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En Route: Peonies Café et Fleurs

Story by Karina Castrillo – Discover PEONIES – Photos by Roxanne Matiz for The Style Line

Narrowing in on your niche and creating something that embodies your personal style

is what girl boss Clémentine Lévy has most recently accomplished. After being discovered at 22, Clementine has worked as a professional model posing for brands like Givenchy and Hermès while also using her free time to DJ during fashion events. Now she embarks on her newest creative pursuit that is opening PEONIES – the first coffee and flower shop in Paris.

The unique feminine coffee space plants itself between the spray paint and graffiti of the Châtea d’Eau neighborhood, serving as a flamboyant oasis that combines Clementine’s love of field flowers and heart-shaped lattes. “It’s like a little girl’s dream to have your own shop and have your friends come by and have some tea and coffee,” she says as she takes her new role of businesswoman, florist, and barista. Read on to learn more from Clementine who discusses the inception of PEONIES and life in Paris.

*THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN NOVEMBER 2016 AND REFLECTS UPDATED CHANGES TO THE LAYOUT AND INTRODUCTION

I’m from a little town in

Normandy, I came to Paris in 2008 to finish my studies in communication at La Sorbonne, but then I started to do a lot of internships in fashion magazines and brands. I was discovered as a model by a friend of mine who is a photographer who introduced me to someone and told me this agency would be nice so I came to them. I did a few personal projects so I started to work as a model but freelance. It’s important that I don’t have anyone who is directing my career, I’m doing it on my own.

Would you describe your personal style?

I like fashion for sure, I like to dress myself. Like today I’m wearing the 70’s style but it really depends on the mood. I like to dress a little boyish too because I like to be comfy. But I also like to be very feminine with a dress and heels, but more with nice boots and I prefer a good pair of sneakers with a pretty dress instead of high heels… especially these days because I am working a lot so I am standing a lot, so I need good shoes! (Like today I have Comptoir de Cotonniers sneakers). I like simple outfits and simple pieces that you can put on any day even ten years from now, like a nice turtleneck and a pair of highwaist jeans.

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How did you come up with the concept of the coffee shop and flower shop?

First of all, I wanted to open a shop, it’s like a little girl’s dream to have your own shop and have your friends come by and have some tea and coffee. I knew I wanted to have a coffee shop because I myself am a big client of these spaces. I knew I wanted to have a hybrid place to mix to two different things and I was wondering what I like and also what is not already done in Paris. I wanted to do something different in design but also in concept. I knew I was really into flowers, but I was like can I do both? It’s a lot of work, so I tried to see if it was already done in other places in the world and actually you can find it in Los Angeles, you can find it in Japan, in a lot of areas in Australia so I thought, why not me? So I started to learn about coffee because I wanted to sell good coffee and to know about it so I started an internship at Coutume, and I learned a lot with them. And then I wanted to learn a bit about flowers. I wanted to start with my simplicity and naiveté and I wanted to do classical things. I knew I wanted to have wildflowers, field flowers, and especially French flowers. I did a little formation with Catherine Muller who is a teacher in floral arts. She’s known for working with field flowers, that’s why I really wanted to work with her, she was really my mentor and taught me also how to be myself in this art.

Are you going to sell Peonies during the season?

Actually, I should have opened during the peonies season. It’s my favorite flower, but they are also my mom and grandmother’s so it’s a family affair with peonies.

Where do you go to pick your flowers?

I go to Marché de Rungis which is the biggest market in the suburbs of Paris. You have some farmers who are growing their own flowers, own plants. We have a special area for Île-de-France flowers so that’s where most of the time I’m going to buy flowers. Like 90% of my flowers are from Île-de-France! I go twice a week and it depends on how good it works with the bouquets. If I sell a lot I come another time in the week and I sell much more coffee because it’s a daily consumption, but during the weekend the flowers work very well.

Can you describe the design and color scheme of the café, how you picked it?

I worked with an architect Eloise Bosredon and she actually proposed this combination of pink and green and this tile, to have like a green cocoon, something comfortable. We tried to do something that is not somewhere else because in Paris there are a lot of coffee shops. I said no no let’s do green! We worked also with a very good friend of mine, artistic director Romain Chirat, so he did the logo, the design of the letters in the menu.

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You sell gluten free sweets and you offer almond milk. Are you Vegan?

No I’m not, and I’m not vegetarian either, but I’m selling veggie food because I really believe in this way. I haven’t succeeded yet in being a total vegetarian but I’m really into this way of thinking – this respect for animals.

How are you forming a part of this healthy food trend that is popping up in Paris with restaurants like Season, Soul Kitchen?

The owners of Season are my friends so they helped me with this restaurant game. I found a lot also – I’m really a Pinterest person, with vegetarian food, pastries so I really collected all the food that I wanted to sell here. So I tried recipes, I discovered what I wanted to sell what I didn’t. I wanted to offer things that are not everywhere else but its way more competitive way because there are so many restaurants in Paris and a lot of vegetarian too. It was difficult to imagine something, that’s why I also watch what is made overseas in Japan and America too, to bring something different. That’s why our veggie rolls and the salads are changing every day. We do the traditional avocado toast but we don’t put chimichurri or pomegranate on top because every coffee shop is doing this, so my cook imagined that we put the seed of cacao which is burned and then smashed and we put it on top. I wanted to have some dirty food too so we brought also a grilled cheese but we brought a Nordic bread with spinach seeds to bring a little bit of green with also a good cheddar. Something nice for the tummy!

Do you think social media plays a part in this creative scene with coffee shops in Paris? 

For sure, social media is very important. I can see the first week here I had so many pictures of my place. I haven’t yet done the official pictures but there are already so many great pictures of my place on Instagram every day. I have people from social media, from the press, but also complete strangers who are also saying to me that the place is very nice that they wanted to have a place like this in the neighborhood. For me, it’s like the greatest gift because I worked so hard on this place so it’s like ‘finally’.

What is something you wish people would ask you more often?

Maybe about the flowers. I want to do a flower atelier, I would be very pleased to put flowers in offices, people are already asking me to do this. Next week I’m placing the flower bouquets on benches outside!

How would you describe the small business scene in Paris and how do you hope Peonies add to the city’s experience?

Paris is a great city to create new stuff. But the administration is a total mess… You need to be very motivated and never give up because the delays are so long and it seems like people don’t want you to build anything! The fact that PEONIES is a hybrid place (mixing coffee and flowers) is a new thing. Some hybrid places are opening here and there, but it’s still a brand new thing that already exists all over the world, but Parisians are always surprised when new shops open like this. They’re a little bit confused at first but then they’re happy to discover something new. I think that Paris needs to be more open minded. I hope PEONIES will help in some way!

How has working with flowers inspired you to embrace the city’s nature and outdoor offerings?

For me working with fresh-cut flowers is not the same as the city’s nature and outdoors… It’s something completely different so it can’t be compared. When I’m working with my flowers I’m all by myself with them in my atelier and nothing else matters. All I can say maybe about outdoor stuff is that Paris needs more green and flowers outside of buildings and shops. That’s what the Paris mayor is trying to do these days and I totally agree with her.

How would you advise the next generation of creatives, entrepreneurs or makers to leave an imprint in the world simply by doing what they love? 

I think that anything is possible if you do what you love and you should not hesitate to try. Even if you fall, try again, or try something else. But never listen to people telling you that it will be impossible, or that you don’t have all that is needed to do it. It’s important, to me, to have the feeling that you’re doing something that will last in time.