Perhaps some of my most cherished memories from my recent trip to Paris are my daily rousings from bed.
As the rich notes of jazz singer Abbey Lincoln’s voice would enter my room, I could hear the pitter and patter of my roommate in the living room. Michelle Elie, the Haitian jewelry designer/mother of 3/newly-minted style star, met the day with a real urgency—unlike any I had ever known—and no matter the time zone, she was up at 5 or 6 am to give thanks, check on her family back in Köln, Germany, and adorn herself in some of the most inspired, whimsical pieces I had ever laid my eyes on. I would stumble out of my room of the pied-a-terre we shared in the 17th and be met by her positive force, outfitted in jawdropping numbers from Comme and Rodarte. She always called me “darling”, deftly snuck me into the Yohji Yamamato show, ended each night with a fresh batch of ‘girl talk’ with me (no matter the hour) , and encouraged me to never revel in the negativity.
Michelle and I had met many months before at our mutual friend, Shala’s dinner party, wherein the stunner had whipped up a meal of Haitian delicacies for a group of twenty or so.
With an apron tied tightly around her waist and Prada clobbers fastened to her heels, Elie had commandeered that kitchen, and swayed in and out the night’s conversations with a real elegance. I was totally charmed by the chef/glamazon, but knew that her work in the kitchen was only one of her many talents. Shala had often worn the bold jewelry and accessories that made up Michelle’s fledgling jewelry line, PRIM: with “cock rings” and metal-molded rabbit bags apart of her repertoire, I figured she had to be made of a humorous and sharp mind.
All said assumptions were affirmed when my LURVE editor approached me to interview Michelle soon thereafter for the magazine’s 7th issue. I was more than pleased to do the honors, and with several email exchanges and one absorbing call later, I had the below interview and an open invite to Paris.
Naturally, I accepted.
**Read after the jump for excerpts from our revealing LURVE interview.**
As Michelle Elie’s voice crackled over the receiver of our international phone call–the jewelry designer/art world fixture/newly minted style star telephoning from the alcoves of a German art gallery–she revealed in her warm Carib lilt that so much of her mother had gone into her answers for this interview.
One could consider it almost a genetic predisposition, with Elie pinpointing her mother as the very origin of her own style roots (she, a Haitian nurse who raised Elie and her family in Flatbush, Brooklyn, could always be found in heels), and those she has made in the kitchen as a Corbin-Bleu-trained chef. Such a background and influence is perhaps to account for Elie’s variant passions that are not only visible in her well-curated wardrobe she keeps stocked with the radical designs of Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamato, but to her fascinating line of jewelry, PRIM, that in its second season boasts a quirky, luxurious menagerie of refurbished found pieces, gorilla cuffs and even, rings embellished with erect penises. Or even the art-filled home she now shares with her husband, artists and art consultant, Michael Meiré, and their three sons in Köln Germany.
It is all a life, catalog of work, and style that is strongly imbued with her Haitian heritage and imaginative eye–and quite like PRIM, is designed for a very strong woman.
1/It’s interesting, but I really feel like I was first introduced to you through your cooking. You prepared hoppin john’s at our mutual friend’s dinner party, and people were explaining you were a very accomplished Cordon Bleu-trained chef. I watched you dominate the kitchen and it was only later that I discovered you were also this very talented jewelry designer and artist. How do all your passions–food, jewelry, fashion–inform one another? Do you see them all as extensions of yourself?
The world is really small. It is true we met at Shala’s Garage dinner during fashion week…funny!
Life, itself, is a passion. I think if you have any passion, then you are truly living; other than that, you are just existing….
I grew up with a very wise, full-of-life, and passionate mother. God Bless her soul! I am an extension of her. She taught all five of us to be independent; to do everything; learn as much as you can; travel the world when it comes as an opportunity; and never forget to always be thankful for all your blessings.
Food was always a way of life in our family. My father married my mother because not only was she good looking, but she also could cook. We have a saying in Haiti: when you are able to cook well, “you are ready for marriage.”
My mother loved cooking and loved compliments whenever she cooked. She always bought fresh and believed that your body was your temple…so you should treat it well on every level.
After modeling I was already living in Paris for a few long years, and I was always so fascinated that the conversation at the dinner table in Paris was [either] centered around the incredible dinner, or an item they ate from a previous dinner. It was probably natural to follow this path; not already realizing it was going be my profession–until I became pregnant with my first born son called, Zec.
Being naive at the time, I actually thought once my son is born I would return to cooking…. Oh well! It all became a dream and still is a dream of mine.
When I look back, my mother was a jewelry lover and of shoes. She was always buying what she could afford. Since I am a flea market and antique addict, I had been collecting things that touched me and loved for several years. I was always changing and adding to pieces that I would recreate. Out of this came PRIM by Michelle Elie.
The first collection was called ” Object Trouvé” which was put in a different way. All I did was bring back the[original] beauty and value of this incredible jewelry…from their previous owners.
The collection [of bags] was called “Dynamite” and” Birds on a Wire” for necklaces. It was more poetic and playful. I felt that the world was so busy with being minimal, and I was totally inspired by Tony Duquette’s time of lavish deco and parties. I wanted for the PRIM girl to be fearless and experimental in her everyday dress and not to wait for “the red carpet moment” to shine, She could shine like every day is her first and her last.
2/Of course, when I did learn of your jewelry line, PRIM, I was immediately taken with it: your pieces, from the jewelry to the accessories, are very whimsical yet thorough; precious yet tough. Do you find creativity in opposition, in dissimarilites?
The second collection, called ” MAKAK “, was another side of the PRIM girl, and this time, the PRIM boy. I wanted a different facade of creativity.
I knew that I could not continue to use found pieces for very long and I was traveling less and less to New York because of the children being in school, and it was becoming difficult to find what I had been collecting for years out of passion to create the “Dynamite” and “Birds on Wire” collections.
I knew that I wanted to create my own designs for the next collection. I stumbled onto an article on Claude Lévi Strauss in Art Forum after reading about Rodarte in the same issue. I was totally totally taken by the article that I ordered the books, Tristes Tropique, and La Voie du Maske, and out came the MAKAK collection.
I also went back to my Haitian roots. The Haitian Carnival was an influence…for both the men’s and women’s [collections]. “MAKAK” is a fusion of material, as well as a cultural one. Each piece is handmade in Germany, contains silver, gold,wood, bone, leather and plastic. They reflect an unconscious terrain of the early days of “discovery” in the West Indies, of the continents untouched by modern man, subject only to the jungle.The animals’ presence plays with our notions of what is delicate, and what is feline, and what is masculine. //
**Pick up Issue No.7 of LURVE, out now, to read the rest of my interview with jewelry designer, Michelle Elie.**