The interview series “Les Parisiennes formidables” is dedicated for inspiring women I have met in this city. Despite the fact that the “Parisian woman” myth has become a prevalent cliché whose real existence can be questioned, these passionate and inspiring women have proved me countless times that a certain Parisian sensibility and approach to life does exist. I wanted to show that to others and put these conversations in a more valuable form; there’s nothing more rewarding for a writer than championing her heroes and providing a glimpse to their wonderful life. And here goes the first – Fantine…
“I’m more interested in the imaginary world of a person than his reality.”
Long before I met Fantine, I met her sensual, billowing illustrations. What a memorable encounter it was! Being accustomed to glossy, bright photos popping daily on my social media feed, I was eager to find something belonging to a different kind of world. Fantine’s drawings – modest and fluid strokes, suggesting the inner elegance of a woman’s body – struck me by their simplicity. Scrolling through her Instagram profile and peeking at the fragments of a visual, poetic world of a Parisian illustrator was like flipping and old, classical book – something really worthy of discovering. After a couple of exchanged compliments, I decided I couldn’t find anyone better to start this interview series with.
We meet at one of Fantine’s favorite cafés called Les P’tites Indécises, which is a cozy place nestled in the 11th arrondissement. As I haven’t been there before, the whole experience exudes a strong sentiment of newness. This lively neighborhood became Fantine’s home after 3 years of living in the 3rd arrondissement, reputed for its artistic spirit. However, Fantine is not Parisian. This woman sitting in front of me, dressed in a loose white shirt and plain jeans, her hair pinned in a neat, but not overworked bun, came to the Ville Lumière to start her studies, but more importantly, construct her own creative identity. Having grown up in a small village in the South of France, she always dreamed of leading an artistic lifestyle. “Paris is the city where I discovered myself and started my own, independent path. It was an eye-opening period”, she tells me when I ask if the transition from a small village to a big city was smooth. Together we share an unconditional love for this city, which helped us blossom into the young women we are today. Fantine describes Paris as a place with a strong romantic heritage, full of art, beauty and history – a perfect place for tireless melancholic, sensitive, artistic souls.
Even though Fantine came here to study photography, her profession now is that of an illustrator. Drawing appeared in her life gently, slowly, a little bit unexpectedly. Passion for this particular way of self-expression hasn’t left her since. She loves drawing uncomplicated, light and minimalistic silhouettes and qualifies her drawings as “lines”. It’s not so much about the subject; it’s actually a particular emotion and character that she seeks to transmit. This is one of the reasons she adores sketches of other painters, because they represent paintings in their purest state. “I love colors in other artists’ works, but it’s not what I would do myself. My favorites are Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Brancusi, Giacometti, Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, Egon Schiele, Kees van Dongen…”, she muses.
Fantine is one of those people who actually make the most of Parisian cultural life, even if it seems absolutely impossible to consume everything the city has to offer. While the mornings are dedicated to creative work, the afternoons are usually for museums and long walks. She adores Picasso museum (and suggests seeing the painting called Le Rêve), Brancusi atelier, Bourdelle and Gustave Moreau museums. She also adores watching old movies in small cinemas, the majority of which are concentrated in the Latin Quartier. You can also cross paths with Fantine in gardens – as a proud new owner of a heavenly beautiful black dog, she walks him really often. From a very young age, Fantine was passionate about books and literature, which nourished her imagination. “I would buy books instead of candies, although I adore candies”, she tells me with a smile. Her favorite poets include Stéphane Mallarmé, Jacques Prevert, Paul Éluard, Ghérasim Luca and “so many others”. Reading has become somewhat of a ritual and she doesn’t spend a day without immersing herself in fictional literary worlds. At this very moment, she’s reading Elena Ferrante “The days of Abandonment”, Fernando Pessoa “The book of disquiet”, Pascal Quignard “Vie secrète” … We exchange a couple of remarks about Patrick Modiano’s cult novel “Missing Person” (Rue des Boutiques Obscures) and Fantine recommends me plenty of new authors to discover.
As an artist, Fantine values her liberty and independence. She only wants to stick her signature style on collaborations that inspire her. It’s refreshing to see someone who values her authenticity without any compromises – it’s an approach that has become extremely rare in the age of chasing popularity on social media canals. However, Fantine admits that Instagram helped her build a community and make a living from illustrations. “I think that Instagram is composed of so many different circles. It’s important to create your own” she explains.
Just like I had imagined, Fantine is not thrilled or inspired by conventional role models. When I ask her what are women that move her the most, she cites me her grandmother. “She’s the purest incarnation of generosity – always radiating positivity. I am also inspired by heroines that don’t exist in the real life with this “je ne sais quoi”, a hint of fancy like Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, she tells me. Fantine doesn’t really believe in the famous myth of an impeccable Parisian woman… but it’s in Paris that she discovered how stylish and chic French people can be. “And yet, not every woman I deem as traditionally ‘Parisian’ comes from Paris. It’s a question of inner culture. It’s not so much about the image but about emotions that a certain woman communicates”, she explains hesitantly. Her voice is deeply soothing and without a single trace of nervousness that can sometimes be inherent to Parisian people. The emotions that she communicates herself are those of calmness and gentleness – I have found these qualities often applicable to people who measure life in unconventional parameters and are capable of appreciating its little joys. And it’s conversations with such people that hold the biggest value for me.
Photos by Martin Condomines and others
Discover Fantine’s world here