SOUL DEEP BY KEMISSA RACINE IS AN IDIOSYNCRATIC INTERVIEW SERIES THAT EXPLORES THE INNER WORKING OF INSPIRING CREATIVES AND CREATORS; FIRST AND FOREMOST, AS PEOPLE BUT ALSO VIA THEIR OPUS. SOUL DEEP SEEKS TO DISCOVER WHO THEY ARE, WHY THEIR BRAINS ARE WIRED IN A UNIQUE WAY, WHAT THEIR NARRATIVE IS AND HOW THEIR EXPERIENCE ON THIS EARTH DRIVES THEM EVERY DAY TO CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO.
I do not know how many of you reading this believe in the balance between serendipity and kismet; you know…that sweet spot where fate ordains and faith prevails. Well, the day Michelle Elie-Meiré – Haitian-American woman, jewelry designer, influencer and probable indigo child – accepted to do this interview, the concept that fate plus faith creates magic had never been more veracious. I have idolized this woman for years and now I finally get to pick her brain, I feel like a kid in a candy store; or more appropriately, like a goldsmith in a majestic goldmine. When I think of Michelle, the first worst that come to mind are unapologetic and daring. From her breathtaking front row worthy and conversation striking ensembles, to her way of guiding her craftsman into molding metals into succulent works of art featured in her jewelry collections: every single thing about Michelle is unique and courageous and I want to know why. Dearest eyeballs and minds perusing these words, kindly be forewarned: this is not a white picket fence, lollipops and rainbows interview. This will be a raw, thought inducing and revealing Q&A. Grab your metaphorical scuba gear, we are going Soul Deep! It was early in the morning when Michelle and I spoke. She had a time window between preparing for a trip Nigeria Fashion Week and sitting down with a graphic designer to finalize invitations for her Comme des Garçons collection showcase and discussion she is hosting in Köln during its upcoming Art Week. As she settled in choreographically for the interview, she opened up the pearly gates to her marvelous brain and it was as if I walked in to a grand library of knowledge adorned with floor to ceiling 50-foot shelving that went on as far as my third eye could see; I instantly felt privileged to be speaking to her. She is of the likes of an ultra-modern Mary Poppins juggling conjugal and maternal life, influencing people and fashion, creating a legacy whilst being kind and down to earth. It was evident to me, that Michelle is living her best life which makes it ironic how she answered my first question… PL: So, Michelle, what’s your story? Introduce yourself... There’s never really a story, is there? It rewrites itself every day. Life evolves too quickly and reshapes itself every day. I can tell a story through my art and my work, but I can’t tell my life story. What I was yesterday is not what I am today. And what I’ll be tomorrow will not be the day after. So telling a specific story about myself will have meant that I stopped evolving which is never the case. By the time this article is published, I’ll be a completely different person. PL: People being unapologetically themselves comes with a price, do you always pay it? Yes, and that price is very high. In a way, I pay it with my family, my husband and my kids. But mostly, I pay it living here (in Germany) because that’s a challenge. It is not a very “self-abundant” society. It is rather reserved. And that has to do with its history. The past is always present. After the war, people weren’t keen on self-expression, on being evocative in the way that they present themselves. And I am. So I find myself laughing at this all time and also having to dance to the beat of my own drums. Having Haitian blood running through my veins and having grown up in New York, Miami, Paris and now in Germany are advantages in that sense. I refuse to subdue myself and compromise the pursuit of my happiness to accommodate other people albeit I do not cross the line into being offensive. PL: Tell us of a time when adversity introduced you to yourself? A childhood in Haïti with very old fashioned Haïtian rules was quite challenging. We had a good life but being raise traditionally and having to get married to be allowed to move out of the bird’s nest was not an option for me. So choosing to move away to pursue modeling introduced me to myself and to my future. The birth of my first son also comes to mind. It was a huge transformation in my life. Before a woman becomes pregnant, her body is her own. Everything is about the self. And then all of a sudden, there is this creature growing in your body. You don’t know what it looks like, what its character will be. You are no longer first, you lose a certain sense of control. Then appears this baby and you realize that certain goals and priorities that seem relevant and important no longer hold any weight. My life was still incredible but in a very different way. PL: What was your Makak Collection inspired by? It was mainly inspired by Haitian and African culture. My husband gave me a great book depicting the carnival in Jacmel. Many of the “characters” you see in the Prim series spurred from traditional costumes seen at this carnival. Anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss’ travels and exploration of the native-Indian cultures did also influence the Prim collection. The gorilla rings, Makak Blan & Makak Noire and the phallic ring called Mundé are very important pieces. Makak symbolizes our evolution as humans. And Mundé symbolizes the simplicity, self-sufficiency and resourcefulness of ancient tribes people. Every piece of the animals they hunted was utilized. From the meat they ate, to the bones they wore as jewelry and the leather hides they protected their private parts with. That and more is referenced in Prim, a collection that is an ode to mankind. PL: What is your vision for the fashion world as a whole and what do you think is wrong with it? My wish is that we all take a very serious look at the effects of blind consumerism. We always want more. We are like rats in a cage chasing the latest bag and the latest sneaker. As a society we need to be aware of wear the products we use come from, who makes them, what conditions they are working under. But more than anything, the consumer is wrong. We should all educate ourselves, learn how to shop and realize the dangerous ripple effects of buying certain products on the environment and humanity itself. If we really cared where this fast fashion comes from, we wouldn’t support certain brands. This is why a label like Comme des Garçons is relevant to me and should be more relevant to everyone. It is conscious fashion. It is art. PL: If someone wrote a book about you, what do you think the title would be and what would the moral of the story boil down to? I’m actually now writing a book about myself and the working title is “Life does not frighten me”. It’s about not being afraid of the challenge which is life. Embracing the good and the bad. The one scary thing I can think of is the sun imploding. PL: Tell us about a mentor you had and the most beautiful lesson they taught you. My mother definitely takes that title. She would always say “Go out into the world, learn everything, do everything, accept every challenge; nothing is too small”. She had 12 siblings and her parents could not afford to send her to school at some point. Her father said of all his kids, he was not worried about her learning on her own because she was clever. And she proved him right. She taught herself everything and was a brilliant woman. My husband is also a constant mentor of mine. He is involved in everything I do and constantly pushed my creative boundaries. When we meet, many worlds I had been curious about opened up to me. He was the perfect person for me to meet and that blossoms more and more every day. PL: What is the best advice you’ve received from your husband? Every time this man gives me any piece of advice, he is right. Even when I don’t share or accept his point of view, days, months or years later retrospect always proves him right. I learn every day from him. The man’s a genius! PL: Your son Zec has been creating graffiti inspired by really dope streetwear under the Punkzec. You’ve called him the Joan of Arc of Fashion’s Future Generation. Can you enlighten us on why you think so and how you see him contributing to the world of fashion? He created his first piece when he was 14. I see him as a pioneer and someone with a very unique vision that fights for with a sword. He understands the difference between commercialism and vision. He is presenting a new collection at Nigeria fashion week called “Punkzec on a budget”. Two of the pieces from your E.1027 Handbag Collection - Taureau and Cap Martin - look like Punkzec pieces, did you collaborate on them? How was that experience? Yes, I created the handbags and let him customize them with his art. E1027 is the name of a modernist villa designed by Irish architect Eileen Gray. She was one of the lesser recognized pioneers of the Modern Movement in architecture. E1027 was built by Gray and her partner Jean Badovici. After they split, Badovici would invite Charles-Edouard Jeanneret better known as Le Corbusier - also considered a pioneer of modern architecture - for stays at the villa between 1938 and 1939. Legend has it that Le Corbusier held some sort of existential grudge against Gray and during his stays at the villa painted large murals that still exist today. These murals in my opinion were the catalyst of the “graffiti” movement though the term graffiti didn’t exist in the 30s. So when I design the E1027 collection, it was fitting to have Zec paint on some of the bags as an homage to a story that fascinates me. Speaking of fascinating things, you have a Michelle Elie x Comme des Garçons reveal coming up. Can you tell us more about that? I bought my first Comme des Garçons runway piece in 1994 and over the years, I have collected 35 pieces. I only call it a collection for lack of a better term. All of these pieces are important to me and have influenced my voice as a creator and my passion for fashion. The upcoming showcase is called Misfits will be shown at Pop68 during Köln Art week starting on April 16 and will run through May 16. How did you get into the fashion week/couture circuit? My good friend Shala Monroque, creative director of Garage Magazine and Chloe Kerman, fashion editor also at Garage were closely working with Mike, my husband during the inception of the magazine. I had just had my third son and I was itching to get back into fashion. Mike wrote to Shala and Chloe subsequently who invited me to join them for Milan fashion week. The funny thing is I had no tickets to the shows so I snuck in to all the shows. The next season I joined them again, still with no tickets. And by then I was starting to get recognized and photographed. So this rogue mission had to stop. Shala and Chloe then suggested I do something for the magazine which would allow me to officially request tickets and get invites. Since I had a passion for film, I started making these videos for Garage based on the creative aspects of these shows and fused them with art. And that’s how I became an online editor for Garage and regular attendee of Fashion Week. Who is currently your favorite person in the fashion world and why? Besides Comme des Garçons, I really admire Viktor and Rolf because of their ability to create conceptual and avant-garde pieces. Their “NO” collection is to die for. Rodarte also deserve a mention. They make beautiful handcrafted fashion. Their knitwear is exquisite. What can we expect to see from you as a creator in the future? Even more punk. Even more rebellion. Even more kitsch. It’s the age of extra. And I’m going hardcore into fusing art and fashion. There is only one life to live, darling! What do you want to be when you grow up? All I ever want is to be me.