Profile: Susan Hochbaum
Susan Hochbaum went to Paris middle-aged, divorced and newly in love. She left her home and design business in NewYork, and moved to Paris with her beau, Joel. She decided to enjoy a year of “living shamelessly”.
She arrived in Paris “with the appetite of a teenager”. She was determined to live lustfully, with as little guilt and self-recrimination as she could manage (which, she admits, was a challenge for her).
Susan found her muse in the pastries, which she thought rivaled any of the art works hanging in the city’s museums. She began seeing pastries everywhere: in Parisian monuments, trees, gates, which sparked a project that culminated in her book PastryParis.
Susan explains how she came up with PastryParis:
“While eating a Gerard Mulot, cone-shaped pastry in the Place des Vosges, I was staring at a conical shaped topiary tree, and a light bulb popped up over my head. From that moment on, I began to see pastries everywhere I looked, and not just in the pâtisseries. The dome at Invalides; the Bateaux-Mouches; Man Ray’s grave at Montparnasse; doorknobs…everything in Paris looked like a dessert.
Once I started noticing, there was no stopping. I did this almost every day for an entire year, and I was never bored; it was like a treasure hunt…
I’ve been a graphic designer for a long time, and my job involves making visual connections that are unique and, hopefully, illuminating.”
Susan opened her own design business in 1995, after 15 years with Pentagram, an international design consultancy (for which she became the first American Associate Partner). Her clients have included the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Estée Lauder, Elektra Entertainment, Time Warner and Polo Ralph Lauren. PastryParis capitalizes on her visual style and expertise.
“But more importantly,” she says, “for this one year, I had the privilege of time and freedom.”
“I never set out to make a book… I’m also an accidental patisserie devotee. I don’t bake, and until I wrote the book I didn’t know anything about the history of French pastry. And I’m also not a photographer.”
Susan also says PastryParis came about through a series of fortuitous coincidences.
In fall 2007, Susan been divorced for a few years and her only son had left for college. She was content with her life, but was wondering what would come next. That was until she met and fell in love with Joel and was pushed out of her studio by rocketing rent. Then her dog sadly died; the lease on her car ended and her son decided to take his Spring Semester abroad in Europe. When a real-estate agent asked if she wanted to rent out her house for a year to a family that was moving from Canada, and was willing to pay an “ungodly sum for it”, she said yes.
The decision to leave her home and business for a year, even as the ties were loosening, took “a great deal of hand-wringing.”
When Susan and Joel arrived in Paris, they found that the apartment they had rented was located at the corner of Rue de l’Esperance (the street of Hope) and Rue de la Providence (the street of Luck), which set a great scene for the PastryParis project.
PastryParis started as a record of what Susan was eating and something fun she could send to her friends.
It was Joel’s idea to send her pictures out to the world. He put them together as a 2 minute movie. They sent the link to friends, who passed it on to their friends, who passed it on to their friends… until 2 500 people had viewed it in the first two weeks.
Susan says, “I received hundreds of emails from people all over the world who had seen it, thanking me. It seemed to have struck a note, and brought some measure of happiness to people who viewed it. I got messages like ‘I was having a really lousy day and your movie cheered me up’.”
This response encouraged Susan to write a book proposal when she returned to America. She calls meeting an interested publisher “…[It] was another perfect connection; we both felt we’d found the perfect match, and shortly after a contract was signed.”
ParisPastry contains almost 100 photographs coupling some of the world’s most delectable pastries with some of the world’s most beautiful sites. It is now available for pre-order through online booksellers and will be in bookstores from October 11. To find out more information, including on launch events and signings click here.
Thank you Susan for taking the time to be profiled by My French Life™. We’ve enjoyed getting to know you and learn about ‘PastryParis‘.