Artist, creative revolutionary, entrepreneur — One can’t say enough about Michèle Lamy, at the same time words seem too superfluous to capture her.
On its opening day the Rick Owens temporary store at Andreas Murkudis 77 was packed to the rafters. Even though a crowd had gathered in the store and streamed out into the street, the imposing furniture silently demanded islands of space. Elsewhere the crowd parted like seas for one person, and one person only: Michèle Lamy. A vision, complete with heavy eyeliner, dyed fingers, a black line down her forehead, flashing generous bejewelled smiles. We were all under her spell.
One can’t say enough about Michèle Lamy, at the same time words seem too superfluous to capture her. You fall into a similar predicament when trying to describe what she does, stumbling into a long and complicated career trajectory: attorney, cabaret dancer, restauranteur, artist, mother, performer, designer… and the list goes on. She’s also one half of fashion’s favourite love story. Her relationship with Rick Owens is cultishly adored and the beating heart of the Owenscorp empire. The furniture dominating the concept store, proud exemplars of the expansive world they’ve built together.
It’s hard to escape the influence and cultural magnitude of Michèle Lamy, and I have long found myself in its orbit. While her life and work should make her intimidating and unapproachable, Lamy in person is disarmingly friendly and charismatic. I sat down with her after a cigarette, under the scorching sun and her piercing gaze, to ask about her influence, inspirations and craft. Except that Lamy doesn’t just answer questions, she speaks in her raspy French drawl, spell-bindingly, spontaneously, often derailing into stories or lengthy pauses. Few are as open and yet as elusive as Lamy.
SARAH OSEI It’s really nice to meet you.
MICHÈLE LAMY Same here.
SO I was at the store opening yesterday and it was amazing to see people, especially young people who all just came to be in your presence, who were excited and inspired by you just being there. How do you feel about having such a strong effect on people?
ML I often wonder why, but I really am so glad. You know, sometimes I wonder what this thing is, because it’s happening in so many places, places I’ve never been. Lately in Shanghai on the occasion of one of these store opening things, I was doing a little bit of an event, and I saw how much — especially the women — have this image of me being a strong, liberated woman. I don’t know if it’s because of the years… And it was the same here in Berlin, so I’m really curious. I see a difference between how men and women react — even though I am not at all gender-oriented. Women come to me saying “I’ve been following you since I was 14” and I think with guys it’s more about the gold teeth, haha. I’m absolutely thrilled and I like that identity that comes into some of these events, and that this is not related to the merchandise, it transcends that, people are not coming to buy something from me… What do you think?
SO I mean, I felt it as well. For me you’ve been such a big figure in so many different fields – there are rappers I admire who admire you, there are artists I admire who have been influenced by you. It’s more than with another celebrity where I think “Oh, I like the film he’s has been in.” With you it’s the person that you are that were are in awe of. I think that’s what my generation is so attracted to.
“I’ve always been someone that people wanted to be around when they were doing something.”
ML Yeah, I’m aware of it, I like it. I never thought before that when I get somewhere this is what’s going to happen. I was once in Interview Germany with A$AP Rocky and we took these pictures, they are still on instagram and people are still clicking on them. I think people found something very mysterious about the way that we could relate to each other in those images and it was very abstract.
SO I love that interview and the connection between you two. I realised you have this ability of drawing people into your orbit, like a tribe almost. Have you always had this natural gift?
ML I think I’ve always been someone that people wanted to be around when they were doing something. At the same time this world of influencers, I have nothing to do with that, because it’s nothing conscious…
SO You are probably an influencer on a larger scale, without even trying really.
ML I usually start stuff with absolutely no preparation. It’s certainly a nomadic feeling that perhaps I’ve always had. I’m very curious and I like to meet people and I like to do things with them and we’re a little tribe, go somewhere for a while and then we continue somewhere else. I really felt this with the Selfridges thing. It was interesting to do some kind of art that is not art in a department store very open to a large public and using boxing as a metaphor. And this was really the time when boxing, the ultimate sport, was becoming more for women. I liked the ambience of the men and women training and dancing — which is what it is if you are not a heavyweight killer. It was about bringing people together.
SO I feel like you’ve lived so many lives, you’ve had so many interesting career paths. Do you ever feel like you’re going to be done inventing yourself?
ML I don’t look it this way. I gather all these things and people because it’s nice when it happens, but I absolutely don’t think “I’ve done all this, I still need to do this.” Right now it’s Owenscorp or Owen’s world, and I do the furniture because it’s something I love to do with these people and it’s an occasion to see the world. Doing installations, finding materials, gathering everything, a little performance here – it creates something in common. But on the other hand… you know these interviews kill me, because then I feel like I am so mixed up. But it’s good, I have to analyse what I do because of the question, otherwise I don’t.
SO I read that when you and Rick Owens first started out making furniture it was purpose-built – your marital bed being the first thing you created. When you create furniture now is purpose still a driving force?
ML Yeah, it’s always purpose and function. We could say that they look like sculptures, but they always have a purpose. So the start was really when we moved to Paris, having moved with absolutely nothing. It absolutely started with asking ourselves “What do we need for the house?” It’s Rick’s aesthetic and I was the one who found the people to make it and the material to use. My favourite thing is when nothing is really finished, I’m very afraid of things that have a point. When we do installations I can bring this kind of spirit of construction that is in it. And so it’s also a way to communicate because..
(A waitress appears and hesitantly asks if we ordered a salad; her eyes never leave Lamy.)
ML No it’s not for us.
SO The furniture is very large scale and imposing. Why do you design things that are so massive?
ML Because we have the space. You need to be floating in space and… I don’t know why it’s always so heavy, but there is something about the weight that makes it important. The scale feels like you have all the space in the world and no cluster. In fact, that doesn’t make it so practical, but there is beauty to it.
“I like being on the road and at the same time being grounded with Rick.”
SO A lot of artists find inspiration in heartbreak. With you and Rick Owens your creations are part of a love story. Why do you think this is such a long-lasting inspiration for with of you?
ML I think this is a love story, what we’re developing. Lately I think aesthetically Rick changed a bit and getting much more resolve, as he would say. He did a place at the Lido, that had all this marble finish, like having antique pieces and creating a world that is going to be in A.D. soon. So he’s continuing this story in a way and this aesthetic. My path is slightly different, I like things to be unfinished…
SO What’s your favourite part of designing?
ML When you say designing, I could say I’m not designing. I see it as something that we make together and I am producing it, making it happen and styling it, placing it — everything except the first design, that’s Rick. I am very faithful to his interpretation of this first thing. It was this kind of aesthetic that I got seduced by. There is that little video that we did some years ago with Daniel Levitt, where Rick said “This is the collection because Michèle wanted it to happen”. So let’s say I took what started with our house and said “this is a collection” and went from there. But that’s why it’s called Rick Owen’s furniture, and I guess my part is “wifey craft”, haha.
“I extremely like to be very seduced by people and I like knowing that time is short and we could have and we could do so much. “
SO Where do you find your inspiration?
ML I don’t know, it can change every second. You could be the next one, in five minutes… I extremely like to be very seduced by people and I like knowing that time is short and we could have and we could do so much. I like being on the road and at the same time being grounded with Rick. I like the aesthetic of something unfinished. I like… poets, I like poems, I like that they don’t go from A to B to Z, it’s just suggested, a way to express yourself without saying it literally… Perhaps I’m just cuckoo.
SO Maybe we all are.
ML Yeah! Of course! I think we all are. I think what I need to do now is find a place — I don’t know where yet — but some unfinished warehouse where everything could happen. Where the aesthetic and the piece would be made and evolved. With a lot of machines…
SO Is that the dream?
ML Yeah. The factory, I think that would be something that would centre everything… I just thought of it now, haha. No, no, that’s not true I dreamt about it last night. I saw one of those compounds a while ago that’s why I’m so attracted to the idea. I just came from LA, one of the main reasons that I was there was to be at the Church with Kanye West and this was completely amazing, even if it’s a service of whichever God it is, but it showed something that is super important to me…
ML Yeah, but it’s a very open unity. Also because it was in the desert. I like the desert a lot, perhaps because it doesn’t seem like it’s finished, you can always keep going and think you’re going to find something… And it’s not green. What else is there to say…?
SO Speaking of church, I’m curious: do you believe in God?
ML …I believe in DNA. I believe that DNA has memory and that makes us feel like we belong, and this is where something happens between people, even if they seem to be strangers. I was not raised religious or anything, even if I went to a Catholic boarding school. The nuns forbade me to go to catechism class, because they thought I was going to make my girlfriends doubt everything — I was like ten, I don’t know how I was making people doubt or whatever. But I am staggered by these religions that make everybody kill each other, or people fight over a piece of land. But at the same time people have built cathedrals and temples… it’s very difficult to answer, but I always wonder how could we just be here when there is all this world? It doesn’t matter if somebody wants to call it God or not. The Egyptians were already studying the sky and now we found a black hole. Perhaps I’m the most pessimistic person… or the most optimistic… what a mess.
Interview SARAH OSEI
Photography SHAI LEVY