Georgiana Viou came to France in 1999 and quickly rose to prominence after winning third place in the Le Taittinger des Cordons Bleus competition in 2009, as well as being a finalist in the first edition of MasterChef France in 2010. She’s now at the helm of her newly-opened restaurant Rouge in Nîmes, where her cuisine is inspired by both the Mediterranean terrain where she lives and her Beninese heritage. Similarly, chef Clarence Kopogo, originally from the Central African Republic, offers workshops in Provence centered around educating guests on the unknown intricacies of various African cuisines. Inspired by her heritage as well as her training with the Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx, Kopogo defines her culinary style as New African with recipes that recall the dishes of her youth: She considers her mother and aunts as teachers, and holders of her home country’s culinary memory.
Austrian art and German design in Cote d’Azur
Located on the outskirts of Grasse, one of the world’s foremost perfume-making regions, L’Escale du Ciel is a charming guesthouse created and owned by the interior designer Judith Thiel, originally from Germany. After purchasing the house in 2016, she slowly renovated the property with vintage décor from around the world, including antique chairs and tables from Southeast Asia and natural fiber lamps sourced from Morocco. The hotel, with its sweeping view of the Gorges du Loup valley and expansive outdoor pool, is within easy reach of downtown Nice, where the home studio of the German painter Joelle Meissner awaits. The artist, known for her colorful, Picasso-esque paintings of women, often partners with the Austrian art historian and buyer Marie-Theres Michel to create bespoke art events for her roster of private clients. “France’s art scene has very much opened up in the last decade,” says Michel. “And women, especially immigrant women, continue to gain much more importance in the contemporary art scene.”