Among the wilting, late-afternoon shoppers in Selfridges’ accessories hall, Michèle Lamy stands out. Sure, the gold and diamond-encrusted teeth, fingers stained black with Japanese vegetable dye, marked forehead (she draws a thick line on each morning with eyeliner, to keep herself grounded) and diaphanous toga dress worn with platform shoes help. But it’s Lamy’s energy that glues your eyes to her as she bustles around, talking to every passerby, obliging with selfies.
Lamy, 73, who lists her job as producer, designer and creative – though she’s also a musician – is here to curate the Corner Shop. This nice little spot on the ground floor of Selfridges will be turned over to different creative types to explore the idea of modern luxury over the next five months. Lamy has created a space that focuses on her twin loves of boxing and art. Punch-bags decorated by the designers Gareth Pugh and Craig Green and the artist Korakrit Arunanondchai sway gently in the store windows. There are two painted like sides of meat by Scarlett Rouge, Lamy’s daughter with the artist Richard Newton. Versace and Off-White created exclusive boxing kit which hangs next to gear by Everlast and the Overthrow, Lamy’s favourite New York gym.
She’s adapted the Overthrow’s motto for her store, changing the singular “What Are You Fighting For?” to the more inclusive “What Are We Fighting For?”. Curious browsers peer at the in-situ boxing ring. She’s excited right now because a young artist and boxer got talking to her in the Corner Shop earlier. It turns out she’s made hand wraps into art pieces so Lamy sent her home to get them. She wants to display them.
“I’ve always loved boxing,” says Lamy. “The idea of the underdog and a code of rules. That you learn to concentrate and look someone in the eye. You fight, but you follow rules. I think in today’s political climate you can see it as a metaphor. It’s a sport for women, for every weight, race, gender and background.”
She has a prestigious line-up for the three-month residency. Nicola Adams and Anthony Joshua will take part, there will be classes and workshops. What was it like collaborating with all these different artists and designers to create this homage to her favourite sport? She frowns. “I like working in a team, as long as I’m in charge.”
Lamy leads the way to the biggest art installation, across the aisle and over by the escalators. It’s a row of gigantic, dishevelled industrial bags collected from landfill in the Philippines by upcoming American artist Hugo McCloud. We stare admiringly until she starts to giggle and gestures over her shoulder. There’s an Hermès concession under construction behind us. “It opens tomorrow,” laughs Lamy, nudging me like a teenager until we both start snorting. “I am sooo happy. Their bags will be opposite these, and these” – she gestures proudly at the dilapidated sacks – “are so much more beautiful.”
If Selfridges wants a counterintuitive take on luxury, then Michèle Lamy is a good place to start. Though the boxing installation appears under her own banner, Lamyland, she also oversees Owenscorp with her American designer husband Rick Owens. The brand encompasses Rick Owens mens and womenswear, which are mainly his preserve, and furniture and homewear – which are Lamy’s focus. Rick Owens clothing has a luxe, goth, skate aesthetic and in shops you’ll find a bestselling line of tailoring and casualwear.
But his fashion shows are something else. In 2015 he sent out tunics in earth tones with peekaboo details that allowed the audience a glimpse of their genitals as the male models walked by. He said it was a statement about the amount of female nudity typically seen on the catwalk, but, mainly, it was funny. He says the spring/summer 2018 women’s collection is based on “brutalist lace and meringue”, but Google it. It isn’t. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is pure fun. Owens’ shows are a moodboard of references from couture to architecture and interrogate cultural attitudes to fashion. He just does it with his tongue in his cheek.
His attitude to the furniture line is similar. He’s said he wants to create the exact rock he would want by a fire for his cave. And it does have a monolithic, Stonehenge feel. Lamy is really hands on with the line. “I don’t like the chip, chip, chip of working on little things. I love big machines and big bits of stone,” she grins. And though she’s five foot nothing, it’s easy to imagine her confidently handling an industrial grinder.
Lamy is the perfect partner for Owens’s erudite humour. His nickname for her is Hun, as in Atilla. She was born in Jura, France, and refers to her family as mountain folk. She’s very vague about her background. During the 60s and 70s she worked as a defence lawyer, while studying with the postmodern philosopher Gilles Deleuze. She then worked as a cabaret dancer and toured France before moving to America in 1979.
She settled in New York and then Los Angeles, where she set up a fashion line and ran two cult restaurants/nightclubs – Café des Artistes and Les Deux Cafés. The latter was actually in a car park and waiters would have to cross a busy road to serve clients their food, but it was an important part of the 90s LA scene. Madonna, Joni Mitchell and Sharon Stone were regulars, often performing there. Lamy would also sing – her favourite numbers had lyrics by the 20s Harlem poet Langston Hughes. She now performs in Lavascar, a sort of industrial electronica band alongside her daughter Scarlett Rouge.
It was in LA that she met California native Owens and they married in 2006, when she was 62 and he was 45. They have lived and worked together ever since, although they quit LA for Paris and a large house in the 7th arrondissement in 2003. Lamy pulls a face at mention of this. “We moved so we could deal with the Italian factories for the fashion label. I loved it in LA but I really feel at home in New York. We do a lot of crazy stuff in the Bronx.”
She says she’s ambivalent about the idea of where home is, but that she’s realised over time that the way to make somewhere your home is to get involved. “You have to be part of your neighbourhood. You have to question everything and be determined to get stuff done. When I moved to LA I wanted to vote for Jackie Goldberg, a fantastic lesbian who ran the district of Hollywood [2000-2006]. I had to get a passport in order to register – and I did it, I became a citizen. I wanted her to be the US president – though now that’s going to be Oprah, so that’s OK. I think being an optimist and getting things done is a way to wake up other people.”
She beams but she wants to go now. She has to meet that young artist bringing in her work. Michèle Lamy has lots to do.
Lamyland is on until March selfridges.com