The ageless fashion muse and Rick Owens's other half talks with art shaman Matthew Stone
From the November issue of Dazed & Confused:
I believe that Michèle Lamy is a living treasure. She is a storyteller, a muse, a consort, a rapper and performer, a restaurateur and an ignitor of many worlds and careers: her tattooed, dip-dyed and rock-strewn fingers illuminate all and everyone they touch. Born in France, she lived for a long time in Los Angeles, where she met Rick Owens and ran the legendary 90s restaurant and nightspot Les Deux Cafés. Now resident in Paris, she is best-known to many as the wife and business partner of Owens and a fervent supporter of Gareth Pugh. To the outsider she might seem to have made these stars, but in her mind she simply connects to the pre-existent creative spark deep inside each of her protégés and sends them onward as larger versions of themselves. Lamy also lives and has lived many other lives in parallel worlds: alongside these entwined careers and passions, my ageless friend has developed her own field of enigmatic musical performance — we recently worked together on the track “How Do You Feel?”, her tribute to Langston Hughes’ poem “Old Age”. It’s impossible to encapsulate Lamy in her entirety, but to those who know her, a mysterious method of multi-layered storytelling serves as a poetic metaphor for her entire life. This unique anecdotal approach weaves itself into and finds public life in the performances I create music for.
Dazed Digital: So, as we sit here eating... Was it at Les Deux Cafés that you began making music?
Michèle Lamy: It started with Helene (Hazera, friend and transsexual journalist) on a little crummy and unstable stage of an outdoor striptease joint, and travelled to find its spot at Les Deux.
DD: I have heard snippets of stories about Les Deux. Who else performed there?
Michèle Lamy: Joni Mitchell, the one and only Boy George... He was the most popular – even the dishwashers were running out of the kitchen to cheer. Also, Lisa Zane, Alexis Arquette and Sharon Stone in a unique performance of her own words (that she did not remember too well). Madonna only danced on the table... It was Grace Jones a cappella and Liza Minnelli for dinner.
I spat out all my inner fears a long time ago. One night I talked for nine hours straight until I puked and fell asleep. I woke up to a new reborn me
DD: I always feel like these types of magic spaces are tied to a specific time or place. I remember the !WOWOW! exhibitions and squat parties in Peckham in a similar way. Is Les Deux repeatable?
Michèle Lamy: Hey shaman, everything’s possible! Though it would be a different story. Why not under a tent in the Emirate desert? No phone, no picture.
DD: We have spoken about bringing other musicians onboard for this project. Who else would you like to work with?
Michèle Lamy: Bobby Woods, Scarlett (Lamy’s daughter) with her smoking soprano voice, Omar Souleyman and a saxophone... in Detroit.
DD: Is there ever an average day for you?
Michèle Lamy: The gym is average. The cigarettes too. I see the woodcutter, stonecutter, metal founder, fur traders, gangsters... Dinner at 9.30pm when he is here — 10pm on the phone when not with the Rick Owens. Techno in the ears. Solutions. Encounters. Love.
DD: I have these phrases: "Everything is Possible", "Optimism as Cultural Rebellion". They are like "minifestos", as I sometimes call them. Do you have any advice that you have found yourself repeating to other people before? What are your mantras?
Michèle Lamy: "What’s the story?"
DD: The lyrics you’ve used so far in your work have come from the poet Langston Hughes, another storyteller. How did you first discover him?
Michèle Lamy: Well... You know my dearest Helene and I were doing striptease together in some county fairs? Talk about doing a show! She pointed out to me that I have the Marianne Oswald kind of voice and that I should be a raconteuse like her. She gave me a radio recording of "The King Kong Blues", a poem Langston Hughes wrote on a napkin in a St Germain club where Marianne Oswald performed with music by Boris Vian. There is nowhere else to find this poem. It’s in none of the Langston Hughes books and Marianne Oswald recordings, and since then I’ve been singing it. The King Kong was a famous drink of the Cotton Club, blue because of curaçao and extremely strong. It goes: “When you wake up in the morning / And the world is going round / High from drinking King Kong / And your troubles won’t come down...”
Could we rap to better words? Pre "motherfucker" days... "Ding dong King Kong / It rings in your head like a gong." That was then — but it’s the same fight and the same eternally.
DD: What is it that draws you in about his poetry in particular?
Michèle Lamy: Since then I live and dream Langston Hughes. I read and re-read his poems. They talk, they sing to me. It’s like one for each occasion! One of my faves is "I Thought It Was Tangiers I Wanted", which I often performed with Bobby Woods’ band at Les Deux Cafés. And then we did "Old Age" as "How Do You Feel?" together, and now more. Joni Mitchell at Les Deux was always telling me, "I did not know you could write so well." Even though of course I was telling her over and over it was Langston Hughes. So it should fit me all right.
DD: Is there a timely connection to Hughes’ words today or is he saying something eternal in relation to humanity?
Michèle Lamy: Could we rap to better words? Pre "motherfucker" days... "Ding dong King Kong / It rings in your head like a gong." That was then — but it’s the same fight and the same eternally.
DD: Why did you want to work with me on "How Do You Feel?"
Michèle Lamy: It’s as if you were a mix of Jean-Louis Barrault in Les Enfants du Paradis and a quick witty Langston Hughes poem, all in a Francis Bacon way. Love your music though. Let us invent the techno blues. Come, let us roam the night together, singing.
DD: I am afraid of staying still, of lacking energy. You seem fearless. Is there any darkness that plagues you?
Michèle Lamy: I spat out all my inner fears a long time ago. I had the chance — maybe it was karma — to run in my late teens into the path of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari at university and at the open psychiatric hospital La Borde outside of Paris. I had immersed myself in all-confounded schizophrenia, poetry, drugs and anti-Oedipus. One night in ’71 (I think), I made a dinner party in our communal apartment in Montparnasse, and what a fab mixed group of characters we all were! That evening I entered a kind of trance! I talked for nine hours straight, only hearing once someone say, "Look! She is talking with her eyes shut." I continued until I puked and fell asleep in it. I woke up to no guilt, no fear and a new reborn me. We were all going in cars to Aix-en-Provence for a Grotowski performance and even though I felt seasick right then, I felt serene. Of course I heard bits and pieces of my blah-blah later on.
DD: Wow! What an evening. So nothing is left?
Michèle Lamy: I do fear male religious fanatics and accountants and retirement plans. But my dear Matthew, I also got into acrobatic planes and mountain-climbing and sandstorms. I wish I were Snoop Dogg.