If It’s Paris, It Must Be MichÃ¨le Lamy
Published February 19, 2010
The greatest advice Michèle Lamy ever gave me was, “Always surprise your friends.” It’s an ethic borne out by her own peripatetic and virtuosic life—one that has included successful careers as a defense attorney, clothing designer, performer, film producer, and restaurateur. Over the last ten years, Lamy’s life has also included her work as creative collaborator with her husband, fashion rock star Rick Owens, whose Fall/Winter women’s wear collection hits the runway in Paris on March 4.
As a friend and longtime employee at her Hollywood hotspot Les Deux Cafés, I have, at various times over the last decade, heard and perpetuated a zillion fantastic tales about Lamy: She’s Algerian, a gypsy; she was born in a resistance camp in occupied France, was raised by wolves in the Ardennes; she’s an arms dealer, a vampire, a witch, and she’s 1600 years old (the number is consistent, as if it were exact, vetted by a team of experts). The truth is she’s Parisian and used to perform in a cabaret. She met Owens through his then-boyfriend and hired him as a patternmaker for her own line, Lamy.
Anyone who found their way through the unmarked door in a Hollywood parking lot that led to Les Deux Cafés between 1996 and 2003 felt Lamy’s invisible hand directing events. It was in the ‘30s clapboard Craftsman house she moved to the site, and in the eucalyptus trees she planted herself to gird the Provençal-style brick garden. You could feel it as she strolled the patio in Owens’ early designs (droopy, gothic pieces reminiscent of Lamy wear), or when she sang, “I thought it was Tangier I wanted” in her Benson & Hedges-marbled voice in Les Deux’s jazzy back bar. You knew it was there when you crossed that threshold to find, say, Madonna accidentally doused in hot candle wax at her own birthday party.When Rick and Michele decamped for Paris in 2002 to reopen the furrier house Revillon and introduce Rick’s signature line, Lamy applied the cafe’s technique to a new script. She made the transition from muse and mobile dress form for the designer to vaguely-defined creative consultant. She went by “Head Honcho” for a while. “I’m in the kitchen, and loving it. I don’t have a specific hat,” she says. “Or I do a bunch of hats.” She recently worked with craftsmen from Paris to Poland on the new collection of Rick’s furniture line which will debut May 7 at Salon 94, and is in charge of construction on their first fur atelier, which Rick calls “Lamyland,” due to open later this year. It is unclear whether she is speaking metaphorically when she concludes, in her own French-English patois, that she and Rick, “enjoy a lot to be in bed together.”
Lamy also surprises me with the news that she is composing and arranging an opera with songs from her beloved Langston Hughes’s poems to be performed in Paris in late June. It is in this vein she describes Rick’s men’s show earlier this month as “a song—an aria—light and chic and emotional.” Even if she’s immortal, Lamy gets giddy when she says of the coming Rick Owens women’s show in Paris, “The Hun is going to do his Magic at Palais de Chaillot this time and even if I see the prep of it it’s wonderful when it starts.”