As the Met gets set to unveil a major retrospective of Rei Kawakubo’s enigmatic fashion house, Michele Lamy plays dress up in her personal Comme Des Garçons collection
“It’s like fireworks with her. Sometimes you think they’re finished, and then – boom!” In a Parisian photo studio, Michele Lamy – fashion matriarch, curator, performer, restaurateur – is discussing Comme des Garçons founder Rei Kawakubo. Rail upon rail of her archive of sculptural Comme showpieces have been roused from hibernation, cascading stiff red petals brushing up against rows of fat white bows. Lamy is in the middle of it all, the centre point around which the entire room orbits, and someone whose presence is powerful enough to upstage even a five-foot bulbous cocoon of black lace which doesn’t offer the luxury of armholes. Today, she’s playing dress-up.
A near-mythic figure in an industry that thrives on the thrill of a mysterious individual (like the discerningly quiet Kawakubo), Lamy is even better in person than you might imagine from tales of her past: ditching legal studies for striptease, becoming a queen of Los Angeles’ 90s underground, falling for a pattern-cutter that she hired by the name of Rick Owens. Her wrists are encircled by bracelets, and her bright blue eyes are ringed with black, the colour with which she dyes her fingertips and mark a line down her forehead. Then there’s what you can’t see: the heady, smoky scent she carries with her, the warmth of her jewelled hands as she takes your own. You half expect her to turn one over and trace your fortune with a knowing flash of her teeth, set in gold and glittering with diamonds.
Lamy first became familiar with Comme des Garçons at the same time as the rest of the western world. It was in 1981, after Kawakubo (along with fellow Japanese designers Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake) descended on Paris and scandalised the industry with their total disregard of fashion’s well-established conventions. Instead of emphasising the body, they concealed it, often under dark, unisex swathes of fabric which might feature an unfinished hem or a rebellious extra sleeve. “It was the first revolution in clothing since Coco Chanel,” Lamy recalls with her warm French drawl. She followed the story of the renegade trio in newspapers and magazines from LA, where in 1996 she would transform a barren parking lot into the site of brilliantly chaotic cult restaurant Les Deux Cafes. Her first pieces came from LA fashion outpost Maxfield, which stocked even the earliest collections. “I’ve always had a little Comme something around, though much (of) what I had then has disappeared on somebody else’s back,” she smiles.
“(Comme Des Garçons) pieces are extraordinary - they change a lot of things about the way you want to live. On a plane, you need three seats!’’ — Michele Lamy
It wasn’t until some years later that the love affair truly began. “Around 2011, I read an interview with Rei – she was saying that, the more she designed, the more difficult it was to say something new,” recalls Lamy. “And then there was the tsunami...” Following the disaster which devastated her home country that year, Kawakubo’s SS12 collection was her first entirely in white, cycling through the stages of life from girlish communion to wedding dresses and funereal flowers, moulding models’ bodies into coffin-like shapes. As Lamy says,“It was like her spirit came out of the ashesas the most fabulous bird. I thought, ‘I need every piece.’ You know sometimes you’re in sync with something? I always admired Comme, but at that moment it just clicked. Plus, I could afford it! So the pieces grew with me.”
The two women met for the first time relatively recently, after Lamy received a phone call asking when she would be able to visit the designer. “I said, ‘Give me half an hour!’” she chuckles deeply of the meet-up. “I don’t speak Japanese, but it was very physical, we were holding hands.”
Apart from a prized few pieces which she keeps like sculptures in the Left Bank house she shares with Owens and their cats, the looks are stored in their original understated boxes in a room in their Italian factory. “The pieces are extraordinary, and they change a lot of things about the way you want to live,” she explains of the practicalities around wearing such outfits. “On a plane, you need three seats! You are grounded by your clothes, but at the same time, when you put them on, it’s like they make you travel in space and in time and into the future, the unknown.”
Hair Tomohiro Ohashi at Management + Artists using Bumble and bumble., make-up Pablo Rodriguez at CLM using Shu Uemura, photographic assistant Marius Uhlig, styling assistant Diego Diez, hair assistant Sayaka Otama, digital operator Stefano Poli, retouching Trevor Swain at Gloss, special thanks Janet Fischgrund
It’s Comme week! From red carpet write ups to picks from the archive, head here for pieces celebrating the opening of The Met’s Art of the Inbetween exhibition.