Cécilia Jourdan has a megawatt smile. Like a Champagne flute filled to the brim, she’s tall and ebullient. She speaks with conviction, whether she’s discussing the Hello French NYC community or her favorite Paris hangout (Le Cabaret Sauvage, in the 19th arrondissement). It seems like she was destined to be in front of the camera (or an iPhone). But Jourdan, 34, whose Instagram following skyrocketed past one million in January, is still getting used to her notoriety. “No one prepares you for huge success,” she says, her slender fingers cupping a green tea with ginger. “In the public sphere, your private life is no longer private.”
When we meet, she’s cocooned in a curved booth of the Jardin d’Hiver tearoom at the Hôtel de Crillon. Seated next to her is her wife and business partner, Criselis Pérez. Jourdan is wearing a cropped cream jacket over a black sleeveless shirt with flowing black trousers and Pérez, a cream knit blouse and black leather pants. After our interview, the two have a reservation at the hotel’s restaurant, Nonos & Comestibles. Food is the next frontier for Hello French NYC, and Jourdan and Pérez have decamped for six weeks from their home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, to Jourdan’s native Paris. There are more content possibilities and partnership opportunities than their daily 24 hours can fit. Every lunch, every tea, is strategically planned.
Jourdan left Paris after high school, studying musical theater in Miami and then acting in New York City. Ultimately, she graduated summa cum laude from Hunter College with a degree in romance languages. Soon after, Jourdan kicked off her teaching career in a quintessentially New York way – offering French classes via Craigslist. A decade later, her private lessons command 500 dollars per hour, almost unheard of in her field. “That’s how much I value my expertise and my time,” explains Jourdan. Clients are willing to shell it out, and she has more requests than she can accept.
A Modern, Inclusive Way to Learn
Hello French NYC differs from your average language-learning company in its modern aesthetic and spirit of inclusivity. Le Bouquin, for example, is a gender-neutral French-language guide in millennial-catnip hues like indigo and dusty pink. Inside, the content is designed in a way that speaks to how American students will actually use the language, from how not to greet your waiter with Ça va ? (“Don’t ask [them] how they are doing since it is considered too informal”) to a dozen slang words and expressions to speak like a Parisian. “It’s a way to anchor the drive to learn,” say Jourdan.
If Jourdan is the face of Hello French NYC, Pérez is the backbone, handling website design, e-commerce, and branding. “We’re 50/50 on everything,” explains Jourdan. More recently, they’ve expanded their team to include a video editor, a partnership manager, a social media assistant, and a certified French-language teacher, Marie-Lola Sendra – who is also Jourdan’s co-author on the brand’s e-books, Le Bouquin and Hello Paris, a guide to her favorite cafés, restaurants, stores, and museums in the French capital. “It’s a team effort,” says Jourdan. “We don’t succeed alone.”
On the other side of the equation, Hello French NYC has amassed a dedicated community. “If I don’t post the mot du jour, people message me asking if they missed it,” she says. Maintaining a genuine connection with her followers is a priority. Case in point: She still reads messages and comments, and replies as much as possible. The result is an extreme sense of loyalty that Jourdan doesn’t take for granted.
If you spend just a few moments scrolling through the Hello French NYC Instagram feed, you’ll see that Jourdan speaks openly about issues that matter to her – mental health, women’s rights, LGBTIQA+ rights, and more. With the persistent homogenized image of the mythical French woman, just being who she is – gay, multilingual, married to a non-French woman – is meaningful. Though posts featuring her wife result in a swift drop in followers, Jourdan does it anyway. She turns to Pérez, as she has throughout our interview: “This is so important for representation.” Turning back to me: “I have this hope that I can plant a seed of tolerance.”