Zeva. All photos courtesy of Zeva Bellel
Text by Tory Hoen, Interview by Erica Berman
Like so many Americans in this city, Zeva Bellel came to Paris by way of a dream—and an impractical one, at that. Raised in Brooklyn, New York, she spent her youth indulging her Francophile fantasies, devouring French new wave films, and scheming about ways to one day live in Paris. Met with much skepticism from her family and friends (her grandfather demanded, “When are you ever going to speak French, you live in Brooklyn for chrissakes?”), Zeva had to fight to make her dream a reality.
Now, after 10 years and lots of amazing experience in Paris, Zeva has recently launched Paris by Appointment Only (Paris BAO), where she seeks to connect Paris’ “hidden network” of artisans (ceramicists, artists, clothing designers, etc.) with curious consumers in seek of unique services and products.
From her roots across the Atlantic to her current lifestyle in Paris’ trendy 10th arrondissement, Zeva is living the life she had always imagined. In retrospect, it may have begun as an irrational dream—but isn’t that the best kind?
We recently sat down with Zeva to learn more about Paris BAO, and what it is that she loves most about life in Paris.
Zeva out and about in Paris.
How did the idea for Paris By Appointment Only come about? How are Paris BOA itineraries different from those provided by more traditional travel planners?
I’ve always been fascinated by people who are totally obsessed and passionate about what they do, especially if its a rare skill or technique that few others perfect. In Paris, most of the artisans and innovators (and there are many) who fall into this category work below the radar, so you really need to track them down. I wondered why no one had written a comprehensive guide to these hidden talents for curious consumers like me, and then decided to do it myself. My Paris By Appointment Only website lifts the veil on these elusive experts, but my private shopping tours bring them to life! Each Paris BAO itinerary is tailor-made. I use my personal contacts and on-the-ground expertise to come up with a personalized agenda that blends shopping with culture and craftsmanship. Although each tour is unique, they are all focused on hidden handmade treasures, and are peppered with appointments so that my clients can meet and speak with artisans directly.
How have you gone about researching and gaining access to the exclusive products / experiences you offer through Paris BOA?
My work for the past ten years as a journalist and trend researcher has led me to all sorts of unusual, off-the-beaten-path addresses in Paris, so I had a lot of information and contacts under my belt before I began the project. Now that people are aware of what I do my antennae are multiplied, and I get a lot of great suggestions, too. Just yesterday a friend introduced me to an incredible ceramicist who has no shop, no PR, no visibility. She works for Hermès and other luxury brands, but you can buy from her directly. I can’t wait to bring my clients to her atelier to meet her.
Zeva sampling some local flavors.
Who are your target clients for Paris BAO?
People who value one-of-a-kind craftsmanship, people who want to learn while they shop, people who are curious about how things are made, people who want to support local artisans and keep vanishing techniques alive, people who want to maximize their time in Paris and have a truly unique cultural experience. It’s designed for professionals and tourists alike who want to consume responsibly and intelligently, while having fun and learning at the same time. You couldn’t ask for a better city to do that in than Paris.
Are Paris’ “secrets” really accessible to tourists and travelers who are just passing through? Is it possible to have a true insider experience as a visitor?
The word “insider” can be misleading. There are so many different ways to experience the city. I know many Parisians who never go out of their comfort zone to explore new things, and others who are constantly searching for the best and most unusual addresses and activities. So the first question visitors should ask themselves is what kind of experience they want to have, and then look for a source of information whose taste matches theirs.
How can travelers get the most out of their experience in Paris, even if they’re just passing through for a weekend?
Walk everywhere, stay away from the tourist spots, head into neighborhoods that are residential, and just wander. So many of my favorite discoveries were made while walking aimlessly around the city.
Can you give us a glimpse into Zeva’s Paris? Where do you live, work, hang out… any favorite spots you can share with us?
I live near the Canal St Martin in the 10th arrondissement. Out of all of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in (New York included), this is by far my favorite. It has a small village feel but is lively and central. Over the last few years many interesting shops, bars and restos have opened up around the canal. Some of my favorites: Bob’s Juice Bar (homemade healthy foods), La Galerie Végétale (plant shop & gallery), Du Pain et des Idées (best brioche in the world), Viveka Bergström (amazing artisanal jewelry), Le Petit Chateau d’Eau (adorable café), Le Verre Volé (great wine bar), Thank God I’m a VIP (excellent and affordable vintage designer clothing).
You’ve lived in Paris for 10 years. How has your relationship with (and perspective on) the city changed over time?
I used to be very self-conscious about blending in, and worked for years perfecting my French in order to feel comfortable. Now, after 10 years, I’m more than happy to show off my New York roots. I love when people notice my accent and ask where I come from. I no longer wish to “be” French—it’s so much more interesting being an outsider on their turf.
What were you doing before Paris BAO?
I started out as beauty editor of Dutch magazine when I got to Paris. After the magazine closed, I began doing trend research for companies such as Li Edelkort, Winkreative, and Ogilvy & Mather. Just before starting Paris BAO I worked full-time for Luxuryculture.com, a web magazine published by Assouline. Now in addition to my own site, I contribute to Monocle magazine, T (the style magazine of the New York Times) and Luxe City Guides.
Where was the last place you lived before Paris?
In Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Read more about Zeva’s Paris at Paris By Appointment Only.