Vogue CS in English
Michèle Lamy: Life is like a book of poems
Michal Novotný23. 2. 2021
Quite possibly the only way to fully explain who Michèle Lamy is is to forget about labels, such as designer and performer, and to talk to her. Or more precisely, dive straight into her head.
„No biographical questions, Michèle has had enough of those. And please don't ask if she's Rick's muse. She is much more,“ her agent warns me before the interview with Michèle Lamy. However, the eccentric icon of the fashion world is, beside the position of co founding partner at Rick Owens Corp. and marriage to Rick Owens, herself a kind of creative generator, a legend to which names like FKA Twigs, ASAP Rocky or Gareth Pugh are connected.
During the conversation, Michèle constantly dances while sitting, gesturing high, she is wearing a piece of knitwear in an unconventional manner. The unmissable, henna-blackened tips of her fingers otherwise completely covered with rings, permanent gold grillz on her teeth, earlobes elongated by heavy earrings, and a line from the centre line of her hair to the middle of her forehead, resembling holy men, further emphasize the manic expression of her witch-like eyes.
The agent warned me in advance that Lamy never speaks linearly and uses English in a very free style, in addition to the hardest French accent imaginable. She can skip through four to five topics in a single sentence without contiguity. It is often not entirely clear whether she agrees with or refuses something. But all this is the core of her creative life attitude. She starts without even leaving me enough time to ask the first question.
We have a burning desire to participate in the architecture biennial by being part of an activation that is a floating cinema on the lagoon. It will definitely be on the water. Venice is the only city that has already somehow got it together. They are used to it in Venice, they came up with the word quarantine, they experienced the plague and everything else. It was said that the city would sink, but the water would come, they would dry it out, and they would move on. Venice is a place of hope.
We have another project in New York with Jeanne Greenberg at Salon 94. We live and try to respect everything we can to enjoy it. And that's the answer to how to proceed, do it differently. We have created something like a couch, where a lot of people can be together, but at the same time protected. It's about army blankets and mattresses and about today's time when we want to feel safe, not show off. It's about being together and communicating, encapsulating yourself. Everyone there has their own cocoon.
All the last events you organized were actually about being together. Pop-up events combining a luxury restaurant, exhibition, music club. But without a clear goal.
Letting it float on the water and watching. It's about meeting others and getting others to meet. That's all I'm interested in. I want to invite friends, but at the same time leave the event open to the crowd from the biennial. To be surprised and seduced is definitely my only talent. I'm trying to create such an antidote against a fashion show, against the Rick Owens catwalk. The first row of seats, the second row, and people fight because they can't sit where they always sit, next to the same people they've sat next to because they stumble from one show to another. The whole theatre is important, but the production has to change.
So, at the same time you help those people with your contacts.
I attend. I'm provoking something. It was the same when I had Les Deux Café in Los Angeles in the 1990s. Stories took place there every day and on all levels. There were farmers from the market next door, sitting in a bar in the evening, there were screenwriters who felt and wrote it all down somehow, there were people from politics, from the music industry, there were business contracts. It was something that was much easier in Hollywood, much less hierarchy, than, say, here in Paris.
Was that also why you went to Los Angeles in the 1980s?
I moved to L.A. without ever being there before, and when I arrived in Venice Beach, I thought I had seen it before, because it was like in Bob Wilson's plays, the same light as in Deafman Glance. I've always wanted to go to the States and I often went to New York, but my brother told me you wouldn't be able to afford anything in New York, L.A. is like New York on the Riviera. I like both and I couldn't stay at the Chelsea Hotel forever. It was because of the music, because of the language I speak so badly in terms of accent, but which I understand in all its senses, and in literature. Everything was right there at the time. After 68 in Paris, later in the 1970s, it turned back to the same thing. I left the cobblestones in Paris and flew to the beach. "Sous les pavés, la plage!"
So, on the one hand, you create a kind of stage for the other, but you also actively perform in the "games" of your friends, whether it's in the video clip FKA Twigs or when you photograph ASAP Rocky on the cover of his album.
I'm definitely better at other people's dramas. Life is not like a book - one chapter after another - but more like a book of poems - they are each different, but there is one voice. I hope that's it.
Clearly. However, a lot of what you do is not only intuitive, but requires a long and careful organization.
I love it. Devise how to build a scaffolding structure on a ship, and then deal with the guys who build it. But there's just a spark and it gets in my stomach and I'm like that, and if it doesn't, maybe I'll explode. But now that you're forcing me to analyze it - I've always talked about Deleuze, but it's true, I have it all from him. It opens up. It's a rhizome. Something grows horizontally on the ground and then comes the impulse to pick it up, and that is the way it is and that is the way it goes on. I still think, tomorrow it will be even better and much more fun and so on, but it can go in any direction.
When I studied law and practiced law in Paris years ago in Paris, I thought we would change the world with this approach. But suddenly someone came and said we have to go pick mushrooms, and I thought, I have to go pick mushrooms too. So, I quit and went to pick mushrooms. But it's true, it's not some metaphor for those mushrooms.
And it's also political, I don't like hierarchies. I'm not monitoring anything, maybe I'm monitoring something with my body, oh, I'm coming from Mauritania, like a princess on a ship. What I understood in '68 from Maoism was this. It's the same with gender. Already in France, the most creative people around me, in whatever they did, were always transvestites.
But fashion and art are also a lot about being in, being up-to-date.
When Rick and I were spending the first lockdown, everyone in the fashion world started talking about what would happen next, and we also started asking people we respect, "What are we fighting for?" There are people like Telfar who pioneered change to the system way before the pandemic, and there are big companies here that want everything as before. We keep talking about the pandemic, as if it had never happened before, and we pretend that in the end everything would be like eighteen months ago. I think everything will change, but not immediately. Hierarchy is not hype. Hierarchy is not the way forward. We will not revolutionize now. That's not the way either. We are all just trying to go the soft way we can and bring it pleasure. And now we add skateboarding to that.
Do you mean to boxing?
Yes, when I opened a boxing club in Selfridges two years ago, whose interior, punching bags and shorts were made by artists and designers, it was a success. Now we have another project with skateboarding. We make furniture, so there will be an event called Ride my Furniture, there will be skateboarder Dustin Dollin, who looks like Bob Dylan and rides like a poet, and artist Erwin Wurm. The proceeds will be used to build a skate park twenty kilometres from Marrakesh. We want to teach the girls there to ride a skateboard, but the main part of the money goes to education, of course. I have always loved surfing, it is elegant, physical. Boxing is like dancing, you look each other in the eye, which is why today it may become such a women's sport. Life is fluid, when you let it go, it changes on its own.
Do you think that the furniture you create changes the lives of the people who buy it?
It's very expensive furniture. But definitely, if you live with a high ceiling, you are someone else. It's the same with clothes. It creates layers, sometimes you are part of it, sometimes you are not, and that may be right. You can become who you want to be.
So, it's a question of feeling belonging somewhere. As before subcultures. When there were still some. Cultures. There are a lot of dinosaurs out there, but it's important to understand why their stories succeeded. Look at Chanel, for example. What started was something that completely changed the culture.
Let's go back to your furniture. Elk antler rests. And at the same time such modernist, brutalist geometric lines.
And we put the antlers on them, and it works. At the beginning it was a series for our house in Paris. It is a perfect example of the cooperation of our two characters. Then it became a collection, but it's still based on what we somehow need at home. And then I buy some art and we argue.
Do you argue about art?
I like to buy something that is still hot, that is part of a story. Rick is still buying something from the 1930s. But of course, it's not like we're building a collection. The last time I bought a sperm container was from Tommy Cash. But we weren't arguing about it.
So, is there any tension between a rational and an intuitive principle?
You may distinguish between body and mind, but I don't. It's like boxing - when you feel strong in your body, it thinks much better to you. You are what you eat, and you are certainly what you think. And you are especially what you smoke!
So, I guess you don't even distinguish between private and professional life.
Never, and Rick is exactly the same.
And do you have any rituals that help you think? Or how do you work?
I have the best ideas here on the fifth floor. There is a bathroom and a hammam, and very early in the morning I always think of something in the steam. But in the same way, when I'm in Shanghai, for example, I'm walking down the street, I'm in a shop, I'm just doing such a performance out of nowhere. I always feel like I want to belong where I am. And the moment you become part of a story, you get the idea of what you could do. Performance is important in this regard, the ecstasy.
So at least I can write from those biographical questions that you were a lawyer and a stripper at the same time. In fact, they have something in common.
Yes, they both do performances, performances. When I did Les Deux Café, it was a performance every day.
At the same time, you performed on stage, singing.
I recited poems with a musical background. And when I do that and I'm on stage, it's like I'm just there. Sometimes when you perform or record in the studio, you seem to get into that story.
Forgive me one more biographical question. What was your brand of Lamy, which you founded in L.A. in the nineties, what was her vibe? Basically, those dresses can't be found anywhere today.
When I arrived in L.A., I couldn't find anything for myself. Either the spooky festive robes were worn, or jeans and shorts. Nothing in between. I wanted something elegant, simple. It was such a store concept, one size, quality material. Nice, muted colours and not too many pieces. It went well. Then I hired Rick and you know the rest of the story. It was all a coincidence and probably a good idea.
Michal Novotný is the director of the Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art of the National Gallery in Prague.