This is Paris

Meet the women who've started a new cultural conversation in the French capital

  • Sandra Salmandjee, 34
    Chef and author

    Salmandjee, aka Chef Sanjee, writer of the blog and author of a booklet on recipes from the movie The Lunchbox, doesn’t much care for Bollywood (shoes are more her jam). When the economic meltdown threw her career in fashion buying off track, the B-school graduate turned to her cheery, colourful, “like a Bollywood film” kitchen for comfort. “I’ve always loved cooking, especially Indian food, thanks to my parents and grandmother,” she says. “I started blogging about it and people began to ask me for lessons.” On her blog, Salmandjee brings her global palate (she was raised in Paris by Gujarati parents who had lived in Madagascar) to traditional Indian recipes, and offers a time-pressed generation handy alternatives to microwave meals – for instance, naan cooked without the tandoor (in the YouTube series Cook In The Tube).

    In her second book, India Easy (Mango Editions), out next March, Salmandjee addresses a common grouse with Indian cooking: too many ingredients to source. “I specialise in North Indian cuisine, but thanks also to my Parisian lifestyle, I’ve developed a faster and easier way of cooking,” she says. Along with a growing visitor list (40,000 per month currently), Bollywood Kitchen also brought Salmandjee a bunch of new prospects – “People began to ask me to cater for private dinners. I also consult for restaurants and work with brands to organise food events.” 

    Embroidered wool and crêpe dress, metal and resin bracelet; both Dior 

    Photographs: Errikos Andreou; Styling Malini Banerji; Creative Director Prashish More, Make-up Jabe/B-agency, Production: Aoife Kennedy, Jay Kijai

  • Rooksana Hossenally, 30
    Travel and lifestyle writer

    A busy morning for Hossenally is checking into a luxury spa for a two-hour stone therapy. Or so people like to think. “They imagine I have a dream job – and I do, but it’s not all glamour,” Hossenally says. The freelance writer has reviewed over 400 hotels, and written for The New York TimesThe Huffington Post and The Guardian among others – and cramming in back-to-back interviews, long hours walking around hotels in the company of overbearing PR people and meeting tight deadlines is very much par for the course.

    Hossenally’s childhood was divided between Mauritius, Istanbul and London because of her French mother and Rajasthani father’s wanderlust. Later, a TOEFL course at Manchester University let her teach English in the Isle of Wight and Barcelona. In 2008, she moved to Paris to help her uncle, an independent film producer, on a bilingual project – and decided to stay on to get closer to her French mother’s roots. A marketing job with the International Herald Tribune, “which had nothing to do with anything I’d done!” gave her the idea to write. So when she heard travel website was looking to launch an English edition, she signed up.

    Her most memorable trip? The Dominican Republic. “When we went to return the car we’d rented, the place didn’t know anything about it. Turns out it was stolen, so we just left it by the side of the road!” 

    Cashmere dress, metal bracelet; both Dior

  • Shantala Shivalingappa, 38
    Dancer and choreographer

    Shivalingappa calls Paris home, but  admits it leaves her feeling disconnected from nature. “In Madras, we live on the outskirts, so I’m never cut away,” she says. Trips to Jardin des Plantes, when her native Chennai isn’t possible, are her antidote. Shivalingappa’s family moved to Paris in the ’60s when her mother, Bharatanatyam dancer Savitry Nair, was awarded a scholarship to compare ballet with Indian dance forms. “My mother worked with [French choreographer] Maurice Béjart. She did workshops for Peter Brook’s Mahabharata, and was a good friend of the late [German choreographer] Pina Bausch,” she says. Shivalingappa harnessed these big connections. At 13, she did an eight-minute Bharatanatyam piece in Béjart’s ballet. And then, she played a pivotal role in Brook’s Tempest as Miranda.

    Her introduction to Kuchipudi came two years later, on one of her trips to Chennai to train with her guru Vempati Chinna Satyam. Immediately, she knew she’d found her métier. “Something about the energy… it’s very strong and rhythmic on the feet, but the upper body is very graceful,” she says. Another seven years later, she was 22 and working with her mother’s old friend Bausch, who encouraged her to explore contemporary dance. And today, Shivalingappa is one of the world’s foremost Kuchipudi and contemporary dance practitioners. Of her 2013 Kuchipudi solo Akasha, The New York Times said,“The way she lifts her foot before slapping it down, is like a breath. She pounces on the beat, surprising it.”

    Play, her immensely well-received 2009 collaboration with Belgian contemporary dance icon Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, meditates on the literal and figurative games men and women play, and is scheduled to tour Turkey and France early next year.

    Double-breasted cashmere coat, leather pumps, ‘Mise en Dior’ earring; all Dior. Cotton blouse and trousers, both her own

  • Shaheen Peerbhai, 26
    Chef and blogger

    Peerbhai’s days as a marketing professional in Mumbai played out much like Amy Adams’ in Julie & Julia – baking before work, blogging about it after. Until she did away with the safety net, quit her day job and became a full-time pastry chef. “I started baking cakes as an experiment and it was well-received,” she says. Around this time, Peerbhai also began to write for food publications and was an editorial consultant for BBC Good Food magazine before setting off to fulfil a childhood dream – studying at Le Cordon Bleu. Peerbhai completed her basic and intermediate courses at the institute after winning three scholarships (two from The Culinary Trust and one from The James Beard Foundation), pulling tails off “pretty aggressive” live crayfish along the way.

    Meanwhile, her blog, which gets more than a million annual visitors, has given her celebrity status. “Almost all my food-related work has stemmed from the blog,” she says. This includes Friday Lunches, an initiative she runs with her partner Jennie Levitt, which involves organising pop-ups around Paris and offering bespoke dinners at their homes. Every year, Peerbhai takes a break from Paris (which is equal parts “exciting and infuriating”) and returns to Mumbai, but not without her baking mittens. “I get dozens of requests every week from people wanting to attend my cooking class even when I’m not in Bombay!”

    Wool dress, metal necklace, metal and resin bracelet, leather pumps; all Dior

  • Jahnvi Dameron Nandan, 39
    Designer and author

    She lives in the Latin Quarter of Paris, on rue Visconti, “the tiniest motorable road in Paris where [Honoré de] Balzac had his printing press. I’ve had a long and intense relationship with Paris,” she says. Nandan remembers being utterly fascinated with the city in 1999, when she first came to visit World Heritage Sites, as a student from Japan chipping away at her PhD in architecture. “Paris has since become a little too self-conscious. The spirit of freedom that the city had until the late ’90s has been diminishing,” she observes.

    Now, Nandan is an associate with the design studio Centdegres, and is working on her second book, 100 Design Classics From India (Roli Books), due later this year. Making scents is an empirical process, she says. “Every smell has a good and not-so-good side – jasmine has fruity as well as green tea notes, which I prefer. It’s about enhancing the good side.” Her firm Centdegres gives form to fragrances through fonts, graphics and colours. Their recent projects include Cartier’s La Panthère and Jazz for Jean Paul Gaultier. Her toughest project yet? Her new book. “Because in India there’s no distinction between good and bad design – it just has to work,” she says. Like Kolhapuri chappals, sewn from waste buffalo hide. “It’s such a simple idea, even Tory Burch has them in her collection.”

    Double-breasted cashmere coat, leather and rubber pumps, leather clutch; all Dior. Silk scarf, her own


  • Kaamna Patel, 26

    TS Eliot’s poem Preludes about “infinitely suffering” and “gathering fuel in vacant lots” inspired this literature graduate to create her own interpretation of it. Over three years, during which she also interned with fashion photographer Farrokh Chothia and attended Parsons Paris School of Art and Design, Patel gathered the source material for her pet project. “Preludes moves through anonymous spaces, within and outside cities,” she says. The series, shot across India and Europe, which was exhibited at the Art Loft in Mumbai and Galerie Eof in Paris last year, depicts three moods: first, a dissatisfaction with one’s environment, a vague emptiness; then, the “temporary solutions” appear in black and white; and finally, respite – a burst of countryside sights and colours. Her images of parking lots, corridors, train stations and playgrounds, often eerily deserted, mirror the melancholy of Eliot’s verse.

    Despite her poorly-planned move from Mumbai to Paris (without any knowledge of French or living arrangements) in 2010, it’s been the place she keeps returning to, to recalibrate and plan her next search for meaning. Her current project aims to reconnect Patel to her Indian roots: “It’s about my relationship with my family across borders and over time. The photos are all made over Skype and it’s very experimental.”

    Quilted silk dress, wool jacket, metal bracelet; all Dior


  • Nabila Amarsy, 24
    Innovation strategist

    A child of whimsy, Amarsy has lived in Madagascar, Hong Kong, France, India, Dubai, Spain, Canada and Nicaragua, and travelled to several other countries entirely on an impulse. Her wanderings haven’t taken a toll on her job, coaching Fortune 500 companies. “At Strategyzer, a global start-up, we create tools and methodologies to test robust business models,” she says. “My role is to illustrate these concepts through blogs, workshops and online courses. All I really need is WiFi connectivity.”

    Amarsy also spends her time off work helping nascent businesses get on their feet by collaborating with StartUp Weekend, a Seattle-based enterprise that supports entrepreneurship in more than 126 countries. Participants are given an expeditious introduction to business development with the 54-hour challenge of building a start-up. “Sadly, I’ve noticed a disproportionate men to women ratio at these events,” says Amarsy. “I’m also trying to organise a StartUp Weekend Women edition.” For those dreaming of setting up their own company, Amarsy recommends running your genius idea through several pragmatic filters before rushing to get your CEO cards printed, “If you have a great idea, don’t fall in love with it immediately.”

    Wool and crêpe dress, Dior