TEA WITH MICHÈLE LAMY
“I lived 29 years in L.A., and when I came back to Paris, some friends that I had not seen during all this time told me, ‘Oh well you dress the same.’”
Her fingers are black. Not a dark, sooty black, but a deep and inky midnight. When her hand touches her face to brush away a hair, or when it moves to lift the delicate porcelain teacup off the table, you fully expect some of that blackness to cling to it, but the stains are skin-deep—made by soaking her fingers in black hair dye—and Michèle Lamy leaves no smudges. It’s surprisingly disconcerting. Far more disconcerting in fact, than her golden teeth, or her electric blue eyes.
My expectations were confuddled from the outset. After reading as widely as I could on Lamy, and having listened to an eccentric variety of personal anecdotes from people that have known or encountered her, she seemed truly mysterious. The video interviews were the most revealing—unmistakeable sign-posts to an agile mind, and a broad education. Lamy began her career as a criminal defence attorney in Paris, before becoming a striptease dancer, before moving to Los Angeles and launching her own fashion line, before meeting her husband the acclaimed fashion designer Rick Owens (whose work-out routine can be viewed here), before founding and running one of the hippest establishments in this city (the now closed Les Deux Cafe), before moving back to Paris, before producing several of the creative outputs of the Rick Owens brand like the furniture and homewares collections and the Hunrod jewelry line (with Loree Rodkin), before becoming one the most unique and iconic figures on the global fashion scene today.
Lamy seems—if perhaps not oblivious to—at least uninterested in her status as a fashion icon. But then Lamy is far removed from the manufactured, carefully strategized icons of fashion typical of today: “You know what,” she tells me in her distinct and gravelly tone, “I lived 29 years in L.A., and when I came back to Paris, and some friends that I had not seen during all this time, they told me, ‘Oh well you dress the same.’”
I meet Lamy in her temporary room in the Chateau Marmont, where we sit on the floor sipping tea, while beyond the west-facing balcony, a honey-soaked evening descends over the insectile sprawl of the City of Angels. Lamy has been at the gym, and her customary line of black eye pencil bisecting her forehead is faint and a little smeared, while a pair of well-loved, black, leather boxing gloves lies on the couch. She is relatively unadorned, save for a sprinkling of rings on her tattooed fingers, and two coagulated golden amulets.
The inspiration for Lamy’s idiosyncratic appearance lies far in her past: “The first time I went to North Africa, and I was 17 or 18, I saw this woman with all these necklaces and tattoos, I found it so marvellous, so beautiful,” she tells me, her dusky accent rich with animation, “so I’m sure it stays—just thinking I wanted to look like this—how much I was in awe of this.”
For a woman who cursory internet searching reveals to be synonymous with words and phrases like “dark priestess,” “witch,” “gypsy,” “sorceress,” and even “1,600 years old,” Lamy is remarkably rational. ‘Remarkably,’ because in the world of fashion, adherence to logical and rational beliefs—let alone those which might be described as scientific—is generally the exception rather than the rule.
In a video interview last year she was asked whether she believed in a god. Typically of Lamy, she didn’t rush her answer: “I don’t know what a god is. I believe in DNA, I believe that genes have memory, I believe in civilization… I don’t have a religion to put a name on it. Because the more the sciences are finding the more proud of humanity I am and thinking that people can behave like incredible human beings without the help of a god. That’s what I believe in.”
I ask Lamy whether she is still as proud of humanity: “I’m sure this is still the sentiment that I hold,” she tells me, her hands gesturing in a constant ethereal weave, “but at the same time its extremely depressing because there is all those people who find out so many things [scientists], and they’re the ones who change our minds so slowly, and everybody is killing each other for a story of religion, or a tribal fight from the sixth century. So it’s difficult to put it together, but if you want to look at the positive side, it’s so exciting that we discover something about ourselves, from genes, to black holes, to stars… and I don’t understand why it’s not the first page of the newspaper all the time.”
A party hostess of great renown, Lamy has found herself in the newspapers more than a few times, but her and Owens are well known for maintaining a modest privacy. However for this editorial we photographed Lamy with many of her posse including: Michael Kaplan, Katya Bankowsky, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, Nick Rohatyn, Jason Jacques and his wife, Chris Wallace and his girlfriend Emily, Anatol Lafayette, and Ghetto Gastro amongst others.
Lamy has recently hosted a series of intriguing and highly social installation projects aboardfloating barges. Bargel (a play on Art Basel) on the Regent’s Canal during Frieze London in 2014, and 2015’s Bargennale during the Venice Biennale. These projects defy conventional description, and have at once been multimedia art projects (with active studio spaces), restaurants, and general melting pots for creative meetings of all kinds. As well as conceptualizing and producing, Lamy’s role in projects such as these often transforms into that of intermediary and facilitator, fulcrum and king-maker: “I have this friend who is a psychiatrist and art critic, she told me: ‘you are a maker of gods, but it’s a big world,’” Lamy laughs, “But there is something when I see someone do something [creative] and it takes me like this,’ Lamy grasps with both hands low down below her belly, as though physically feeling the power of a creative conception, “that has to happen, because they have something—it’s instinct.”
I ask how much instinct guides her choices, “When it happens I can’t explain it to you. When I take a taxi in Paris most of the time the guys they think I am Madame Irma—a fortune teller.” Another husky laugh, “There is science, and there is intuition, and there is alchemy, and neuroscience, and trying to find a way to be at peace with what we do.”
Lamy has certainly found peace and rhythm in what she does. Of her 27 years with Owens, she says the key to a successful relationship is that: “we do things together, we exchange ideas but we are very different. I think the most important thing between people is aesthetic values—like when you have something and you say this is not nice, or this is good with another person, if you relate to the same thing, then you know where you are. It’s also the aesthetic of the moral—what you think is right and wrong. Rick is Oedipal, I am a Deleuzian… And we did a lot of dancing,” she suddenly exclaims brightly and unexpectedly, “and we still do!”
Photographer: Danielle Levitt for DS Reps.
Hair: Jenny Beth Thomas.
Makeup: Asami Matsuda for Artlist New York.
Producer: Stephanie Porto.
Digital Tech: Jordan Zuppa.
Lighting: Isaac Anthony and Harry Eelman.
Location: Overthrow Boxing Club, NY.
Written by Gus Donohoo