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Life Doesn’t Frighten Me
Michelle Elie wears Comme des Garçons, a Museum Angewandte Kunst exhibition
When Michelle Elie invested in her first Comme des Garçons piece by Rei Kawakubo — from the 1997 “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body” collection — the Haitian-born, New York-raised model, designer and stylist could have never imagined that she would keep collecting to become one of the world’s most dedicated collectors of the Japanese avant-garde label. A new exhibition at the Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt entitled ‘Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, Michelle Elie wears Comme des Garçons’ explores her obsession, with close to fifty silhouettes displayed upon custom, 3D-scanned mannequins created by Moch Figuren that resemble the collector herself. For Dr. Mahret Ifeoma Kupka, the exhibition curator, the mannequins also deliver a political message. “Michelle Elie is a Black woman. Until today Black bodies did not appear very often in museum spaces. She tells her story as a Black woman.”
Elie has found a singular voice in the world of fashion and collecting fashion, not only by archiving legendary runway pieces by the designer, but by wearing them and living with them with a passion and fervour that escapes most archivists and curators. “By wearing the pieces and buying them for that very purpose, she puts the pieces into a completely different context,” Kupka continues. A favourite of street style photographers, Elie brings delight to many thanks to the highly conceptual silhouettes she dares to combine on any given day, in any given city, be it on the streets of Paris, New York or Cologne where she lives with her husband, A Magazine Curated By’s art director Mike Meire, and their three sons.
Much like Rei Kawakubo, who launched Comme des Garçons in 1969, Elie continues to deconstructed the conventions of clothing in her own way. “[Rei] creates beauty within the deformities, and then she re-questions this beauty. She challenges beauty. She changes beauty,” says Elie, when prompted on her obsession in one of two short films featured in the exhibition. “The photographs and the two films in the exhibition are important to give the exhibition its vitality and also to explain who Michelle is and where she comes from,” adds Kupka.
For Kupka, Kawakubo’s most defining factor as a designer is that “She doesn’t design her pieces for eternity.” This idea of going against beauty standards — which Elie herself did not prescribe to in her early days as a model — is at the center of the exhibition, the title of which is a nod to Elie’s own personal motto. “Comme des Garçons is often judged by abstract artistic criteria,” says Kupka. “Whereas this show centres on the wearing, and the sentiments that Michelle wanted to express with the pieces herself. We are showing pieces that were selected by one person with the intention of being worn. Through Michelle, you can encounter pieces you would other wise only see the runway, in photographs, or in a museum, whilst grocery shopping in a supermarket in Cologne! Michelle makes it clear that [Kawakubo’s designs] are made to be worn and that theoretically everybody could do the same. There is also a certain demystification at play, but at the same time Michelle creates a new myth; she appropriates the pieces and works with them.”
By focusing on a living collector, Elie’s show takes an assuredly unconventional approach to the fashion exhibition. Recounting more than the story of these subversive clothes, this collaborative project sees Elie tell her own passionate stories, all the while advocating a message of positivity, inclusivity and self worth.
“Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, Michelle Elie wears Comme des Garçons” runs until August 30th, 2020, at the Museum Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt.
Photography by Nick Leuze
Words by Maxime der Nahabédian & Dan Thawley
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