The cool French girl

BY MINAH KWON ’20

When I first met Mariama Conte, I noticed her unique sense of style. That day she wore navy track pants, with a white string as a make-shift belt wrapped around her waist, aged tennis shoes and a noticeably striped top under a furry black coat. 

Raised in Aubervilliers, a Parisan suburb, Conte is the ultimate cool French girl. An exchange student at Mount Holyoke for the academic year, she is not only a central figure in her vibrant art collective, but is also ambitiously pursuing a double diploma. She attends both Sciences Po Paris, which specializes in the social and political sciences and La Sorbonne, where she’s studying literature and the humanities. 

When I asked Conte about where she likes to shop she said, “I pick what I can from thrift stores, and in these times, I’ve been wearing a lot of layers . . . But I would call my style the ‘$1 bin,’ because there’s always that one $1 box that every thrift store has.”

Conte’s hair is another striking feature and is constantly evolving from bantu knots to her natural curls to a huge wig that she made with hair she ordered online. 

When describing her creative influences, Conte cites early 2000s fashion. “It’s making a comeback,” she said. 

She also is influenced by drag culture and has recently been experimenting with drag makeup to create characters. Making use of social media, Conte uses her Instagram account to showcase her characters with stories behind each of her outfits. She shared that many of her characters are women in turmoil, often because they have been lied to by men. 

Conte, who is proudly half Sierra Leonian and half white French, is also part of a Parisian creative collective called Not Manet’s Type. Members of NMT span the world with Conte’s friends residing in fashion hubs such as New York City and Paris. 

 “The collective’s name is NMT which stands for ‘Not Manet’s Type,’ which is a series by Carrie Mae Weems that reflected the absence of female black bodies in western art,” Conte said. “The idea is to promote young POC and/or female artists in France, just like other collectives (Galdem in England, Arthoecollective in the U.S.) at the moment.”  

In the vision-driven group, Conte incorporates her own creativity through photography and editing. Unafraid of trying new things, Conte is taking printmaking at Mount Holyoke College.

“I’m taking printmaking, which is something completely new. I’ve never engaged with such a technique before,” she said, “I’m more used to simple drawing,” she said.

When asked about her experience at Mount Holyoke, Conte said she has appreciated in the liberal arts education that the College offers, but her main difficulty has been adapting to the food, especially the lack of baguettes.