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How to Live With Joie de Vivre

Ajiri Aki translates the French approach to everyday pleasure into a modern roadmap that celebrates the moment.



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WHEN I MET Ajiri Aki in Manhattan, she was radiant in a blue-and-white floral dress, with no signs of fatigue following her previous day’s travel from Paris. We hugged, like old friends do, gripping into each other’s shoulder blades, peeling back to look at each other, and then hugging again, even more deeply. And yet, Aki and I had never met. But we shared a deep appreciation for each other’s aesthetic sensibility and approach to life — Aki’s approach being the reason we were gathered at the French cafe Maman. We were celebrating the publication of her book, “Joie: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life,” which is equal parts a guide to the city and a roadmap for living — the word “joie,” which means “joy,” here serves as a shortened play on the enigmatic French phrase joie de vivre, that seemingly effortless French practice of enjoying the simple things in life.

Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to breathe new life into a conventional idea. Born in Benin City, Nigeria, to Nigerian and Jamaican parents, Aki was raised in Austin, Texas, followed by a stint in New York City. She originally came to Paris to research her costume design master’s thesis on Jean Patou, Coco Chanel’s rival in the 1920s and 1930s. After she completed her degree, Aki stayed, eventually marrying a Swiss-German man with whom she has two children. The city’s emphasis on simple luxuries and its inhabitants’ celebratory approach to everyday pleasures appealed to Aki and sharpened her personal style into what it is now: ornamental, uncomplicated, and deliberate, with a bring-out-the-china-on-a-random-Tuesday flair. As Aki recounts in the book, as a child, she would often ask her mother to use their china for ordinary occasions, but her mother insisted on saving it for special ones. The special occasions never arrived, and her mother died when Aki was 12 years old. All of this — the different cultures, the urgency to celebrate the moment, the aesthetics — can be seen now in Aki’s dinner parties, in her well-curated home decor boutique Madame de la Maison, and now in “Joie.”



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From opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, Aki and I began exchanging voice notes, or “love letters,” as I like to call them. After she hands off her children to a nanny, she sends me musings on her daily routine. After dropping off my own children, I listen to them in a French cafe in Brooklyn. Her routine includes much of what you might expect from someone living in Paris: long lunches, shopping for tulips at the farmers’ market, setting a table with fresh linens, choosing not to cook on weekdays, and creating gathering rituals, such as her standing plans with friends and their children for apéro after school on Fridays.

Quickly, our love letters turn to the idea of “soft life,” a term coined by a Nigerian influencer that has since found collective resonance. The phrase implies an ease that so many modern lives lack, emphasizing mental health and well-being above the social pressure to perform, insisting that you are more than the work you produce. It also looks a lot like joie de vivre, but with a more inclusive, present-day slant, which is really the beating heart of Aki’s work. I ask her about soft life, and she says, “[It reminds me] I don’t have to constantly be on the grind. We definitely have forgotten as a society that we don’t always need to fill up our time. We can loiter around and just be,” she says. “We need to be reminded that just existing — being — is an amazing and joyful wonder!”


Through our notes, we connect over the joy of this softness, of unrushed time spent together. In one of our last love letters, she says, “I appreciate the idea that being idle isn’t laziness. The intention is without intention, but it is intentional.” It’s like a Zen koan, and it occurs to me that in this increasingly globalized world, there is something remarkable about joie de vivre coming back to Paris by way of Nigeria, Texas, and of course, New York City.

Our Contributors

LaTonya Yvette Writer

LaTonya Yvette is a contributing editor for Departures and a multi-media storyteller. She founded LY, a highly trafficked lifestyle blog, in 2011, and produced visual and written content for a decade. During that time, she published her first book, “Woman of Color” (Abrams, 2019). She also co-authored “The Hair Book” (Union Square, 2022), an illustrated children’s book, with Amanda Jane Jones. Her third book, “Stand In My Window” (Dial Press), hits shelves Spring 2024. LaTonya is the owner and steward of The Mae House, an upstate New York rental property and the home of Rest as Residency, which offers BIPOC (primarily geared towards families) a no-cost place for rest and focus. Yvette resides in Brooklyn with her two children, where she writes the newsletter “With Love, L.”

Mathieu Richer Mamousse Photographer

Born in 1989, Mathieu has been making documentary series for several years exploring the themes of tradition, folklore, and religiosity. Capturing reality, documenting destinies, and forgotten destinations: his approach is close to photojournalism and is coupled with an important aesthetic dimension. He divides his time between commercial work and collaborations with numerous French and international press titles.


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