In 2014, I was asked by Vanity Fair to breathe life into a character they were trying to create but hadn’t yet fleshed out. They had a name – Dorothée Parterre (a Parisian Dorothy Parker) and an occupation (a VF correspondent living in Paris) but other than her having a Franco-American pedigree and a habit for hanging out at the Café Flore (her column would be called Vanity Flore), Dorothée was a bit slim at the waist.
The offer was exciting, only because I’d never ghostwritten anything before, and I’d always dreamed of having a pen name, especially a feminine one. Thinking I could be the modern male George Sand, I jumped into Dorothée, or DoPA as I called her, feet first.
My first piece I decided would not be a normal one, more an introduction to the personage, so it made sense for DoPA to write her own Wikipedia page, if not she said, “Someone will write it for you.” The idea was that fans would assume she was already real and would grow familiar with the character, and as they followed her comments and posts on Facebook, twitter, and Instagram, DoPA’s audience would gradually become more and more impatient for another installment.
I pictured DoPA as a cross between Diane Vreeland, Helen Gurley Brown and Violet Grantham of Downtown Abbey, someone old-fashioned and contemporary at the same time, someone on the pulse of the city, but who writes a bit old (like P.G. Wodehouse) and dresses a bit older (like Coco Channel) – one who suffered fools only less than she suffered bad taste. The result was the VF correspondent I always dreamed of being, albeit one with brunette bangs and a Hermes scarf, sitting at the Café Flore armed to the teeth with a café crème and Moleskin by her side.
Those of you who know Dorothée Parterre well may find it ridiculous almost unbefitting of me to engage in something as frivolous as social media (as if the media I already do isn’t social enough.) Yet my agent tells me it’s a necessity now, that I must “monetize” my name; that the “medium is the message”, and that I, @dorth_pt now, have to “generate traffic” like some gendarme at the Place de la Concorde.
Even my dear friend and confidant Catherine Baba has joined the ranks, lecturing me the other night over oysters and Olivier Leflaive whites that I needed to write (of all things) my own Wikipedia page. “Because if you don’t,” Babs warned, “God forbid, someone will write it for you.“ The minx did have a point. My urge to avoid the hideous halogen of short-lived web fame might be admirable, but sitting idly by and watching the Parterre legacy be graffiti-ed by some internet philistine was quite another.
So here we find ourselves dear reader, at the Flore comme d’hab, moleskin notebook and café crème at the ready, determined to write the official and “authorized” Dorothée Parterre Wikipedia page. But how you ask? How could one possibly encapsulate one’s life (especially one as rich as mine) on a simple URL? I admit the task does seem daunting, almost Herculean. And for that very reason, I’ve decided to employ those I see at the Flore today as my points du depart. After all, it is they who have loyally served me as muses in the past; therefore, it is they, not I, who will navigate this navire of an auto-biographie en ligne. So without further ado, we’re off; or as the French would say…C’est parti mon wikie.
Dorothée Parterre, known by her friends and colleagues as DoPA, or “la Parterre” is a cosmopolitan “femme des lettres,” cultural arbiter of the international “smart set,” and general gadfly to the complacent echelons of French haute bourgeoisie. Parterre works and resides in Paris where she currently pens the socially transcendent “chronique” Vanity Flore, a biting and irreverent monthly distillation of French society, celebrating initiative and audacity while critiquing what Parterre terms “the fashion industrial accidents of the 21st” century.”
Upbringing and education
Born in Washington, DC to parents Jack and Louise (ne Pershing), Dorothee moved to Paris at an early age when her father was named bureau chief of the International Herald Tribune. (The couple had met years earlier when Jack was covering Louise’s father, the late Senator Grant Pershing from Pittsburgh.) Parterre’s education, which began at the American school of Paris and finished at Vassar with intervals at the L’Institut d’Études Politiques d’Aix-en-Provence and the Accademia di Belle Arti di Bologna, provided Parterre an appreciation both for western culture and the political and economic context of such culture. Fluent in French, Russian, and Sarcasm, Parterre has served as board member at both the Musée des arts décoratifs de Paris and the Whitney Museum of New York and can often be found attending various openings at the Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin or eyeing installations at Le 104.
Parterre spends her time between her Paris residence, a farm house in Normandy and a small flat in Positano, which she (in referring to her icon Gore Vidale) describes as a place “where all good Americans go to die.” Parterre has periodically chronicled her personal hobbies in both Brides and Cote Maison, including her sojourns on horse back, rounds of golf and gin and tonics, and ateliers pâte fimo with her niece, Bethsabée.
Politics and press
Politically acute and far from echoing party doctrine, Dorothée Parterre revels in being at the nexus of the current political debate swirling in France. Is she for shopping on Sundays? “Bien sur who isn’t?” Should the voile be worn? “Yes, but not the hoodie.” Although Parterre has been quoted as saying the French economy resembles “Argentina’s, but without the tango,” Parterre has made it clear she’s happy to pay her share of the ISF just “as long as there’s an invitation to a gala attached with it.” Often cited as saying France has lost its economic stewardship, Parterre was quoted in Les Echos as “longing for the days when CEOs saw themselves as captains of industry, not bad poets,” and that “they should leave the job of writing, to those who can actually write.” Parterre mentioned in a 2005 article in L’Express that SNCF’s Guillaume Pepy’s personality was “less than expressive,” and when “Pepy comes into a room, it’s like someone just left.”
Parterre is equally less forgiving of her fellow confreres in the press, namely “les journalistes multi-facet” like Christophe Barbier, David Abikir and Francois Lenglet, all of whom appear on TV, radio, and in print. “I’ve followed each of them in one medium, and one medium was quite enough.”
Parterre bases much of her fashion sense on her ability to see what she calls “negative space.” « In the same way Michelangelo took a piece of rock and chipped away at everything that wasn’t David, » Parterre believes the same applies for cashmere sweaters and pleated pants. Her two fashion no-nos? – “grown men wearing Uggs and grown women riding scooters,” both of which were singled out by Parterre in a Grazia 2010 year-end issue.
Always happy to share her table with whom she calls her “Chloé girls » Clare Waight Keller and Gaby Aghion, Parterre sees Hermes’s Christophe Lemaire as hope for the future, and looks forward to having more time now with her friend Mark Jacobs – to discuss topics that don’t have to do with his dogs. When in New York, Parterre regularly lunches with the New York Times’ Bill Cunningham (“the only man in fashion she can trust”) and admits she’s inspired by upcoming brands like Opening Ceremony and Rag and Bone, while “patiently awaiting” another Kooples store to close.
Literature, cinema, and the arts
Although Parterre claims much of French literature “has gone down hill since Francois Mauriac,” she still applauds certain humorists and authors whom she says “give her hope.” – Chris Esquerre (a French Jonathan Winter), writer Philippe Jaenada (A Bukowski of the 10th arrondissement) and Philippe Katherine, who Parterre considers more a humorist than a musician.
Parterre admits to rarely watching French TV, which she refers to as “woefully amateur” and “bordering on Mexican in construct,” and when describing current French cinema as “uninspired,” Parterre admitted in Ouest France in 2011, that she “hasn’t really enjoyed a movie since Mamma Mia.” Although Parterre does respect Abdellatif Kechiche “for his courage to tell actresses to shut the f*_! up,” Parterre has a particular distaste for “social comedies” like Les Gamins, “Cesar-ized digestions” like Le Prophet, and political message films like Entre les Murs, which Parterre recounted in a 2010 issue of GQ as “about as entertaining as watching paint dry.”
Parterre reserves her most virulent disdain for a certain subset of cineaste: French directors making films in America and American directors staging their movies in Paris. In a 2009 issue of Premier, Parterre called the movie Before Sunset with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke “a botched abortion of clichés and tired lines.”
Parterre does count American director Alexander Payne as a friend, occasionally sharing a table with him at the Flore, as a way to drive fellow US director Wes Anderson jealous. Parterre also describes crony Pierre Salvadori as a “dear soul” who she says could be a better director “if he could just get out of bed more.”
Parterre herself has, up to this point, spurned offers to follow what she calls the “sirens of Hollywood” choosing to remain in Paris with Vanity Fair “doing the good work of a Mother Teresa for fashion sense and literary dignity.”
Music and sports
Parterre occasionally writes on music, and in an interview accorded to Frédéric Taddeï for Ce soir (ou jamais !) admitted to “actually having an Etienne Daho playlist on her Spotify account.” Parterre describes herself as “not one of those branché tartes running off to Phoenix concerts left and right,” and claims to have “fairly catholic” tastes in music – her one dislike (according to an interview she gave to Vibe in the late 90’s) – R&B. “Being forced to listen to R&B provides one a fairly genuine simulation of what’s it like to be held captive in Guantanamo. “
Parterre ironically finds inspiration on, of all places, the soccer pitch and sees it as unfortunate that French women “are ghettoed into mindless sports like tennis and power plate.” In a Sunday edition of L’Equipe in 2003, Parterre was quoted as saying “going to the gym for me ranks up there on the pain scale near condo board meetings, while listing her subscription to Club Med Gym as “one of her all-time life mistakes.”
Although she can be regularly found at the Café Flore or at her compatriot Daniel Rose’s Spring or later mixing with right bank rabble for drinks at Le Napoleon on rue Faubourg St. Denis in the 10th, La Parterre confides she’s “just as comfortable at home with her “kindle, Homeland Season 3 and a glass of Fervex.”
Parterre abhors what she calls “Paris’s sudden love affair with food trucks” and admits she rarely mingles with the American expat population here – describing them in the International Herald Tribune as a group of “either decrepit ex-hippies or tiresome nouveau riche who happened to invest in bitcoin.”
As for Paris, Parterre’s feelings are mixed. Invited on France Inter this year by Patrick Cohen, Parterre claimed “People are constantly saying Paris is a vieux musée. I disagree. I think it’s a vieux mausolée. Hence why I love Pere Lachaise so much. It’s a mini version of Paris. Cold and rainy walkways filled mostly with dead people on your left and right. “
For those who know her well, Dorothée Parterre rarely talks of an afterlife, nor of a previous life, just of this life, which Parterre has surmised as “one we must do our best to support.” Her legacy? Parterre confided in an interview in an April 2009 issue of Harper’s, that she’ll “probably be known as one of those who wrote and lived during “la crise” – a word that dominates our language, but rarely affects our bones. My colleagues complain sans cesse that la crise is to blame for everything, as if without la crise, we’d all be more prolific? Au contraire. What could be better for a writer than a crisis? Never lack of material, never lack of scandal, never lack of bad taste. All that’s left to do is sit down at the Flore and soak it up….. because if you don’t, someone else will do it for you.”
Contact Dorothée Parterre at:
or by hand written letter c/o the American Express office on rue Scribe