On a Saturday afternoon in February, in the Selfridges, Oxford Street, customers of the London department store cast hallucinatory glances on a strange little woman. Michèle Lamy, wife of the American designer Rick Owens, sports a face engraved with wrinkles and black makeup. Her elongated khaki sweater, which she has only put on her sleeves, falls casually between her legs. Her body is covered with chains, rings and big wristbands that "musicalise" her silhouette. She wears an oversized ostrich leather tote across the shoulder like a desert nomad carrying all her life with her. Michèle Lamy does not have a look, but an aura, and always the need, wherever she is, "to be on stage". No one better personifies Rick Owens' conceptual and scandalous fashion, which does not miss an opportunity to show its taste for extremes and to break the taboos of sex, death and primitive instincts. Since his first show in New York in 2002, he has offered a provocative, transgressive fashion, not hesitating to throw traditions to the wind or to star his couple in a sadomasochistic display. Likewise, his wife embodies the strength and insolence of their common universe. She was in London to launch "Lamyland" with Selfridges - an elaborate display as a paean to the world of boxing, and one which puts her in the spotlight independent of her husband.
Heterodox punching bags at Lamy's Lamyland display at Selfridges
When she laughs, Michèle Lamy throws her long black tsigane hair back, and reveals an impressive golden dentition. She has the grace of a 20-year-old girl and the deep wrinkles of an old Berber woman with green eyes surrounded by kohl. People who do not know her would take her for a witch or goddess of black magic. "Michele has a primal ferocity and incredible intensity in a small envelope," says her husband, Rick Owens. "She can literally put you down. At the same time, I have never met anyone so full of light." Between the 56-year-old Californian stylist and the 73-year-old Jurassienne, a criminal lawyer by training, a story of love and business was written that took them from the eastern neighborhoods of Los Angeles to the Palais Bourbon square of Paris, where they live and, since 2004, work. This singular couple has created a universe both viscerally marginal and perfectly controlled. With a turnover of 125 million euros, total financial autonomy, shops from New York to Seoul, and a slew of fans cloning their dark and futuristic silhouette, the Rick Owens label is one of the most critical and commercial successes of the last decade in fashion.
Michèle Lamy furthermore has personally developed for almost ten years and directs with passion and firmness, following step by step, the creation of furniture, from design to completion. Sold by the Carpenters Workshop Gallery, a gallery at the fore of the contemporary market, which will present their new work in New York in September, Rick Owens design pieces are acclaimed by collectors and international decorators who love their fusion of brutalism and classicism. For Michèle Montagne, who was the couple's first press secretary when she arrived in Paris, their furniture, like their petrified wooden lounge chairs or their bone stools, are "reproportioned with a disproportionate imagination". In the same way that their fashion, made of asymmetrical draperies and harem pants with irregular hems, wants "a great elegance and, at the same time, [to be] completely decadent". As with their silhouettes, their pieces of furniture have an indefinite character, "they are in a between-two post-Brâncuși between art and design, sculpture and architecture," says Helen Molesworth, chief curator of MOCA, in Los Angeles, which in 2016 put on an exhibition dedicated to Rick Owens furniture. In fact, their "ovniesque" universe, which describes a world of confusion of sorts and uncertainties, has never resonated as much as it does today.
The sculpture of Constantin Brâncusi, to whom Owens' work is often compared
By combining fashion and design, the French and the American have created a language made of "refinement, luxury, brutality and a certain dystopian vision of society," observes the curator and merchant, Oscar Humphries. Their creative alchemy remains a secret. Nobody knows exactly where one begins and where the other ends. One thing is certain: the story of Rick Owens would not exist without Michèle Lamy. "She is the essential element," says Michèle Montagne. "This tandem is a two-headed hydra. They were two who made one." The artist Youssef Nabil, a close friend of Michele Lamy, who photographed her in the arms of her husband bodybuilder in 2013, says that"It's love with a great A who made this duo a couple out of the ordinary, who knows no age or defined sexuality. When I think about what Michèle is for Rick, I think of what Gala was for Dalí. Michele is the soul of Rick's universe. She is the mystery, the androgyny, the human and represents the mother for the family." In this case, the company Owenscorp, Michèle Lamy considers their baby and has a team of loyal associates and even Italian partner, as the group Eo Bocci Manufactures, since 2001, has been their partner.
The general opinion is that Rick Owens, aware of all that Michèle Lamy has brought him since their meeting in Los Angeles, today expresses the need to put his wife and muse in the spotlight. As Lamy said herself: "As soon as I did something different from Rick Owens, Rick said" it's Lamyland". Though the name was just dropped following the success of the Boxing event at Selfridges, "Lamyland" has always been used to cover various forms. The installation of a barge in London during the Frieze art fair in 2014, a reiterated experience in Venice during the Biennial of Contemporary Art in 2015, like the performances of Michèle and her daughter, the artist Scarlett Rouge (who she had with her second husband, before meeting Rick Owens), or with the musician Nico Vascellari and their noise group Lavascar. "Lamyland" is the planet that moves, slips, vibrates, disorients, flickers and where all the rules are," says Rick Owens. "It is a world that is sometimes foreign to me, but that I allow myself to visit and where I always want to return."
Lamy on stage with Lavascar
If Rick Owens lives between the factory in Italy that produces all its collections, their HQ of Palais-Bourbon and the gym, Lamy's life evolves to the rhythm of its own fantasies. "And when she [Lamy] decides to make them come true, she goes to the act. She dreamed of inhabiting the Place du Palais-Bourbon in Paris, a place of pomp and power, out of sight. She did it," says her friend Mathieu Paris, director of the White Cube gallery in London. In Los Angeles, where she spent twenty-nine years, when she was asked if she would return to Paris one day, Michèle Lamy always answered: "Only if I live on the Place du Palais-Bourbon!"
Arrived in Paris in 2003 following Rick's contract with the fur brand Revillon, who hired him as artistic director, the couple first lived in a suite on the top floor of the Montalembert hotel in Saint-Germain-des-Monts, near Anne-Marie Dubois-Dumée, one of their friends from Los Angeles, who was married to Jacques Séguéla, and who told them that a mansion was for sale in the square near the National Assembly. The place is none other than the former seat of the Socialist Party of the Mitterrand era. Street side with noble corridors with wooden floors, moldings and gilding; Courtyard side was grafted a building in rough concrete of the years 1950 which gives on the garden of the ministry of the defense. The place is abandoned, and there is everything to invent. Michèle Lamy plays it "completely gangster" :"I said, we settle in and we do the work. I did not have a chequebook, we had nine months to raise the funds and finalize the purchase." It was then that their squat starts. Already a hybrid between past and present, the place becomes a permanent capsule where love, work, earthly and spiritual foods of all kinds are mixed. Fifteen years later, everything still seems unfinished. The objects of fine art and design coexist with a plastic tarpaulin, stacks of cardboard, bare walls and large sheaves of lilies. The first furniture imagined by the duo was born here. The place imposes large formats, huge tables, and banquettes that never end. The marriage bed is the replica of the one that the couple had already made by a friend in Los Angeles: a large mattress on a podium covered with felt with a rounded head at the rear high as a partition. Not a piece of furniture, but a micro-architecture, a space in space.
Owens inside his Paris home
Enthused by their own personal trappings, their entourage pushed them to develop design collections. The first was launched by the Jousse Entreprise gallery in 2007. The public discovered the Stag series, chairs with austere lines on the back of which was fixed a moose horn. "The fantastic side of their creations cut completely with the minimalist period," recalls interior designer Joseph Dirand, who was among the first to buy their pieces for his international shipyards. The Curial chair in solid wood with its contemporary throne shape evokes ancient mythological times and a certain classicism. In the process, the bone pieces impress the connoisseurs by their appearance both primitive and sophisticated. In the history of fashion, apart from Pierre Cardin, no fashion designer had managed to affirm such a varied design talent. Rick is the only one who has succeeded, thanks to Michèle," observes Oscar Humphries. For Mathieu Paris, who was their first Paris gallery owner, the couple "mixed the aesthetic rigour of a Pierre Jeanneret, the brutalism of a Le Corbusier, the poor luxury of a Jean-Michel Frank with the skate ramps of the suburban Los Angeles and American gigantism".
Rick Owens, guided by the eye of architect and his literary roots, first throws sketches on paper, then Michèle Lamy gives life to these objects, finding the best marble makers or cabinetmakers, being passionate for the work of all the craftsmen involved in adventure. "Inspiration is a tiny percentage of a successful creation," says the American. Everything is in the subtle nuances of the realization, its creative response to my vague initial idea is what gives the soul of the furniture." Rick Owens is entirely devoted to his craft, his materials, his cuts. It is said he is cool, timid and reserved, while Michèle Lamy is described as very intelligent, fulfilled in the exchange and the collective, especially when she is the leader. Alice Lemoine, who was a stylist for many years at the Rick Owens studio after graduating from the Graduate School of Fashion Arts and Technology, points out that "Michèle is not in the feelings, she is a businesswoman with a purpose, a ambition, but business does not satisfy her completely, she is very creative and needs to express herself. Fur has long been his creative universe at the time of Revillon, then came the design." One way for her to regain control after all those years in Los Angeles where she ended up becoming a muse of the night.
Barricades during the protests of May 68, a Marxist student movement
When the French landed on the West Coast in 1974 for risk and travel, she already had "50,000 husbands" behind her , but only one marriage with a lawyer named Lamy, a diploma from the Lyon Bar and a few years as a clerk. ex officio in criminal cases. Michèle Lamy was then a pretty redhead without taboos who had reveled in the courses of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari at university and remembers the barricades of May 68 as an incredible party: "We loved each other like crazy in thinking that we would change the world." In the 1970s of sexual liberation, she is also the one who swaps her lawyer dress for the stripper costume. She improvises performing in carnivals, embarked by the band Gazolines (feminist activist group glamor and provoc) and by two great friends of another genre, the transsexual cabaret artist Marie France and Hélène Hazera , figure of the gay and lesbian movement that had just been operated on to become a man.
A nomad at heart, Michèle Lamy has inherited the entrepreneurial spirit of her Jura ancestors. She dreams of living in New York and building a business there. His brother, who took over the family galalith factory - a milk-based plastic used for eyeglasses and costume jewelery, invented by their grandfather - dissuades him from it. "He told me, you do not have enough money for this city, rather go to Los Angeles, it's New York on the Cote d'Azur." Michèle Lamy trusted him. She opened her first fashion store, glasses and accessories that she named Too Soon To Know. To create her fashion collections, she became the owner of a textile factory and invented a technical fabric from a Lacoste mesh.
Lamy and Scarlett Rose in Los Angeles
Because she loves parties, good food and "creating places, situations conducive to different encounters", she opened in 1992 her first restaurant, Café des Artistes, which she transforms into a haunt of trendy local celebrities. His second address, Les Deux Cafés, in the ill-fated part of Hollywood Boulevard, also becomes a must-see place from 1994. Artists, singers, actors, businessmen find themselves in an atmosphere of clandestine bar."It was an amazing place in the middle of a parking lot between two streets, all night long limos from Beverly Hills were stopping to drop off customers. Madonna was dancing on the tables, armed vigils guarding the door because the neighborhood was dangerous and full of drug addicts. We had a table every night for our friends and our customers," recalls Anne-Marie Dubois-Dumée. The latter was living in Los Angeles with Tommy Perse, founder of fashion forward Maxfield, who introduced Yohji Yamamoto and Rick Owens to Hollywood. "Michèle was not afraid of anything," she adds. She lived with transvestites, she was very free."
Lamy has never hidden her taste for the ambivalence of genres. With Rick Owens, the meeting of taboos is foremost in his work. Lamy hired the young designer as a patron for her own fashion collections. However, it is dance and music - the sound of Californian electro - that brings the couple together. Quickly, Michèle Lamy, whose aura made of overlays and beautiful stretched fabrics is about the same as today, becomes an inspiration for the young designer she is convinced of the talent of. Rick Owens opens his fashion studio at the back of the restaurant. Michèle Lamy shows her clients each of her new creations. Everything is already in everything. The sequel was written in Paris, where Rick Owens absolutely wanted to show, because it was the city where Rei Kawakubo, creator of Comme des Garçons, presented her collections and where she was truly understood. The couple share the same adoration for the Japanese icon. She is "the greatest artist and an excellent businesswoman, which is an art," insists Michèle Lamy. For two years, she had worn only Comme des Garçons outfits, after falling in love with her dresses sculptures.
Lamy's styling work for ODDA Magazine, a combination of Owens work and Kawakubo's Comme des Garçons
"Today, things are done naturally, but it was necessary to initiate projects and meetings so that people approach Michèle differently," recognizes Janet, her press secretary in London. Passionate about art and fashion and sharing with Michèle Lamy the taste of gold dentition, rapper A$AP Rocky himself asked to meet her in Owens' New York boutique. They are now close friends, as with Kanye West, who has also solicited Lamy. Ditto for Catherine David, deputy director of the National Museum of Modern Art, who convinced her to join the Friends of the Centre Pompidou - a way for the institution to remain connected through it to emerging international scenes. It is rumoured that Michèle Lamy could soon rework the identity of the restaurant of a large Parisian museum, as artistic director. A logical next step for the one that meets every day the place du Palais-Bourbon, its team and guests passing around a seasonal cuisine made by young African chefs at home. Michèle Lamy likes nothing more than opening ephemeral clubs, organizing long lunches like trips between two shores. His greatest regret is his aborted project of a restaurant in Israel. She was in contact with the Peres Center for Peace shortly before the death of the former president and prime minister. "I wanted to create something outside the system, that people meet, if only to learn to smile, to be good in their bodies."
Jewelled debauchery, myriad tattoos... Like Rick Owens with bodybuilding, Michèle Lamy sculpts her appearance as a creation. A way for this couple of performers to live their work and their lives as an absolute, and to push the limits of time by metamorphosing constantly. Michèle Lamy knows only one religion, that of the present moment. She says never look back and spend her time doing what she has never done before. At the back of the van, which transports her from the workshops of the Carpenters Workshop Gallery, to Mitry-Mory in Seine-et-Marne, to the Place du Palais-Bourbon, she lets loose in her serious, smoky voice a few words from the King Kong Blues, her favorite poem by Langston Hughes, a 1920s Harlem figure: "There is no place to be happy, happiness has it in itself." A philosophy away from dark moods conveyed by the fashion world of Rick Owens, in his shows and in his shops which pulse hardcore techno. It is perhaps she, however, who has made the success of this couple true to its troubled identity, its dislike of clichés and the taste for raw beauty, against all odds.