From a jewelry designer who doubles as a documentary filmmaker to the founder of a musical time machine with plans to start a community vegetable garden, meet a group of women whose talents cannot be contained within a singular medium. Shot by Kristin Vicari.
Lola Bessis first came to my attention in an Interview Magazine spread profiling up-and-coming talents. With her innate joie de vivre and effortless French flair, I knew I had to learn more about Bessis. Upon investigating her Instagram, I was offered a glimpse into her world: a feed full of glamorous red carpets, the most-coveted Gucci dresses, and images of her strikingly beautiful face gracing campaign ads and films for iconic brands like Sonia Rykiel and Agnes B., to name a few. But behind the glamour of life as a rising French film star, Bessis possesses a genuine and fierce raw talent. A true jack-of-all-trades, Bessis made a name for herself after starring in, co-writing, and directing the feature film Swim Little Fish Swim. Released in 2014, the film follows the trials and tribulations of a young artist who moves into a fragile couple’s Manhattan apartment. Bessis compares her father to the character of Leeward in the film: “He’s full of fantasy and, frankly, he’s not responsible. I was going to bed at 3a.m., doing karaoke, and his favorite phrase was, ‘We don’t give a shit about anything!’” Despite her unconventional upbringing, Bessis’s family supported her artistic passions. Raised in Paris, she now splits her time between Paris and Los Angeles.
Bessis discovered acting at the age of seven, thanks to a teacher who was concerned about her “reserved character and told [her] parents [she] should take acting classes.” The rest, as they say, is history. Bessis also developed an interest in filmmaking. She says that discovering [Jean-Luc] Godard and [Éric] Rohmer “was a revelation. I couldn’t do anything else except make films.”
Yet Bessis’s ultimate role model is John Cassavates. “He is so free and spontaneous in his work,” she says. When Bessis was only 14, she wrote, directed, and starred in her first short film, which led her to advanced study at The New School in New York. While in the city, she purchased a camera and started to document her life. Her idea for her first feature developed from this spontaneous approach, and alongside her boyfriend (fellow filmmaker Ruben Armar) she created Swim Little Fish Swim in her living room. She describes the film as a huge learning experience—one of which she is extremely proud: “Being taken seriously when you’re a young woman of 21 making a film isn’t easy; you always feel like you have to prove your worth and work twice as hard as men. It makes you stronger and teaches you not to wait for things to happen and to instead bring about your own opportunities.” The film went on to play 80 festivals, including South by Southwest. Bessis fell in love with the Maryland Film Festival, a small and intimate festival with “an amazing selection of indie gems!”
Having spent some time in Paris myself, I remember wandering the golden streets in the early evening and running into some of the most enchanting independent cinemas. I ask Bessis which one she considers to be her favorite. “There are so many!” she tells me. “I love the Christine 21 in the 6th Arrondisement. The programming is sharp, with a lot of retrospectives featuring some of my favorite filmmakers (e.g. Jacques Rozier, Philippe Garrel, Woody Allen). I also attended a screening of Barbara Loden’s Wanda there. I love that film, and Isabelle Huppert introduced the screening. Julianne Moore was sitting next to me!” Bessis has more Parisian recommendations in her back pocket: “I just moved to a new area: Belleville. It’s a bit like the Lower East Side in New York. It’s very eclectic, with Chinese restaurants situated alongside Jewish and Arabic delicatessens. There is a very nice coffee shop called Cream and a delicious vegan restaurant called Le Faitout. I love to take walks in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont—it’s the French Central Park!”
Bessis has a busy year ahead: She will appear in four feature films, each role sounding so different from the other. “In the next year, I play a young skater girl who falls in love with an old ghost in a film directed by Mathias Malzieu that premiered at Cannes; a burlesque stripper in an indie psychological thriller directed by American filmmaker Nathan Silver; and a student in the early 2000s in Nicolas Bedos’s first feature film to be released in March,” she says.
She’s somehow balancing all of this alongside playing the lead role in Ruben Amar’s next project, but she hasn’t given up writing: “I’m currently writing two new feature film scripts, both very different from each other. The first one is a comedy set in Paris about brotherhood. The second is a drama set in Los Angeles about an old Hollywood star. I’m set to act in the latest, but not as the lead. In general, I prefer to act in other people’s films and direct actors other than myself in my films. I like to separate those two roles in order to be fully there and not cut in two.” When I ask Bessis to name a director she looks up to, she replies without hesitation: “Justine Triet. She is the most promising female director of her generation!” I think it’s fair to say that the same is true of Bessis.
CREDITS: Checkpoint (Short Film, 2011), Swim, Little Fish, Swim (2013, Actor/Co-Writer/Co-Director), Un Mari Pour l’Hiver (2015), Des Enfants Dans Les Arbres (2016), Upcoming: Indifferent Women (2017), Destiny (Actor/Writer/Director), La Vie Compliquee de Vincent Pleutre, Arcane.18
Lola wears Neith Nyer.
Marissa Seraphin is a Paris-based jewelry designer, documentary filmmaker, and model (represented by Ford Paris). Her namesake jewelry line features quirky sculptural interpretations of nature and insects, and has been worn by the up-and-coming Parisian fashion set.
Jaclyn Bethany: Bonjour, Marissa! Where are you from and where are you currently based?
Marissa Seraphin: I am from Paris and based in Paris. I travel all the time though, and while I have lived in other cities before (e.g. New York, Brussels, Tokyo), Paris has my heart.
JB: What inspires you about living in Paris?
MS: The beauty of the city is just crazy—the culture, the elegance, and the lifestyle. We, the French, know how to live elegantly.
JB: When did you decide to dye your hair pink? What does the color represent to you?
MS: I dyed my hair pink two years ago. I just love color so much, so it made sense. Today I feel like it's my “natural” hair color, I just feel fully myself with it. I love the extravagance and unique feeling of having pink hair: it symbolizes sweetness, love, femininity, and passion.
JB: Who are some local artists currently inspiring you in the city?
MS: I am a huge fan of Victoire de Castellane and her work at Dior Joaillerie (Dior Fine Jewelry). She embodies what I love most in life: color, creativity, nature, art, extravagance, and craft.
JB: What’s your favorite book about Paris?
MS: La Curée by Émile Zola. It’s about Paris in the 1850s and the lives of the extremely wealthy Nouveau riche of the Second French Empire. The book is filled with descriptions of luxury, opulence, fashion, and interiors in Paris during that time.
JB: Tell me about your jewelry designs. When did you start making original pieces and realize that it could be a career?
MS: I started designing jewelry when I entered the Chanel studio a few years ago. I learned everything there and realized jewelry was a more interesting creative tool for me than clothing, which is what I originally studied. Jewelry is more like sculpture and decoration; it's not functional, and I like that.
I am inspired by nature and animals and I love to work with the best “savoir-faire” to create original, colorful, beautiful, and unique pieces.
JB: Alongside designing jewelry, you are also a filmmaker and currently making a documentary on endangered animals. What prompted this project?
MS: Since my childhood, I’ve been passionate about animals. I realized in 2016 that I couldn’t just continue to watch and listen to what's happening—it's time for me to fight for this cause and my hope is to catch the attention of the next generation. I've been working on this film for quite a while.
JB: What do you want the message of this film to be?
MS: The message is that, as the next generation, we have to protect our planet before it's too late; we are the future. We have a beautiful habitat with crazy natural wonders. We need to care about and enjoy it.
Marissa wears vintage clothing.
I had a happy childhood living with my four sisters…. I love remembering my sisters playing baseball with French baguettes and clementines.
As an actress, you have to forget about the camera…. I love working with clothes to build a character. They help me to understand the choices (my) character is making: how they dress, how they move. My favorite film directors are Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, and Roman Polanski.
In my new film, Eternity, I play Solange, the daughter of Bérénice Bejo’s character in the movie. She is young and in love with the son of my character’s mother’s best friend. It was really interesting to work with Tran Anh Hung. He is an excellent director; I was very honored.
Of course I want 2017 to be a year where we (as women) will have the same rights as men. I consider myself a human being enjoying life as any other human being. For now, I pretend to get/have the same rights as men. I don’t know if that makes me a feminist or just a human with a desire for justice. —Mathilde Warnier
CREDITS: Eternity (2016), Caprice (2015), Vertiges (Short, 2014), Upcoming: Les Garçons sauvages
Mathilde wears a full look by Neith Nyer.
While living in London last year, I remember hearing about a film called Mustang. Transfixed by the poster of five teenage girls gathered in a circle, staring down into something unknown (perhaps their future?), I knew I had to see this film. It played for one exclusive showing at London’s British Film Institute before the awards season madness. Not surprisingly, it was completely sold out. Escaping from our restless daily lives, my fellow audience members and I were transfixed by the girls’ coming-of-age story within a strict, often demeaning household. We were so silent—so engaged—that you could hear a pin drop. We were with the sisters every step of the way: We felt their joy and their sorrow, and we longed to harness and propel their escape. Stories like the one Mustang portrays do not come along very often, so after that initial screening, I knew I had to discover more about the making of this beautiful and thought-provoking gem of a film. While the film itself is fictional, Mustang tackles real issues that women encounter in the most delicate and subtle of ways. For Constellation, I was lucky enough to speak with one of the young breakout stars, Tuğba Sunguroğlu, about the journey she took while filming Mustang. —J.B.
I am from Turkey, and I moved to Paris when I was six, with my mother.
I met [director] Deniz [Gamze Ergüven] at the airport [in Paris]. I was coming back from Turkey. She came up to me and told me that she was a director and that I looked like what she imagined the girls in her film, [Mustang], would look like. Before that, I had never even thought about acting. We exchanged numbers and, following the initial meeting, we saw each other a few times.
Then I met with the other girls [Ilayda Akdogan, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Günes Sensoy, and Elit Iscan] in Istanbul. We had to do some [improvisational] exercises, such as looking directly into each other’s eyes and saying something nice, hugging each other, or sharing secrets. Even that day, there was a bond between us—it felt very natural. Deniz is like our sixth sister. She is an inspiration, and she was pregnant during the filming! The most important message in Mustang is that the girls are not victims, but rather, real heroes.
Deniz told us that the film was going to premiere at Cannes film festival, and that is where we saw the film for the first time. And Chanel dressed us! It was like a fairy tale. It was our very first red carpet and our dresses were amazing.
We traveled a lot with the movie [and showed it] in a lot of film festivals, and the final event was the Oscars. We couldn’t go to the ceremony, because there were only three tickets. However, we were all together in Los Angeles watching Deniz. Eventually Deniz came, and we had a little party in our house.
As far as female filmmakers go, I really like Mia Hansen-Løve and Sofia Coppola’s work.
It is still very hard for women to be heard, so we need powerful women who can show that women are capable of doing anything. I think art and cinema [are our] best weapons.
Nominated for the 2016 Foreign Film Academy Award, Mustang follows the story of five sisters in a conservative, isolated Turkish home who long to break free and discover the world. Having won festival awards all over the world, the New York Times called the film “full of life” in their review, and said, “The ensemble of young actresses is a constantly restless and real presence.”
Tuğba wears Neith Nyer and earrings by Viveka Bergstrom.
Tugba is represented by IMG Paris.
Jaclyn Bethany: Hi, Noemi! Thanks for making time for this, as I know you’re busy taking care of beautiful little Gigi. Where are you from and where are you now based?
Noemi Ferst: I'm from all over the place! My mother is Chinese and English and my father is Israeli Polish. I was born in L.A., then moved to Hong Kong, then London, and finally settled here in Paris when I was seven years old. Sprinkle a little Judaism on the top and the result is an international cocktail! But I must say that I am above all French, and my real and only home has always been Paris.
JB: What inspires you about living in Paris? Who are some other artists currently inspiring you in the city?
NF: What inspires me here is the life I have built and the sense of freedom I feel in this city.
It is both familiar and full of amazement. Every time I think that there’s nothing new left to do or to discover, it always manages to surprise me and make me fall in love with it all over again. It's the lover I just can't leave.
The artist that inspires me the most in the city is my wonderful husband, Benjamin Moreau, who is also a contemporary artist and was a part of the artistic duo Kolkoz. (Though not a woman, he does have a deeply feminine side. :) His work is not only spectacular, but it also always holds a touch of humor. The world around us is already so terribly serious; it's important to contribute some form of lightness, and if you manage to make someone smile, laugh, or brighten up, if only for a second, then you're doing something right!.... I wouldn't be the artist or person I am today without him. And four hands are always better than two!
As for some female artists, I really admire my dear friend, Mathilde Nivet, an incredible paper artist, as well as Inès Longevial and Leslie David.
JB: Tell me about Radioooooo. How did the idea come about? What period of history contains your favorite music? Have there been any surprising discoveries made through your work with the site?
NF: Radiooooo.com is a collaborative and curated musical time machine allowing you to travel to any decade from the 1900s to today, from anywhere around the world, on a hand-drawn map.
This project is our attempt to try and make the world a better place: by bringing people together, creating an intergenerational and international community, a human and hand-made platform, through the universal language of music. By opening people's minds and horizons, by encouraging curiosity, discovering new music in places you had never thought to look before, and inviting everyone to share their own musical knowledge and culture. Buried treasures are hidden all over the planet and throughout time, and the best place to look for them is inside people's heads!
My brilliant husband (yes, I love him madly) came up with the magic formula! We were both DJs for over a decade and had collected an incredible amount of musical gems and oddities. We had been toying with the idea of having our own radio for years and finding a way to render our own discoveries accessible for all to enjoy. The result is our (other) love child, Radiooooo. And we watch it grow bigger and stronger every day.
It's difficult to play favorites; there are so many beautiful things scattered across the globe and throughout time. I love the 1920s for its contagious enthusiasm, the ‘50s for its sweetness, the ‘60s for everything and the ‘70s for its incredible gift to humanity: disco!
JB: Was there a particular album that changed your life?
NF: What I love about music is how personal a song becomes—it is put out into the world for each and every person who hears it to make it their own, attaching it to a time in their life, a place, a feeling, a distinct moment, a memory. To choose one single album would be impossible! The spectrum of songs that have played important roles in my life and are now the soundtrack to my souvenirs would be endless to list... right now the song playing is “Hey Jude,” the only song that calms my daughter Gigi and that will lull her into a deep and serene slumber (it’s been playing on repeat for the last few months). The Beatles have been my longtime companions throughout this life. They have a song for every step of the way, and I look forward to hearing them accompany Gigi's musical journey amongst many other melodious friends!
JB: How do you feel that motherhood has changed you thus far?
NF: Becoming a mother has been the most incredible and powerful experience of my life. You can't possibly imagine what it feels like—this wave of unconditional love—until it happens to you. My daughter is my greatest creation: the gift of life, the fruit of love. I feel so very lucky to have the privilege to watch her grow bright and beautiful everyday, to continue creating with her by my side now, and to have the luxury to spend this most precious time together.
I also feel the great responsibility I have toward her, to do my very best to make this world I have brought her into the best place I possibly can for her—and especially at this crucial time in our history, there is so very much to do. As a mother, I definitely feel the stronger need to take action…. and to stand up for what I believe in: fundamental rights that we have taken for granted, that we thought were set in stone, values that seemed so obvious that they couldn't possibly be questioned but that are once again in peril today, rights that I have had and must ensure that my own daughter will have, too. Motherhood has made me want to get even more involved in my community, to try and better our immediate surroundings at first, by starting small and doing everything you can to help it grow and flourish into, hopefully, something bigger—not just for Gigi, but for the entire future generation. To be a good mother, one must first be a good human being.
JB: What's next for you? What are your hopes and dreams for 2017?
NF: Right now I'm finishing a record cover for my favorite Parisian duo, Polo & Pan, for what I think is going to be one of the best albums released this year: fun, refreshing, and a real trip that everyone is going to love!
As for Radiooooo.com, there are many, many fun projects in the works this year, though none are quite ready to be unveiled just yet—you'll just have to wait for the surprises like everyone else! Stay tuned!
I also plan to get my urban gardening license and start a community vegetable garden in my street. If there are any green thumbs reading, you are more than welcome to join in or start your own urban garden in your neighborhood.
I hope Gigi's tooth will finally come out and maybe I will get some sleep again! And I hope to always be inspired and keep creating and putting beauty and kindness out into the world (no matter what shape it takes), and to encourage everyone to try and do so, too. Our world is beautiful when you focus on the good—we just need to open our eyes, look around more, and take part in it! ★
Noemi wears Junko Shimada and a vintage hat.
Photography: Kristin Vicari. Styling: Lauren Kennedy Malpas. Hair Stylist: Kazuko Kitaoka at Agence Saint Germain. Makeup: Camille Siguret. Interivews and text by Jaclyn Bethany.