The best blogs act like the back of Narnia’s wardrobe – opening up new worlds strung with strange, beautiful and inspirational things. French-American writer Vanessa Grall set up her blog, Messy Nessy Chic, three years ago, and it has built into a digital cornucopia of delights, ranging through the urban secrets hiding in her adopted home town of Paris, via forgotten American landmarks, dazzlingly isolated desert islands, to the bizarre, such as the postman who built a palace of pebbles and the near exact replica of St Paul’s Basilica that stands empty in the Ivory Coast bush. Every article is intensively researched and addressed with Grall’s uniquely offbeat perspective, all testaments to the power of good blogging, together fashioning the ultimate wunderkammer for the curious.
Here we speak to Grall about the early beginnings of her blog, the joys of being an ex-pat, and Hemingway’s influence on her attitude to life in Paris.
What inspired you to start the blog?
I was working for a small print magazine in Notting Hill where I had gone from writing really interesting and off-beat features to being sent to interview plastic surgery clinics in Knightsbridge. So my choice was, either I become an expert in plastic surgery clinics and promoting luxury brands or I go my own way and continue writing about and discovering the things that fascinate me. The choice was pretty easy and it turns out, people are pretty happy to discover those things along with me.
"I try to make Messy Nessy Chic reflect the aesthetic of travellers, explorers and collectors; like a cabinet of curiosities"
Where do you look for the posts and ideas?
On the internet I look through digital archives of old magazines, museums and collectors from all over the world that have endless online vaults of enchanting and forgotten things. Pinterest and Tumblr are also a good place to start for clues that might lead to hours of research to find the story behind a photograph. And then of course there is the city that I live in, Paris, which is a constant source of inspiration at every turn.
How would you define your aesthetic?
I'm hugely nostalgic, especially for eras I never lived through! I'm also inspired by all those fabulous bohemians, such as Frida Kahlo and people with endless wanderlust, like Ernest Hemingway. So I try to make Messy Nessy Chic reflect the aesthetic of travellers, explorers and collectors; like a cabinet of curiosities, but in the format of a chic magazine.
Name three things you love about Paris?
1. The time capsule bars and restaurants in Paris that haven't changed for decades where you can imagine Serge Gainsbourg back in the kitchen making out with Brigitte Bardot.
2. Parisian house parties – there's something so much more memorable about losing your balance and spilling your red wine in an elegant Parisian apartment cluttered with antiques and bric-a-brac from the flea markets. I recently went to a house party where the guy had decided to hang a gigantic antique salvaged buoy instead of a chandelier from the ceiling of his living room.
3. The tiny streets and pockets of neighbourhoods in Paris where you suddenly feel like you've found a portal to a little countryside village in Provence.
Name three things you miss about London?
1. Beer Gardens
2. Chinese food, especially the duck and pancakes (you can't really find Chinese restaurants here like you can in London – Vietnamese is the thing in Paris)
3. Sundays spent imaginary house-hunting in Belgravia – ironically it's become quite the ghost town in recent years and I do love getting lost in the maze of all those cream houses.
What would be your motto?
To be honest, I don't think I've lived long enough to have a motto yet! But I do love this Hemingway quote from A Moveable Feast – "We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other.” It pretty much sums up my move to Paris and the way the city made me re-think the way I should live out the rest of my twenties.
"We ate well and cheaply and drank well and cheaply and slept well and warm together and loved each other” — Ernest Hemingway
What would you advise to people looking to create a brilliant and inspiring blog?
Be extremely picky about the content you publish. Put your own spin on everything and weave your personality into your writing. Be a curator, not just a blogger.
Name five favourite posts from Messy Nessy Chic?
I wouldn't like to pick favourites but these ones are pretty cool...!
The Haunting Human Zoo of Paris
The Forgotten 1950s Girl Gang
Five Secret Restaurants in Paris
The Fake Townhouses Hiding Mystery Underground Portals
The Dapper Rebels of Los Angeles
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