An Encounter with Entrepre-hers in the City of Love

Starting a project, a business or a work of art is a lot like starting this very article. A plethora of ideas and possibilities at your very fingertips and the challenge of figuring out how to translate all of that into a tangible, coherent, and meaningful piece [of writing].

That’s why becoming an entrepreneur is both a thrilling and terrifying experience. Unlike writing this article, the tangible product often represents your life's’ investment; the tangible product will be the fruit of many trial-and-error experiences. Who, then, is the archetype of this brave endeavor? Whom do YOU associate with the term “entrepreneur”?

With the stereotype of the entrepreneur being that of a man, I’d like to contribute to breaking apart this assumption by presenting you a few young entrepren-hers bred on fine wine and addictive cheeses. Hailing from the “City of Love” these Parisienne women are anything BUT dependent on a man. They are forging their futures, cultivating their creations, and making multidisciplinary moves. These entrepren-hers are just a few lovely droplets within the glorious wave of women leaders today. From fashion to politics, art to science we, the women, have plenty to influence.

Let’s dive into the literary with the entrepreneurial endeavors of Mathilde and Esther. These two young women are in the process of creating their own publishing house, specializing in artists’ books. This is no easy feat, but each of their complementary backgrounds brings something to the table. Esther is a graphic designer and typographer while Mathilde is a lithographer also trained in the art of bookbinding. These two are so close and supportive of one another that creating a publishing house together is the natural evolution of their incredibly innovative friendship.

Mathilde’s lithography printing press.

Mathilde’s lithography printing press.

So what exactly is the idea, you ask? I had the opportunity to speak with Mathilde directly and she provided some much-needed clarity on the subject. In Mathilde’s words, “the idea is to bring together artists around editorial projects supported by traditional printing techniques such as lithography, engraving, and screen printing”. Sounds enticing: the concept of bringing older, or “traditional”, printing techniques to light in these modern times. With nearly everyone in the Western world carrying a mini computer in their pocket, I am really inspired by their mission to make printed things by hand.

I asked Mathilde where they were in the creation of their publishing house and she responded with an absolutely charming and very demure smile, “We are currently developing our very first publication: a portfolio of lithographs made by tattoo artists!”

I have to admit, my interest then piqued. Lithographs made by tattoo artists? Skin-etching experts exercising their expertise on cold, non-living slabs of stone? The sheer genius of it all…you can share in my stupefaction by following the evolution of their first book on Instagram @peaudepierre (peau de pierre means ‘skin of stone’).

Mathilde (right) working away in her atelier.

Mathilde (right) working away in her atelier.

How did they find the inspiration for something so captivating? Speaking softly but passionately in her native French, Mathilde explained to me that her partner “Esther grew up in the publishing and book business, allowing her to develop the critical thinking that instinctively led her to follow that voice,” with our coffees cooling in the chilly January Parisienne air, we took a little pause to savor the stationary stone facades and bustling fur coats passing by. Sitting on café terraces in Paris is a year-long tradition. The Parisienne way of life is a much more relaxed approach, although equally as adequate (if not better, considering the health effects a stressful approach can have on your body in the long term).

Our coffees now finished, she continued, “for my part, I have always been sensitive to words, paper, and the object of the book in general. These affinities were strengthened during my studies, naturally leading me to bibliophilia, i.e., the book as a work of art, and by extension, printing. I came to the lithography with the need to create the image through an interaction with the material: the stone, such a fascinating and noble entity, the incarnation of immobility and silence which transforms into the support of a visceral expression”.

Mind blown.

Ok, not only is this entrepren-her beautiful and talented, she’s an eloquent genius. At this point in our conversation I wanted to grasp her beautifully articulated words and slap them onto paper, luckily I did more or less just that. I suppose that is the best compliment I can give someone who’s starting a publishing house. If there is any book I’d like to read, it will be one of Mathilde and Esther’s creation.

Wrapping up my time with Mathilde, I asked her what it’s like starting this project as a young woman. Speaking on behalf of her bestie once again, “Esther works independently and puts her capabilities at the service of a variety of clients: publishing houses, cultural magazines, musicians, tradesmen... it’s sometimes difficult to establish oneself as a young typo-graphist despite a prestigious training. You must be open to the needs of customers that you have to anticipate to make yourself indispensable.” I can relate to this. Myself a young working female professional, the need to ‘spread yourself thin’ is a palpable one. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if I had been a boy, gaining respect wouldn’t require me to be a jack-of-all-trades. Yet my experience through the feminine lens I’ve been gifted has made me a jack-of-all-trades and yes, a master-of-many.

Continuing her incredibly inspiring explanation, “as for me, I am independent too, but I work mainly in the Stéphane Guilbaud atelier. I found my mentor, a kind of spiritual father who pushes me forward and gives me the means to embark on ambitious projects”. Here, our conversation deconstructed into the various printing techniques she explores at the atelier. I left our rendez-vous feeling enlightened, enchanted, and most importantly, empowered.

Continuing my endeavor to discover Parisienne entrepren-hers, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Milena, a young upholsterer who creates curtains and cushions and specializes in the restoration of armchairs and sofas from varying eras. This being a rather unique profession, I was compelled to know more. How does one even end up in this line of work? Are there kids out there dreaming of restoring their family’s couch? Luckily, Milena was there to answer all of my burning questions.

First, I had to know what inspired her to pursue this career. Milena, a half French, half Brazilian beauty spoke with conviction, “I have always had a passion for objects and furniture so I wanted to become a designer. I aimed to first learn the craft of the artisan with the intention to move eventually towards the creative side of things.”

Well, at least that’s clear! There ARE little people out there dreaming furniture related dreams!

Milena working away in her Parisien atelier.

Milena working away in her Parisien atelier.

Milena works as an independent craftsperson, but her path to independence was not always an easy one. To get to where she is now, she explains, “I arrived here by not giving up, fighting and advancing a little more each day with perseverance and determination. Initially, I had a partner. I opened a shop and the partnership fell apart. So I decided to continue my business alone, which is not easy day to day but overall, works very well.” Unlike our aforementioned artist-bookworms, speaking with Milena is the proof that a partnership is not always the best path to entrepreneurship.

But restoration? Sounds like a pretty physical undertaking. I was curious about Milena’s experience as a woman in this field. Her demeanor is commanding and engaging; it’s easy to imagine her operating all the heavy machinery involved in the process as well as passing orders to those working beneath her, but does everyone else perceive her this way? She tells me that “as a woman in this business it has not always been easy. It’s a ‘man's job’: it is often necessary to carry very heavy loads. I had a lot of trouble at first to find a job or even an internship in this often misogynist environment where you’re regularly accused of being too weak or too slow. I quickly decided to work for myself. Today, as a woman-upholsterer, I live very well. I have a good relationship with my clients and I do just as well as any man. I have never refused a job.”

The birth of a beautiful hand-made chair, hammer and all.

The birth of a beautiful hand-made chair, hammer and all.

Say it with me now: G I R L   P O W E R.

Here’s this incredible woman before me breaking all the stereotypes in her domain. The proof that any job a man can do, a woman can do--period. Her creations are the epitome of high-quality, handmade works of art and having worked for a couple of well-known brands, Prada for example, Milena is only at the tip of her iceberg of success.

Prada showroom, complete with Milena’s creations.

Prada showroom, complete with Milena’s creations.

Her long term plan is equally as impressive as her current achievements. She intends to “make the business grow, build a great team, and work with friends to mix our trades: upholsterer, cabinet maker, decorator, and architect to offer a complete and diverse service to my customers.” Check out some of her amazing work on Instagram @milenassis_tapissiere

Exchanging with these women was an absolute pleasure-- no, it was a complete intellectual orgasm. These women are taking the great leap into the unknown of business ownership. They are unapologetically diving into the abyss of uncertainty that is being an entrepreneur. These women are willingly taking the risk of creating something from nothing.

The opportunity to speak with such individuals was soup for my creative soul. They inspired me to write and most importantly, get things done. Strong, young, intelligent women with actions and aspirations that role models are made of. I’m pretty sure these women lit a much-needed fire under my butt.

They are creators. They are leaders. They are entrepren-hers.

They are nothing short of incredible women.