Michèle Lamy
in conversation with Liam Freeman

 

With her gold teeth, dyed fingertips, and arms encased in bangles, Michèle Lamy’s appearance is as captivating as the story she spins. Cloaked in myth – there are wild rumors of her being raised by wolves and surpassing her 1,600th birthday – the 74-year-old former defense attorney and cabaret dancer established two of Los Angeles’ most fabled restaurants in the 1980s and 90s, all while designing her eponymous clothing line. It was here that she met her future husband, Rick Owens, after hiring him as a pattern cutter. After years of collaboration, she’s often dubbed ‘Owen’s muse and business partner’. We sat down with the real-life Scheherazade to talk about her role in the Rick Owens furniture line and learned there is as much – and more – to her than meets the eye.

Michèle Lamy
in conversation with Liam Freeman

 

With her gold teeth, dyed fingertips, and arms encased in bangles, Michèle Lamy’s appearance is as captivating as the story she spins. Cloaked in myth – there are wild rumors of her being raised by wolves and surpassing her 1,600th birthday – the 74-year-old former defense attorney and cabaret dancer established two of Los Angeles’ most fabled restaurants in the 1980s and 90s, all while designing her eponymous clothing line. It was here that she met her future husband, Rick Owens, after hiring him as a pattern cutter. After years of collaboration, she’s often dubbed ‘Owen’s muse and business partner’. We sat down with the real-life Scheherazade to talk about her role in the Rick Owens furniture line and learned there is as much – and more – to her than meets the eye.

Les Deux Cafés – one of the cultish restaurants Michèle Lamy owned during her 29 years living in Los Angeles – wasn’t easy to find. Hidden behind a metal door in the corner of a parking lot just south of Hollywood Boulevard, there were no signposts and certainly no valet, so even A-list regulars like Nicole Kidman, Al Pacino and David Lynch, parked their own cars. When French clients and friends passed by, they often asked Lamy – who grew up near Oyonnax and lived in Paris throughout the 1960s and 70s – when she would return to the French capital. Her reply was always the same: “When I have a place on Place du Palais Bourbon.” That wish came true in 2004 when, a year after Lamy and

her soon-to-be husband Rick Owens relocated from L.A. to Paris to build the Rick Owens brand, a friend called Lamy and told her a building had become available on the regal square.It had most recently been the Socialist Party’s administrative headquarters, until François Mitterand was elected president in 1981. The party found a new home on Rue de Solférino, and the place on Place du Palais Bourbon sat empty for 23 years, “waiting” – in Lamy’s words – “for us to move in.” “It was a total mess when we got here,” she remembers, shrouded in cigarette smoke. “It was filthy, there were documents everywhere, rice paper on the walls and amoquette on the floor. Each level was divided

Les Deux Cafés – one of the cultish restaurants Michèle Lamy owned during her 29 years living in Los Angeles – wasn’t easy to find. Hidden behind a metal door in the corner of a parking lot just south of Hollywood Boulevard, there were no signposts and certainly no valet, so even A-list regulars like Nicole Kidman, Al Pacino and David Lynch, parked their own cars. When French clients and friends passed by, they often asked Lamy – who grew up near Oyonnax and lived in Paris throughout the 1960s and 70s – when she would return to the French capital. Her reply was always the same: “When I have a place on Place du Palais Bourbon.” That wish came true in 2004 when, a year after Lamy and her soon-to-be husband Rick Owens relocated from L.A. to Paris to build the Rick Owens brand, a friend called Lamy and told her a building had become available on the regal square.It had most recently been the Socialist Party’s administrative headquarters, until François Mitterand was elected president in 1981. The party found a new home on Rue de Solférino, and the place on Place du Palais Bourbon sat empty for 23 years, “waiting” – in Lamy’s words – “for us to move in.” “It was a total mess when we got here,” she remembers, shrouded in cigarette smoke. “It was filthy, there were documents everywhere, rice paper on the walls and amoquette on the floor. Each level was divided into little cubicles.”

into little cubicles.” Today, the Rick Owens headquarters, which occupies five out of seven floors of the 18th-century townhouse, is the antithesis of Lamy’s anecdotes. The cavernous rooms plunge almost the entire depth of the building, while the polished concrete floors and mottled whitewashed walls bear a stronger resemblance to a warehouse in east Berlin than the opulent boudoirs and salons originally commissioned by Louis Joseph de Bourbon. One wall is covered by a mural painted by Lamy’s daughter (from a previous marriage), Scarlett Rouge. The figures and creatures depicted – warped, ghoulish and set against a black background – have an Edvard Munch quality to them. The haunting scene is perpetuated by two wax sculptures of howling faces impaled on spikes that jut

out from the ceiling nearby. Lamy is often referred to as a muse, though the label fails to credit her role in Owens’ work; she’s more than simply a source of inspiration. Likewise, the space from which Owens works is more than a studio or a showroom, and has informed the furniture designs themselves. “I’ve always insisted that we never buy, we make,” says Lamy. “The furniture came from a need. When we got these premises we didn’t have anything, so Rick and I set about designing and making furniture to suit the space.” Lamy shows me a square, bevelled-edged table and four chairs, which cup the sitter’s derrière like the bowl of a wine glass, before walking over to a six metre-long bench. Like many of the pieces in the showroom, these designs, which were some of Owens’ first, are made

Today, the Rick Owens headquarters, which occupies five out of seven floors of the 18th-century townhouse, is the antithesis of Lamy’s anecdotes. The cavernous rooms plunge almost the entire depth of the building, while the polished concrete floors and mottled whitewashed walls bear a stronger resemblance to a warehouse in east Berlin than the opulent boudoirs and salons originally commissioned by Louis Joseph de Bourbon. One wall is covered by a mural painted by Lamy’s daughter (from a previous marriage), Scarlett Rouge. The figures and creatures depicted – warped, ghoulish and set against a black background – have an Edvard Munch quality to them. The haunting scene is perpetuated by two wax sculptures of howling faces impaled on spikes that jut out from the ceiling nearby. Lamy is often referred to as a muse, though the label fails to credit her role in Owens’ work; she’s more than simply a source of inspiration. Likewise, the space from which Owens works is more than a studio or a showroom, and has informed the furniture designs themselves. “I’ve always insisted that we never buy, we make,” says Lamy. “The furniture came from a need. When we got these premises we didn’t have anything, so Rick and I set about designing and making furniture to suit the space.” Lamy shows me a square, bevelled-edged table and four chairs, which cup the sitter’s derrière like the bowl of a wine glass, before walking over to a six metre-long bench. Like many of the pieces in the showroom, these designs, which were some of Owens’ first, are made from plywood.

from plywood. Lamy clearly enjoys the fact that such monumental and industrial works are crafted from materials usually used “to build fences”, creating a juxtaposition in space she describes as “very rare to find.” One day, a gallerist friend came to visit and, after seeing the furniture, suggested they design a full collection to sell. “Rick thought about it, and decided he wanted to go ahead and create a furniture line, so I was like ‘OK, let’s make this happen!’” Lamy recalls. Thus, in 2007 (a year after Owens and Lamy married) Rick Owens Furniture was born, and it’s operated the same way ever since: Owens designs the furniture while Lamy oversees production and materials. It’s a collaboration made in matrimony. The collection is an extension of the designs in the showroom, though some are made from more precious and rare materials such as petrified

wood, black marble, and alabaster. “The pieces we have here at the studio are about 12 years old,” Lamy tells me. “So when people want to buy our furniture, I suggest they come here first and see how the furniture has evolved – it’s an acquired aesthetic.” Though the designs suggest brutality through severe lines and angles, blockish shapes and unforgiving materials, there are also softer, more curvaceous details. A bed cut from a slab of alabaster, for instance, has a wraparound, cocoon-like headboard; a solid concrete pillar lamp has a rounded chunk sliced out of it to allow a shaft of light to pass through. Even the backrest of a chair made from moose antler – which the male deer push against one another to assert their dominance – is arranged so that it hugs the lower back. There is no denying Lamy is an aesthete, but what really excites her are the stories behind

Lamy clearly enjoys the fact that such monumental and industrial works are crafted from materials usually used “to build fences”, creating a juxtaposition in space she describes as “very rare to find.” One day, a gallerist friend came to visit and, after seeing the furniture, suggested they design a full collection to sell. “Rick thought about it, and decided he wanted to go ahead and create a furniture line, so I was like ‘OK, let’s make this happen!’” Lamy recalls. Thus, in 2007 (a year after Owens and Lamy married) Rick Owens Furniture was born, and it’s operated the same way ever since: Owens designs the furniture while Lamy oversees production and materials. It’s a collaboration made in matrimony. The collection is an extension of the designs in the showroom, though some are made from more precious and rare materials such as petrified wood, black marble, and alabaster. “The pieces we have here at the studio are about 12 years old,” Lamy tells me. “So when people want to buy our furniture, I suggest they come here first and see how the furniture has evolved – it’s an acquired aesthetic.” Though the designs suggest brutality through severe lines and angles, blockish shapes and unforgiving materials, there are also softer, more curvaceous details. A bed cut from a slab of alabaster, for instance, has a wraparound, cocoon-like headboard; a solid concrete pillar lamp has a rounded chunk sliced out of it to allow a shaft of light to pass through. Even the backrest of a chair made from moose antler – which the male deer push against one another to assert their dominance – is arranged so that it hugs the lower back. There is no denying Lamy is an aesthete, but what really excites her are the stories behind the materials she sources. “We source a lot of sivec marble from a quarry in Abu Dhabi who supplied all the marble for the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque,” she enthuses.

the materials she sources. “We source a lot of sivec marble from a quarry in Abu Dhabi who supplied all the marble for the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque,” she enthuses. “They made so much money they closed the quarry for a while, and when they finally reopened, they still couldn’t supply us because they received a commission to build another mosque!”. Such challenges never deter Lamy. As she explains, there is always a solution, whether that be finding another supplier or discovering alternative materials – after all, many of Rick Owens’ furniture designs are limited editions. She reels

off several elaborate tales about her sourcing expeditions, from hunting down the last remaining pre-cut elm from the 1970s, when an estimated 90% of the tree population was destroyed by Dutch elm disease, to a basalt mission in Indonesia when Belgian black marble supplies began to dwindle. “We could have kept it simple and got all the wood from one place and the marble from Carrara,” she says. “But the reason I’m so passionate about these stories is you can feel them in the spirit of the furniture. Then, to top it off, Rick writes himself into them.”

“They made so much money they closed the quarry for a while, and when they finally reopened, they still couldn’t supply us because they received a commission to build another mosque!”. Such challenges never deter Lamy. As she explains, there is always a solution, whether that be finding another supplier or discovering alternative materials – after all, many of Rick Owens’ furniture designs are limited editions. She reels off several elaborate tales about her sourcing expeditions, from hunting down the last remaining pre-cut elm from the 1970s, when an estimated 90% of the tree population was destroyed by Dutch elm disease, to a basalt mission in Indonesia when Belgian black marble supplies began to dwindle. “We could have kept it simple and got all the wood from one place and the marble from Carrara,” she says. “But the reason I’m so passionate about these stories is you can feel them in the spirit of the furniture. Then, to top it off, Rick writes himself into them.”

Photography Romain Laprade.
As seen in Hercules Universal XXIV.
Photography Romain Laprade.
As seen in Hercules Universal XXIV.