the gentlewoman

The Calling

The multifarious incarnations of Michèle Lamy have included, restaurateur, cabaret performer, defence lawyer and designer. She is, however, best known as the creative partner of the fashion designer Rick Owens, overseeing their business’s growing portfolio of limited edition furniture, which sells for sums as handsome as its materials. When not manifesting new and fabulous forms for the Owenscorp universe, the 75-year-old Frenchwoman likes to read biographies (currently Michelle Obama’s) and perform with her electronic music band, Lavascar. But what of the day-to-day? Do diurnal trivialities such as email, deadlines and hot-desking concern the high priestess of fashion? More than you might think.

Michèle Lamy

Emma: What do you do between waking and starting work?

Michèle: I love the morning. I wake up early and between 6am and 9am, I get my ideas. They often come to me when I’m in the bathroom. It’s not your average bathroom; it’s huge and concrete, a bit like a hammam and filled with books. And I get a lot of good ideas when I’m boxing – that’s my main form of exercise.

E: Do you have an office?

M: If I had to sit and plan at a desk – no way! I’m happy when I’m on wheels or trains; on trips. They provide me with the time to think. I’m a bit of a scatterbrain, and as I get older, I feel like I still have so much to do. With digital, everything is going more quickly, which, combined with my desire to do more, results in speed on all fronts.

E: What’s your relationship like with technology?

M: I have a lot of young people around me at our studio in Paris and I’m very happy to ask them to show me new apps and so on. But I regret the loss of handwriting. Nobody writes any more. I like to invent words, but with autocorrect you have to keep retyping to make sure the word comes out the way you want it to.

E: What are you working on at the moment?

M: Our limited edition furniture pieces. They are made in France; 80 per cent ends up with collectors in the US. And right now, we have a production problem, our materials come from all over the world – basalt from Indonesia, alabaster from Spain and plywood from France. The company that has been making the plywood was sold and the new alternative is too soft for our furniture.

E: What kind of deadlines do you work to?

M: We have deadlines every day, and I don’t love them, but we have to plan things, or negotiate around them. I prefer the process of putting elements together organically. It’s what I loved when I opened my restaurant Les Deux Cafés in Los Angeles in 1991. One space was a parking lot, and then I bought a house down the road, which had been a drug den, and moved the house up the street and rebuilt it in the parking lot as a second restaurant, Café des Artistes – it just evolved. I love that!

E: What were your ambitions as a schoolgirl?

M: My father spoke seven languages and had books in all of them, and when I was 12 I forced myself to read Henry Miller in English. I studied law at Lyons University and did the bar exams, but went to philosophy classes on the side with Gilles Deleuze that involved surfing and climbing mountains. Pop music was so bad in France that in the 1970s I decided to emigrate to the US.

E: Who or what has had the biggest influence on you?

M: My father was all set to be a diplomat then the war broke out. He joined the Résistance and then took over my grandfather’s sunglasses business. I used to listen to his stories and I think about how lucky I am to have lived all these years escaping war. This has had a huge influence on me. Rick, he’s always going back, to his father. But someone on the corner of the street could make an equal impact on me.

E: Do you have any regrets?

M: When I was pregnant with my daughter, Scarlett Rouge, I would have nightmares about how much I would have to worry as a mother. I recalled all the stupid things I did when I was young, like driving with a guy from Chamonix to Paris with a stone jammed onto the accelerator of a Citroen Deux Chevaux.

E: What’s next for you, Michèle?

M: The story of the furniture is writing itself: many collectors are buying it, the editions are selling out and when they go on to the secondary market, the prices will go up. It’s all positive. There’s a lot happening in the world and I think we all have to do something. I want to open the first cafeteria in Aleppo.

September 2019. Interview by Emma O’Kelly. Portrait courtesy of Owenscorp.