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How Brooklyn Invaded Paris—Next Stop, the World

In Paris, you can go to the Brooklyn Café, or have brunch à la Brooklyn. There’s a Brooklyn Coffee in London. How did the borough become an international brand?

10.23.14 9:45 AM ET

Last week Jay-Z brought his trademark “real Brooklyn” charisma to Paris when he privately toured the Louvre with wife Beyoncé and daughter Blue Ivy. But even before this celebrity benediction, Brooklyn was thriving in the City of Lights.

Paris’ northeast quadrant of the city—roughly where the 3rd, 10th and 11th arrondissements meet near the Canal St Martin—has become the city’s proxy-Brooklyn where everything’s just a bit too on the nose: gaggles of mustachioed twenty-somethings, women with potato-sack blouses and lob-bob hairdos, abounding flannel and thick-framed glasses, and cafes dispensing fair trade coffee and gluten-and-dairy-free grilled cheese sandwiches.

In fact, the word “Brooklyn” itself has become a globally exported brand—a label for the label-less, if you will—that’s synonymous with a certain kind of cool. The Brooklyn on rue Quincampoix serves wine and international tapas, Brooklyn Café on rue Saint Ferdinand promotes itself as an American-style restaurant—the word “Brookyn” branded on the wooden patio tables, the municipally funded Carreau de Temple promotes regular brunch festivals and flea markets “a la Brooklyn”, and there’s even a local radio station that promotes a semi-regular Paris-Brooklyn broadcast promising “an impassioned—but not too serious—block of hip-hop.”

PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 16:  A general view of the winter pool at the Piscine Molitor, which despite being closed has attracted many graffiti artists, on December 16, 2010 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Richard Bord/Getty Images)

Richard Bord/Getty

A general view of the winter pool at the Piscine Molitor, which despite being closed has attracted many graffiti artists, on December 16, 2010 in Paris, France.

And Paris is far from alone, the word “Brooklyn” is cropping up all over the world. In London you’ll find the edgy Brooklyn Coffee, not to mention the imported Brooklyn Bowl; there’s a restaurant called Brooklyn Baker in Bangkok dispensing designer lattes, adorable cakes and Benedictine brunch; and in Fitzroy, Melbourne’s long-loved grunge-hipster neighborhood, a Brooklyn Arts Hotel bills itself as “the perfect place to stay if you are not looking for a standard hotel.”

The influence of Brooklyn, of course, also extends beyond the outright use of its name. Back in the City of Lights, numerous trends in fashion and food are changing the urban landscape by overtly ascribing to a certain Brooklyn-ness—or at least the public has assigned them a certain intangible Brooklyn persona based on their traits.

“The revolution of the Brooklyn food trucks seem to be important to many of the city’s young chefs,” says Alain Losbar. “There’s a growing influence from the mobile kitchens of America. I see a lot of new creations using French ingredients but adapted to recipes from the states.” As the Executive Head Chef of the Pullman Tour Eiffel, Losbar runs the city’s largest private organic garden, which sits on a low-lying rooftop just a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower. “Season to season we want to adapt new products not familiar to France like kale and Japanese mustard leaf. Food is like fashion, and we are trying to make a new restaurant trend in the city.”

Thibaut Mallecourt, founder of Les Petits Frenchies, is fostering new Brooklyn-influenced trends as well, with an online shop and web magazine that squarely focuses on local designer brands and start-ups. “Hipsters don’t like to be called hipsters. Maybe because some hipsters spend too much time working on their appearance,” notes Mallecourt. “’Brooklyn,’ however, is for anything that isn’t mainstream. Brooklyn is brick walls, little shops and industrial decoration. It’s artistic and laid lack. It’s the opposite of posh.”

“Paris is definitely becoming more grungy and moving away from its BCBG (beau cadre, bon goût or ‘good class, good taste’),” says Joyce Attali, the art director of the recently opened Hotel Molitor Paris.

Once an exclusive club famed for its giant outdoor and indoor pools, the Molitor fell into disrepair thereafter, and for decades was a haven for street art. When the property debuted as a luxury hotel in May of this year, so began one of the most elaborate projects that—while paying homage to its derelict roots—would further contribute to the Brooklynization of the city.

Attali is responsible for inviting graffiti artists to the hotel to purposefully disrupt its prim architecture with a unique constellation of tags. “So far I’ve partnered with over 25 artists, including Mr One Teas, Kouka, Rolecs, and Thomas Mainardi.”

Like the brash walls of the Molitor, the mock-vintage wares of Les Petits Frenchies, and the Pullman’s urban garden, Attali, Mallecourt and Losbar all consider the proliferation of haute fast food—most notably the hamburger—to be something decidedly Brooklyn as well.

Gregory Marchard, the chef and owner of Frenchie To Go—one of the city’s most popular hamburger spots—thinks otherwise. “My restaurant is inspired by a New York deli from the Lower East Side. It’s clear that Parisians are using the word ‘Brooklyn’ to mean something other than ‘hipster’—something that has to do with New York specifically.”

“We can blame Carrie Bradshaw for this,” says Shaunaq Arora, half-joking; his sigh tinged with the cloudy breath of his Gauloises. Arora, a director of business development for a major French luxury label, has steadily watched his neighborhood evolve since moving to the city for his career almost ten years ago, when the final episodes of Sex and The City unfolded in Paris, as Carrie contemplated a life there with grumpy, intense artist Alexander Petrovsky.

But she stepped in dog poop, missed her own book party, saw women who reminded her of Charlotte, Samantha, and Miranda, and Petrovsky slapped her. Big “rescued” her, returning the “I couldn’t help but wonder…” scribe to New York.

“Carrie Bradshaw was so pivotal in creating the allure of the New York City woman,” Arora says. The 30-something heroine glamorized the metropolis and its coveted name brands, Arora says. One could even say that the elements used to create Bradshaw’s character borrowed from the paradigms of Attali’s French ‘BCBG’.

“The US inspires Europe, as the US is inspired by Europe,” continues Attali—like a kind of transatlantic boomerang moving back and forth between New York and Paris. The pillars of the French aesthetic built Manhattan’s Sex and the City lifestyle, and true to the inevitable swing of the counterculture pendulum, the subsequent generation has pushed back on Bradshaw’s Manolo mania.

Like a privileged Bohemia headquartered in gentrifying Brooklyn, the hipster movement has swung back to the City of Lights in full force, and it’s tearing down the very image of Parisian put-together-ness that once proved so aspirational to New York and its coven of Carrie wannabes.

“The city is becoming much more cosmopolitan—we’re finally recognizing the influence of the English-spreaking world,” states Marchand. Thus the over-popularization of the word “Brooklyn” throughout Paris isn’t exactly an acknowledgement of the hipster craze, it’s instead the placeholder for Paris’ obsession with the finer points of American culture, and New York’s influence in particular.