Michèle Lamy – Tales of the Unexpected

Photography & Video
Joshua Woods
Leanne Cloudsdale

As a journalist, you’re usually expected to turn up and meet the interviewee armed with a well-researched, stimulating list of questions that should cover each of the Five “W”s – who, what, when, where and why? But that method went flying straight out of the window the afternoon I was introduced to Michèle Lamy, because I knew the straight-edged conventional way wouldn’t give me the answers I wanted.

Generally depicted as a magnetically mystical enigma, the first thing I noticed about Lamy was her chic, soft-edged sophistication. The photographs I’d seen of her in the media bore only a fleeting resemblance to how bloody fantastic she looked in real life. When she extended her glowing bronzed cheek to greet me with the customary faire la bise, I had a quick glance down at those infamous fingers. True to form, each of them was laden with a stack of rings and tipped with a substance the colour of coal soot. I tried to fathom what she was wearing, but it appeared to be a helter-skelter of sweatshirt fabric, criss-crossing her slender frame like some imaginary female heroine from Return Of The Jedi.
Her edginess was genuine, and like all narcissistic writers, it got me thinking about my own fading self-image and waning confidence. At nearly 44, I’m already strapped into the white-knuckle rollercoaster called The Menopause, and often find myself glaring at chic older women on the tube, or in the supermarket queue, wondering how they’ve glided through the wilderness of their middle years and popped up again looking like Charlotte Rampling. I on the other hand, wander the streets of London in Margaret Howell chinos feeling like a dumpy extra from Prisoner:Cell Block H. Hell, if Lamy could flick the bird to elasticated waists and generic ladylike haircuts, then so could I.
Born in France, she left after the demonstrations and strikes shook the nation in May 1968, and relocated to the sunnier climes of California. She went on to establish one of the most iconic venues of 1990s Los Angeles – Les Deux Café. A roaring success at the time, it became a cult restaurant and after-party hang-out, frequented by the likes of Madonna, Sofia Coppola, Tim Burton, and a fashion designer called Rick Owens. Technically speaking, Owens was also wizard at pattern-cutting, and became the self-confessed inventor of ‘glunge’ (grunge + glamour). Courtney Love was wearing his clothes, and so was Lamy. I’m loathed to use the phrase, but the rest, as they say, is history.
Which brings me to today, as I sit across from her diamond encrusted gold teeth, and share a dainty selection of raspberry tarts and a pot of camomile tea, which Lamy deftly pours into her water glass (the waitress had forgotten to bring an extra cup for me). She’s in London to promote Lamyland, a boxing themed pop-up event inside Selfridges. Not only does the collaboration take up a significant section of the main windows and ground floor, she’s also had a boxing ring installed in the basement. She’s not a woman I’d fancy my chances with in the ring, so I open by asking about her thoughts on yoga, “Well, the only time I’ve ever slapped somebody in the street, was once when I’d just finished a yoga class in LA – so that’s what it does to me! I should have probably just shouted ‘fuck you!’ but anyway… then I started doing boxing instead, even though it wasn’t fashionable back then, because everyone was into Jane Fonda.
The thing about California is that everyone is trying to reinvent themselves, whether that’s with surgery, diet, or whatever. But anyway, the thing I loved about the boxing was that I discovered that you have to have your body in good shape before you can spar with someone. I love the fact that you’re there right in front of someone, there’s a true interaction, you have to look each other in the eye and concentrate. Boxing is a sport that can take someone from the street, help them to build confidence and make them feel proud of themselves. In that respect, it’s just as spiritual as yoga.”
A good way to get the measure of someone, I think, is to ask them about what they were reading as a stroppy teenager. With Lamy I was expecting to hear about Proust or Camus, but I was wrong. “Oh, Henry Miller for me. Definitely. He was a massive influence. My father spoke seven languages (in all the right accents) and he had all the books. I remember overhearing him talking about Miller, I must have only been 12 or something. Anyway, I sneaked off back to boarding school with a few of his novels. I’d be laid there at night, with my English dictionary, trying to understand it. His work was so sexy! Of course, I’ve read a lot of literature since then, but for me, that Miller period was a big time, it was so sensual. After that, I graduated to The Story of O, by Pauline Réage (real name Anne Desclos), which was banned in France. I got hold of a copy from Belgium. I laugh when I think back to myself now, surrounded by nuns, reading this book in secret.”
Reading mucky books clearly didn’t do her any harm, because she ended up going to law school and passing the bar. Ironic perhaps, because she ended up being a criminal defence lawyer specialising in sex cases. Lamy explains the trajectory, “I did that job in Paris for five years. In France, you have to do the first case after passing the bar for no fee. For some reason, a sexual offence case was the first one they gave me. So I suppose really, I didn’t choose the case, the case chose me. I don’t regret going to law school at all – it’s super good for life and I think everybody should do it. Going to jails, and psychiatric units, it was all a good education for me and I was very fascinated by the kinds of people I met. It was a struggle – but that was probably because I’d be going out to Versaille dancing all night, and then I’d look at my watch and think, ‘Oh God! I’ve got to be in the courtroom at 8 in the morning!’”
Fast forward to 2018 and she’s still thriving on bugger-all sleep. “Oh I’m good on four or five hours. There’s never enough time to do everything, there are things to read, places to go, but I’d never have it any other way. Even now, with Rick, when it started I was the one with the clothing company, but right now it’s different. I’m there as an influencer, I diversify the collection, with furniture design etc. Working and living together is a bit like playing ping-pong every day, and it comes as no surprise that after being together for 27 years, sometimes we’re at each other’s throats, but in a very zen, constructive way.”

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With a travel schedule that most millennials would baulk at, she’s rarely in one place for long. She shares the Paris residence with Rick and their cats, so I ask if she believes in the old saying that ‘home is where the pets are’. Most would imagine, looking at Lamy, that she would’ve been a life-long cat owner, but again, she gives any pre-conceptions a swift right hook and laughs, “The only reason we have a cat is because we had bloody mice. And oh, what a drama it was. Mice everywhere. We tried everything; traps, poison, sonic laser beams and nothing would shift them. They were charming in a way, these little brown things, but I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had an assistant working with me, and I told her that I knew there were people over the Seine selling cats, and that she was to get over there and get us a cat right now! She came back with what we now know is a Bengal – it seemed that those kinds of cats weren’t popular at the time, and the seller said it had gone unsold for almost four months.
Well, as you’d expect, we named her Gaia and fell in love with her. She ended up having five babies, but because they came prematurely she wasn’t taking adequate care of them. We tried our best to keep them all together, but the only place she’d stay put with them was on the floor on one of my Comme des Garçons dresses, which I suppose you’d call a ‘fashion moment’. Anyway. To cut a long story short, only one survived, Hortense. The mother had no milk left, so it ended up with me, Rick and the janitor who worked for us, sharing the responsibility through the days and the nights, feeding the kitten with a bottle every two hours. The vet told us that she’d need sterilising, there could be no more babies, but we laughed because when we start something, we have to do production – just like with the clothes! I was never a cat person, I was happy to look at them as long as they were far away from me, but now I’m the opposite, specifically about Bengals. There is something about them that makes even the domesticated ones seem so wild, but mild at the same time.”

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A sentiment that also seems strangely applicable to Michèle Lamy. This sophisticated, sphinx-like polymath, has friends waiting for her outside, so we scoop up our bags and make for the door. I ask where in the world she feels most alive, and she quickly responds, “London. Definitely London. I feel old in Paris, but here, I feel young.”
And with a wink, she’s gone.
This feature is taken from Issue 7 of Puss Puss Magazine, click here to buy your copy!

Photographer: Joshua Woods
Make-up: Thomas Lorenz @ Atomo Management
Hair: Akemi Kishida @ Atomo Management