9 Talents That Represent Paris’s Brave New Vitality


A century ago, avant-garde movements were forming and evolving in Paris with such fervor that artists struggled to formulate ideologies to contain their creative output. Consider Fauvism, Cubism, and Orphism leading up to WWI, quickly followed by Dadaism and Surrealism. Imagine all this vibrancy percolating through the avenues, apartment buildings, and cultural institutions that still define the city today.

It’s been a while since the city has seen one of those truly disruptive moments—some experts and insiders would say that the notion of an avant-garde is no longer possible in 2017, when individual work takes precedence over collective action. But anyone who thinks that Paris has lost its dynamic, creative edge need only read about the nine emerging talents featured here.

They embody a cross-section of artistic disciplines, each proving within the past year that they possess skills worthy of wide recognition. Germain Louvet is the epitome of a rising star, having just been named Étoile at the Paris Opera Ballet, where he often dances alongside Letizia Galloni, whose fusion of grace and strength makes her a mesmerizing force onstage. Juliette Armanet is among a group of singers restoring passion and pulse to the pop genre of variété française. Actors Finnegan Oldfield and Marilyn Lima appeared together in 2015’s Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story), a bracing Kids-style film that gives an exhilarating glimpse of their potential. Artists Bianca Argimón and Agathe Rousselle are both interpreting our world today with originality and candor. Bertrand Dubois’s approach to furniture and architectural design rethinks modernist ideals through spaces and pieces with lasting impact. DJ Jéremy Guindo-Zegiestowski (aka Bambounou) has parlayed his Polish and Malian roots into a personalized hybrid techno that is fantastically alive.

Unlike other spotlights on young achievers that focus on their defining moments and ambitions, this ensemble has been asked to reflect on Paris, the city where they execute most of their work. At a time when Los Angeles, New York, London, and Berlin are strengthening their own pull on young artists with their openness to new talent, support from local institutions and businesses, and authentic underground scenes, present-day Paris is perceived, mostly misguidedly, as a place of uncertainty. However, several among the group note that this very climate can be the catalyst for work that portrays the city with greater realness.

For Oldfield, working in Paris offers no shortage of opportunity—people just may not be as vocal about saying so. “The fact is, in Paris, a lot of people are blasé. But the fact that people are blasé doesn’t mean that nothing is created anymore,” says the actor, who recently finished shooting Marvin, in which he stars alongside Isabelle Huppert. Directed by Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel), it stands a good chance of being selected for Cannes. Last year Oldfield was nominated for a César (the French Academy Awards) for most promising male actor. With an Irish-sounding name that belies his Belleville upbringing, his natural state is unassumingly cool, and still somewhat boyish—as yet unaffected by life in the public eye. He has no public account on Instagram, making him an outlier among his peers. (He draws the line at Facebook.) “I’ve always wanted to be out of the system— sure, like a lot of teenagers, but I really believe in that.”

Paris, after all, is a place that has always encouraged nonconformity, even against an achingly beautiful backdrop of Haussmann-era buildings that all look so much alike. This is what Dubois, 37, often strives to reconcile with his projects, which currently include a new store concept for Zadig & Voltaire on Rue de Rivoli and residential projects elsewhere in Europe and Los Angeles. Born in Brussels, he recalls how driving to Paris in his 20s for school meant entering the city through “the ugly Paris, through the concrete.” For his clients, he elevates this aesthetic, coaxing people to consider that preconceived notions of beauty depend largely on context. “The references should not only come from beautiful and luxurious things; they can come from anywhere.”

What’s more, he’s been pleasantly surprised by how his peers around Paris seem to be thinking the same thing. “This new generation, between 25 and 40, is living in different areas like Ivry-sur-Seine or Buttes-Chaumont, so they have a different view of the city. They live in buildings from the 1950s through the 1970s—postwar buildings with gas stations under them. And I think this contributes to the energy of Paris as a newer city. It’s a late-20th-century beauty versus the Haussmannian beauty.”

But as Rousselle, 28, describes it, such beauty can occasionally border on oppressive. “Paris is still beautiful, but it’s inspiring because it is dysfunctional—all these monuments and people who are so well-dressed but ultimately boring.” In addition to a forthcoming book dedicated to her photography and poems from a recent trip to San Francisco, she continues to publish Peach, a printed zine launched last fall with co-founder Tifenn-Tiana Fournereau featuring crowdsourced content with the aim of becoming “an artistic collective girl gang” around the world. The first issue was titled I belong to the blank generation (a nod to the 1976 Richard Hell song). She describes Paris as “a very normative city where you have to be strong to ignore the judgmental atmosphere or hang with people like you to feel stronger.” She says, “You have to work on yourself to set your own freedom here. At the end of the day this can only make you a better and a more intense artist.”

Argimón, also 28, always has one project on the go, if not several. By March, she will have completed an ambitious, extra-large drawing in the manner of Hieronymus Bosch that imagines a Garden of Eden overpopulated with Adams and Eves contending with 21st-century vices. The idea began as part of her year-long residency with the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès, which entails working with the famed brand’s silk factories to produce this piece for a traveling exhibition. Last year she won the prize for contemporary drawing from the École des Beaux-Arts. Also on the horizon: drawings commissioned by the Hôtel de Crillon timed to its reopening.

She notes how the country’s cultural framework can come across as insular, and that artists in Paris are susceptible to settling for a certain degree of success and not pushing themselves further. Yet she believes her generation is highly motivated, driven in part by access to corporate sponsors, institutional support, and collectors who are more interested in following their instincts than getting a return on their investment. “There is a variety of opportunities offered to us that are jumping-off points, and every year they’re like trampolines for young artists.” If it seems strange that we don’t often hear about these talents, Argimon explains, “many of these opportunities remain extremely localized to France, maybe because the companies or collectors themselves are French also.” Of course, regardless of the source of support, the result is a boon to young artists.

Armanet, 32, is equally enthusiastic about building her career in Paris, especially since other singers such as Flavien Berger, Paradis, L’Impératrice and, most famously, Christine and the Queens have managed to establish a new genre where her music sounds at home. “There is a new wind,” she says. “I think that French pop was really quite dead for a decade; there wasn’t anything exciting or interesting. The dinosaurs are getting too old, so there is a place for the new generation. Now, a lot of us are sharing festivals, sharing our tastes. This new French scene is really happening; we all agree, and we try to collaborate.” This collaborative spirit extends beyond music, too. Armanet worked with the artist Theo Mercier, known for his surreal, sometimes unsettling, sculptural creations, on her EP cover, in which she sits with her back to the viewer, topless, with a ponytail trailing from her jeans.

Louvet calls from Dubai, where dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet are putting on a few special performances before heading to Abu Dhabi. If it weren’t already achievement enough to be the first dancer bestowed with the title of Étoile under the direction of Aurélie Dupont, consider the impressive fact that he is only 23. Unsurprisingly, his outlook is as heartening as his leaps spectacular. He notes how Paris acts as a stimulating crossroads, “not just geographically but culturally. You can discover history and heritage across all civilizations, as well as theater and dance that is alive and constantly evolving.” And that stimulation, he adds, is increasingly growing, with diverse programming at several venues in Pantin, just northeast of the city limits.

Indeed, in the domain of deejaying, Guindo (he often uses this name alone) has watched jaded Parisians make the extra effort to hit up newer parties in the banlieues. “Now, there are so many parties in the suburbs in random places; so much stuff is happening. But more important, the music is good. It’s all something very different beyond the club scene. People are trying to be free in other ways.”

He says bleakness can have its own allure. “Paris has been romanticized and idealized because of Woody Allen and the Japanese tourists who come to see the beauty. But really, Paris is very, very ghetto and so many places here are not for tourists, but they’re beautiful in their own way,” says Guindo, 27, adding that where he grew up, in the 13th arrondissement, with its “very concrete buildings” now feels more relevant than ever. “People today—not even just the ones from my generation—don’t want to idealize stuff anymore. People are going dark and brutalist.”

Which is not to say that they’ve been hardened by the terrorist attacks of 2015. Says Galloni, 25, “People do not want to stay in a state of fear or stop their way of life because of what happened. It’s the opposite. Although I don’t think Paris has changed, perhaps the people are less trusting of each other. But we haven’t stopped living our lives because of it.”

As the first mixed-race dancer in the Paris Opera Ballet, she believes that the lack of diversity is evident, but that it has never affected her self-confidence. “Ever since I was little, I have never felt any problem related to the color of my skin, so I have never thought, ‘This isn’t normal,’ or ‘I don’t belong here,’ and I have never needed to take a position on this. Beyond that, it’s true that there aren’t many dancers of color in the ballet, but I think it’s a question of culture, too. I would love to show young girls who think, ‘This is not for me,’ that it is possible. Of course there are the stereotypes, but in the end, if they have the talent and the desire, they will succeed.”

Success in acting, at least initially, came almost by accident for Lima, 21, who was cast by Bang Gang’s Eva Husson without any experience. The director wanted some of the roles played by nonprofessionals and found amateur photographs of the actor on Tumblr. Can she see herself continuing to act? Yes, she replies (she has already shot a movie for French TV), however she can see herself pursuing any number of creative avenues. “I am always wanting to learn, to discover, to create. The motivation is there and will always be there.”

Like many of the others—whether through coincidence or a generational trait—Lima, who still lives mostly in Bordeaux, prefers to consider her life in the present. “Whatever I end up doing in two or three months, I know I will have reflected on it and followed my heart.” Argimón notes how every time she contemplates the future, and leaving Paris, a new project holds her back. “I love to travel. It’s inspiring to see other cultures and not be stuck. That’s how I feel in Paris, but it’s a happy stuck.” And she’s convinced that she’s not the only one who feels this way. “It’s a really great city that a lot of people don’t want to see great. People don’t want to dig in. But as soon as you dig in, it’s an incredible place.”


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