I’m from Nice, but I only lived there for six years before we moved to Dubai. This was 1995 and there was absolutely nothing there — no skyscrapers, just desert. I think there were 500 French people in Dubai at the time.
My grandfather is a baker and he invented some kind of frozen bakery goods equipment. I’m not really sure what, exactly, but apparently it was some sort of process that was innovative, as he says. My dad continued with that and did import and export in the Middle East.
I went to a lycee—a French school—in Dubai and took Spanish and seven years of Arabic, but I can’t speak Spanish and the only thing I can say in Arabic is “I speak Arabic.” That’s it. I’m half-Persian on my mom’s side, so I speak Farsi, but English is my second language. I have an American accent because I was obsessed with American culture, watching Golden Girls, Friends, Seinfeld — you name it.
Tool basically made me who I am today.
Things in Dubai weren’t censored then and it was pretty open. But starting around 2003, there would be signs that you can't wear short skirts, even though to this day you still can. They started censoring films. They started blocking MySpace so you had to learn how to change your IP in order to access it. Any porn was impossible, especially with a dial-up connection. It wasn’t fun, but it kind of pushed me to learn how to use a computer and hack a little bit. I wasn’t really into what was popular in Dubai. Then again, I did listen to Staind. I listened to Tool.
Tool basically made me who I am today. I'm still a huge Tool fan. They just made me see things differently and not follow trends. I wish I was still on all their message boards. I remember they were so cryptic with their websites, too. Them and Donnie Darko. I remember Donnie Darko had a website where you could find more clues. I loved that shit. I mean, Donnie Darko introduced me to Stephen Hawking. Then I had this huge fake cosmology phase and it was astrophysics and cosmology and I thought that was going to be my career but that did not happen.
I lived in Dubai until I was 18. Then I moved to London, but I wanted to move to the States. I applied to basically all Ivy League schools because I was just a shit. But it didn’t work out. One UC school accepted me but the tuition was about $40,000 a year and my parents were like, “No, I don’t know what you’re thinking.” So I went to King’s College in London instead, which is £3,000 a year. In hindsight, I’m like, “What was I thinking?” It seems crazy to spend that much money and be in debt just for an education.
King's was a great school. I studied marketing because I didn't want to be a lawyer or a doctor and my mom was very, “You need a career where you can get a job,” but I realized toward the end of my degree that I didn’t want to do business. I started reading about philosophy and I was, like, “Fuck, why didn't I study art history? Or film? Or just anything more stimulating?” But it was too late. I, however, did dabble in filmmaking. I made these short dark comedy features. I used to really love comedy, but not anymore.
So I moved to New York to pursue film. I interned at a bunch of film production companies like Magnolia and Game 7 Films and tried to pursue UCB on the side, but I hated it. Everyone was very supportive, but it was just a bummer because I wasn't good. Everyone would be like, “That was awesome!” Hug. And everyone wanted to “jam.” It was not for me. Like, I'm still French. It was all just a little much. I think that lasted two months and then I jumped into finding myself and working at a restaurant.
I guess I’d describe myself as a creative strategist. It's really hard because I'm a jack of all trades. I do photography, web design, interviews, marketing plans, branding, and activations. Anything that brings brands to life, or connects them with their audiences in a creative way. I don't know. I'm still figuring it out, but I can change the narrative to whatever I'm trying to get or trying to do. Initially, I thought I'd go into advertising and be a planner. I was always into strategy and thinking of macro versus micro goals and that was what was stimulating. Then the film thing interrupted that and I thought I was going to be in comedy. Then I thought I was going to be into really sad, foreign immigrant story filmmaking. Then I was, like, “No, I'm too young for that. That's going to be shit.”
I wanted to bring a more authentic perspective to recommendations.
The thing I’m most passionate about is Passerbuys. It’s a recommendation site for women. We’re in New York, London, Paris, and L.A. I don't have the ammo to make it bigger because we're just two people. I'm more interested in smaller towns now and if I can grow the site, the idea is to make it a global thing: the ultimate resource index. I always think it would be awesome if it were like a Google for women and you could type in whatever your problem is and it’d aggregate things related to that from these real interviews, from these real recommendations.
I first had the idea to start the site when I was working at a restaurant. It was truly me just being curious about the women that passed me by and really imagining their lives: what they listened to, what they read. Moving to New York, not knowing anyone, I felt frustrated with Yelp and everything being sponsored and all these really weird reviews and not really knowing who that person is. And editor-based recommendations are usually sponsored, you know—they get shit sent for free all the time. I wanted to bring a more authentic perspective to recommendations, to really create a platform that could be a resource for women either moving to a city for the first time or changing careers, or even wanting to end their careers.
I'm not a writer so I'm not going to pretend like I'm going to do a Vanity Fair-type piece on someone.
I reached out to a couple of web development firms and they wanted $10,000 or $15,000 just to start. One firm quoted me $100K. I couldn't afford it. So I was like, “Alright, I've got to figure it out. I've got to be scrappy.” So I spent about five months learning web design for the site. It’s the same for photography. I couldn't afford a photographer and to this day it would be too expensive, so I shoot all the features. For L.A. and the other cities, it's just people that are into the website and I try to refer them as many clients as I can. I’ve interviewed maybe 300 women. It's hard to keep count.
I had to learn all these skills, even graphic design, but I applied them to my next job, which was at Splacer. It’s like Airbnb for event spaces. I was leading their marketing effort so I used everything that I learned at Passerbuys and vice versa. I do that as well now that I work at the No. 29, bringing in all these diverse, and hopefully good, skills.
I'm not a writer so I'm not going to pretend like I'm going to do a Vanity Fair-type piece on someone. My interviews are never, “Hey, talk about you. Let's talk about your background and what you've done.” I always just try to get recommendations. A skin care recommendation or a place to get your photos developed — anything. And instead of me coming in and saying, “Oh, this book is excellent. You should read it,” I’ll say, “Five or ten women on Passerbuys recommend that book. Take it or leave it.” Just really take the editor out of it from a practical, utilitarian perspective.
Being able to feature women that I meet on the street or that are referred to Passerbuys makes me really happy because they're not typically used to being interviewed or photographed. Giving them that attention and just that acknowledgement of, “Hey, you're freaking awesome”—that does it for me. I feel like women especially need that a little bit more. The genuine support of looking someone in the eye and just being like, “Damn.” I feel like it's not that common.
When it comes to the women I see on the street—honestly, it's just instinct. I'm just attracted to a certain person, so I’ll say, “Here's my card. You totally don't need to answer me. Just see if this is for you. I'd love to feature you.” It's still nerve-racking to stop someone in the street and be like, “I want to take pictures of you in your home.” Only one girl has said no. She was very nice. She wrote, “I'm private and this sounds great but no thank you.” I was like, “Fair.”
I kind of ask questions I probably shouldn’t be asking strangers. I'm in a different time in my life, so I think more about the future, things like kids. Where do you move that's affordable? How do you raise a kid in the city? Is that sustainable? What do you do? How does one buy a house here if they don't have a million to spend on a shitty one bedroom. How much rent do you pay? How do you make money?
I guess I’m curious how people hustle. And how they find balance. Especially in New York. It's very intense—work, work, work. How do you just chill and not feel like you need to be working constantly? And how do you respond to not working, too? I find that even in my downtime, I have to do something. I want the ability to just do something to chill the fuck out. A glass of red wine, like, natural red wine, has been working for me. Everyone raves about weed but I can’t get high. It doesn’t work. I think my brain wants control and I'm too scared to let go. I’ve tried edibles but it didn't do anything. I did a bong hit and that just got me really tired. It’s very frustrating because I just don't know what the experience is like. But I’m still down to try.
I feel like New York is a place where all these non-identities come together. We have all these parts of our different cultures and we're just bringing it together. And the fact that it's so hard to just be in New York financially, to pay rent, you have to hustle. Most of my friends hustle. If you're privileged enough to not, that's awesome but I feel like there's this unifier that we're all working really hard together and that also levels things out.
There's this weird element of community, too, but without being too emotional, or huggy. You'll help a person struggling but then you'll move on with your day and you don't have to engage in a conversation. Coming from the French perspective where we're not really that open and emotional, I like that more. It's just that we cut the bullshit. If we like it, we like it, if we don't, we don't. New York is like that. It's not personal and no one takes it personally. You understand where everyone is coming from. It's harsh, too.
Seeing women I find so captivating fixate on their non-existent flaws over and over again helped me deal with my own personal insecurities.
One thing I've realized from all these interviews is how many women struggle with body dysmorphia. Seeing women I find so captivating fixate on their non-existent flaws over and over again helped me deal with my own personal insecurities. And I’ve interviewed very confident women who’ve shown me the beauty of just feeling good in your own body, and how chill that is.
I’ve also learned through some business owners the art of patience. I can be pretty ambitious at times, and will often compare myself to others’ success, something social media does not help. It can be discouraging. But I remember interviewing the co-founder of Sight Unseen, an online publication I very much admire, and she gave me a reality check: that success takes time and it's not typically overnight. It took her and her partner over seven years to get to where they are, it really was perseverance with them. To this day, I always remind myself to keep moving forward, doing what I love and to not seek instant gratification.
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