100 years may pass in what feels like a single night. Hanging with Michèle Lamy is just this: a fairy ring where time is suspended in a way that feels magical and enchanting. On any given day, spending time with her is like experiencing one thousand and one nights as she bewitchingly draws you into her unpredictable and ever-expanding universe known as Lamyland.
It is 10:30 am in the lobby of the Bowery Hotel in New York. Lamy orders a pot of almond tea, whole grain toast, and a green drink, her voice a seductive mélange of purr and growl.
She has missed training this rainy November morning - she has been boxing for 35 years, way before supermodels were punching in $500 Japanese gloves - and who can blame her? The day before, she had two performances in SoHo with choreographer and artist Cécilia Bengolea, not to mention a cocktail party at the New York Edition in between. During rehearsals she frequently slinks out to light a Dunhill cigarette, her glimmering gold teeth defying nicotine stains. At the performances, she descends the concrete steps of the Jeffrey Deitch space as graceful as a black swan, never gazing down, much like the way leading ladies took to grand staircases in classic Hollywood films. Steps are a cinch for Michèle Lamy: there are five flights in the Place du Palais Bourbon, where she lives with her husband, fashion designer Rick Owens. And she does all this while wearing Owens' impossible signature platform boots, which he also wears.
“Those shoes look big," Lamy said, “but they are the most comfortable shoes that Rick ever did. My god. Because he did some shoes a few years ago, with (gnashing) teeth. And they were the most dangerous shoes. You talk about poise? When I wasn't looking, one of the teeth would get stuck in some metal piece in the street. I fell twice.”
Lamy swans amidst dancers donning pieces from her voluminous Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons) collection. There is something about her resembling a dark and otherworldly fairy. She looks svelte in a pair of mini Pods shorts (another of Owens' signature creations), with burnished gamine legs, her sleek hair veiled in a sort of loose interpretation of Hatshepsut’s headdress, punctuated with tiny stainless steel hooks jutting like horns that appear to be suctioned to her forehead.
She laughs resonantly over the industrial electronica soundtrack by Lavascar, the band she formed with the artist Nico Vascellari and her daughter Scarlett Rouge. With each haunting staccato "ha-ha-ha" the dancers virtually light up.
Lamy glamours people.
“She’s like the Pied Piper or heroin,” said Katya Bankowsky, the filmmaker and artist who collaborated with Lamy on Battle Royale, a series of short films she directed. See an exclusive edit with Lamy and Bankowsky below.
“She casts a spell on people because she genuinely cares about the person she’s talking to," Bankowsky says. "If she spends a half-hour with you, she focuses on you. That is what casts a spell. She makes everybody feel glamorous.”
But Lamy has her own spin.
“Bewitch I’ll go with,” she says, “but glamour to me, I think of fashion magazines and a little bit of that terrible red carpet kind of glamour thing. Glamour should be more spiritual. Somebody will express things and feelings in such a grand way that I will say, ‘Wow they are glamorous.’ It’s because you like the whole thing. I would never think to say glamour about the way somebody looks.”
“What most people don't get about Michèle is her wicked sense of humor and whimsy,” Bankowsky said. “Michèle and I met because she was obsessed with boxing. When I made Shadow Boxers [a 1999 award-winning documentary], she was boxing in L.A. at Wildcard where Lucia Rijker, the star of my movie, was boxing. Michèle loved the film and booked a theatre. She hosted a screening party at her restaurant, Les Deux Cafes, and invited all the Hollywood luminaries.”
Bankowsky knew she had to collaborate with Lamy: “I told Michèle, ‘Everyone has a shot of you being mysterious and staring off into space. Boxing is a gritty, dirty sport; let's make it funny and glamourise it.”
What does Lamy wear when boxing? She glances down at her marled leggings and shrugs as if to say, “this”. Other than her demure, elegantly-shaped black boxing gloves made of an invasive species of cane toad, Lamy, in fact, doesn't own any sports clothing.
Bankowsky recalls the first time the two went boxing together at the high-end, members-only boxing gym Temple Noble Art in Paris. “We met in Paris, and she said, ‘We go boxing now.’ I said, ‘Dressed like this?’"
“She went full-on boxing in her Rick Owens gown in that lightweight fabric and afterward, she washed it in the sink and blew it dry with a hair dryer," Bankowsky says of the experience. "Then we went post-gym to the most fabulously chic Carine Roitfeld party with Karl Lagerfeld and everybody that closed fashion week.”
Lamy takes her rings off to box (the ebony vegetable dye on her fingers stays on). Otherwise, you never see her without her tangle of silver and bronze Hunrod rings and darkly anointed forehead inspired by the Berbers. Today, a toothy grin spreads across her knuckles. Is she in cahoots with the tooth fairy? “They are baby teeth of the son of a Cuban woman I met at Miami Art Basel last year, who gave them to me,” Lamy explained. “She said she has more teeth and was making another one.”
Lamy's aesthetic is all her own. “She wears her clothes all wrong,” Brandon Wen, a design intern who works with Lamy in Paris, quipped affectionately. He was in New York to perform in Bengolea’s dance piece with Lamy. “That gold thing,” he nodded toward Lamy, who was wrapped in flaps of Lurex, “is a jacket she’s wearing as pants. And it looks amazing.”
Moonlighting as a cabaret dancer while a student years ago, Lamy recalls taking a train to a club on the outskirts of Paris where she hoped not to be recognised - not that she was shy.
“There were 18-year old soldiers in the audience," Lamy explains. "They had to pay 50 francs to get in, and then you were doing a total striptease inside on these platforms and shoes higher than this,” she points to the Owens platforms on her feet. There, she competed for tips with her friend Hélène Hazera.
To Lamy, dancing infiltrates life, from the striptease to boxing, “Some boxers say fighting is like dancing," she says. "But when we talk about boxing, we think about heavyweights, and say, Mike Tyson. This is not what we’re talking about. When it’s the lightweights and middleweights boxing, it's closer to dance than really hits. You know the whole thing is to escape somebody. It's a kind of dancing on your feet.”
Speaking to the trend, she adds, “It was a male sport and it has [also] become a woman's thing. And it's very different, women fighting; it has changed the spirit a little. It’s a fantastic way of taking care: when your body is strong, you think better.”
Her recent return to cabaret was at the diminutive Le Manko Club, where she performed twice during fashion week, dancing with interdisciplinary artist Jean-Biche. Did she strip? Janet Fischgrund, her London based press agent was there and said, "No. She swathed herself in boxing hand wraps and nothing else.”
One can’t help but wonder after seeing her in her folkloric/pagan horns if the evil queens in fairytales are ever an influence. To that, Lamy has a decisive answer: “Never the evil queen, no! I was more the one who would be waiting for the prince charmant. But not really waiting. I think I was more like, I will have to pick up the prince charming. But what really seduced me more was the One Thousand and One Nights. That’s my story.”
Lamy does not write things down. Her stories and ideas are spoken. She ponders the possibility of her genes having a memory of oral storytelling; she prefers speaking to text. “I like to hear the voice; I feel things in the voice,” she says.
Lamy’s projects are nonstop: music, performances in museums and Venetian lagoons, collaborating on Rick Owens' furniture designs, a Lamyland boxing installation at Selfridges two years ago, a recent auction of punching bags designed by artists earlier this month, and two perfume creations in the works with the marvelous olfactory notes of manure and roses in the splash version. Owens, too, is dreaming up a scent, but less impulsively: “He has been pregnant with a perfume for 12 years.”
What is her favourite smell? “It has to smell of the desert sand; it has to be dark," she says. "And there is always this element of camel piss that is, you know, something a little odd or whatever. Oud. Patchouli. Leather. Things like this. The Perfume Souk in Dubai is very important. Because I hate, I really hate, those clear perfumes.”
What’s next? Lamy is awaiting the birth of her first grandchild and reflecting.
“Well, because I am looking for some kind of serenity now," she says of taking it all in. "That’s the thing. Because I am thinking, you know, I’m 75.”
And how does one achieve that?
“As Rick would say, beauty is always the answer.'"