Imagine growing up prowling the hallways of the greatest museums and galleries of New York and turning your childhood pastime into your dream job. This week in INSPIRELLE, we get up close with Daisy de Plume, an American journalist who traded the Big Apple for the City of Light.
Daisy is the creative founder of ThatLou, which maps out treasure hunts in Paris’ most famous museums for visitors and tourists of all ages seeking a unique cultural experience. Her business venture is so successful, she will soon begin her themed treasure hunts across the Channel in one of London’s most prestigious museums.
Daisy de Plume, we have to ask, with such an enchanting name, what are your origins?
Daisy de Plume is my nom de plume! Daisy is my childhood nickname, which I never quite grew out of (my mother, husband, friends still call me Daisy). Charlotte Louise is the name on all my documentation, though. As for my origins my father was born in Shanghai and was part Chinese, part Hawaiian. And my mother was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, all-American Navy brat who grew up all over the place, from Samoa and Panama to Puerto Rico and Hawaii.
A favorite child’s book is a story about a young girl and boy who ran away and lived in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for several days. Did you go grow up exploring the hallways of New York’s great museums intimately?
Yes, of course. And it wasn’t necessarily always a pleasure to have every Sunday devoted to the Met and Frick when friends were playing! But my mother thought of clever games to make me learn iconography, forcing me to actually look at the paintings – and giving her a rest from my whining and chatter so that she could actually look, too!
You followed in the footsteps of your mother to study Art History but your early career led you onto a different path, non?
Yes, after school I went on a “Grand Tour” of Asia and traveled around the world for nearly a year. After faffing about for a while longer in NY, eventually I started working in publishing, first as a foreign rights associate at a literary agency on Union Square then for several years in Vanity Fair’s editorial department back when they were at 4 Times Square.
What made you walk away from an exciting media career based in New York City to move to Paris?
Well I didn’t really, I tepidly rented a flat in the Marais for a few months thinking I was just having a sabbatical from my life and would return to reality thereafter. Prior to Paris, I had been through a difficult period after my grandmother (who I was very close to) died and I inherited her life, her rent-controlled flat filled with three generations of stuff stuff stuff (including my father’s (who’d died when I was 21) and my own) and all the nettlesome law suits that an executrix to a will can inherit. I wrote about it for Misadventures with Andi a few years ago. When the estate cleared I told my boss I’d go somewhere, anywhere. In the three months that I was here I was elated, letting Paris get under my skin. When Kerry lost to Bush, I realized there was no real reason to return at all!
Instead of returning to journalism, you created THATLou, treasure hunts at the Louvre museum in 2012. How did you conceive the idea to create cultural treasure hunts and turn it into a business?
Well I had quite a few incarnations between arriving to Paris (in 2004) and starting THATLou (various jobs, I got married, I had a kid, then another one, two months ago, etc). I think I wouldn’t have had the nerve to try to start a business fresh off the boat here, there’s always so much to digest when moving to another country. But in terms of THATLou, it actually started as a social thing for me. I found that I frequently had guests from the States and good French friends, and that often they didn’t mix at parties. But if you gave them a shared experience — and in my own favorite museum, the Louvre — it broke down barriers.
At a party an American will often ask what someone does. This offends the French and makes them even more reticent or reluctant to chatter, causing an awkward, segregated party. But you give your friends something that has nothing to do with them at all, and they just might get along like a house of cards. Of course, I wouldn’t have even conceived the company without how my mother raised me, as well as some truly inspiring Art History and European History teachers (thank you Phil Allen, Mrs Christy and Mr Ullman!) and my own degree in Art History.
Now the Louvre is the most visited museum in the world with almost 10 million visitors per year and spans a space nearly 15 acres housing 35,000 pieces of artwork. How does a themed treasure hunt work, and is it for scavengers of all ages with or without an art degree?
Yes it’s quite simple, and is a collective team-building game easily grasped and fun for all ages. Teams of two to four people are asked to photograph themselves in front of as many pieces of treasure as possible within the given amount of time (as proof that they’ve found their treasure). Bonus questions are craftily embedded in the treasure text that accompanies each piece of treasure (how hunters get conned into learning about art!). At the Louvre we have 12 different themes and, as we tell each hunter, the goal is to give you an overview and a carrot to return to the galleries.
The Louvre is filled with so many treasures tucked away in every crevice of its rooms and vaults. Share with us some fascinating gems you discovered yourself?
A section of the Louvre that I’ve really grown to love, and which I had known very little about prior to starting THATLou, is the Near Eastern collection. An example is the Mesopotamian room with massive Lamassus – those gentle giants with a King’s head, horse’s body with wonderfully powerful wings, all carved from a single block of gypsum alabaster. Meant as protective genies, they have five legs so that from head on they look like they’re standing still, rather “at attention”, but from the side they look like they’re walking.
How were you able to expand your treasure hunts into the Musée D’Orsay and onto the streets of the Paris Latin Quarter?
Well it was all luck, really. Sarah Miller Benichou, who’s gone on to be director of the Bailey Contemporary Arts, was at the AFMO (American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay) at the time and commissioned me to do a THATd’Or for them. It takes a while to get such things signed off, and by the time the hunt actually happened I inherited the very capable hands of Kristina Tencic, now at Thaddaeus Ropac, as AFMO rep and from there we put on a smashing event which kick-started THATd’Or.
As for the Latin Quarter THATRue – and a more recent THATRue Marais which currently only exists in Spanish – they came about from large commissions. We were hired to do the Latin Quarter hunt (which comprises three distinct routes that all start at Le Sénat and end at St Michel, none overlapping) for 150 American teens who were here for a large orchestral concert they were performing at La Madeleine. The remit was to give them an infusion of Paris and history in 90 minutes, simultaneously!
No small feat, it took my husband and me two months to build it, traipsing back and forth. Similarly, this past summer we had a repeat client of 100 wealthy Venezuelan teens who had already done the Latin Quarter hunt in Spanish, and wanted something a bit lighter on history in the Marais, so now we have two distinct routes winding their way from Place des Vosges to the Pompidou.
Is it true the THAT team crosses the Channel this year to begin treasure hunts in British museums?
Yes, we’re actually especially busy bees at the moment pulling together the stepping stones to a full “museum fun” service across the channel, under the guise of THATMuse (what we’ll call the umbrella company). My family and I will move to London for a few years as of September 2016, when we plan on unveiling the new THATMuse website. Last September the British Museum commissioned us to build a THATMuse for one of their Friday lates. As it was a hit and tons of fun to build, we’ve decided to forge ahead!
There are about 130 museums in Paris alone. Where do you hope your treasure hunt will lead you?
Well, we already have a lot on our plate with the London expansion. First we’ll build up our themes for the British Museum with an eye to the V&A. If the National Gallery can get its house in order, I would be over the moon to do one there, as painting is my preference and their collection was my favorite as a child – because isn’t the grass always greener on the other side?