She is so passionate about Nigeria. It was her first visit and she , as a designer came with two of her sons who participated at the last Arise Fashion Week, held at Intercontinental hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos. Her first son showcased his shoe collections and the second son strutted the runway as a model. Unassuming with a friendly disposition, she kept saying ‘Nigeria is like Haiti, everything here is like Haiti.’ A day after the show, she talked to Effects about herself, her perception about the country, her views on the fashion show and lots more.
Can you tell us more about you?
My name is Michelle Elie-Meire. I live in Germany and I have three kids. The eldest is 18 years, his brother is 15 and the last child is 11. I was born in Haiti. I grew up in New York and when I got married, I moved to Germany. I had traveled around the world to model. That is my passion. At the beginning of my fashion career, I tried to go into cooking. I started as a chef in Paris for six months and I became pregnant with my first son in 1999. That dream was over. I said I would go back to cooking after but little did I realize that it’s not possible. I became pregnant with my second son and of course the dream was just going further and further away. I had my third child and I never went back to cooking. I went back to fashion which was always my first passion.
When I started working as a fashion designer my husband was working for lots of fashion magazines. A girlfriend of mine was the editor of the magazine and I started going with them for fashion week. The passion opens up and I went back to fashion after having three kids. Slowly, I was enjoying it again, I was enjoying the designs, enjoying the collections, enjoying going to Paris/Milan, New York for fashion shows. I went back to fashion and I wanted also to create something in fashion: like a product or a design to express myself not just wearing fashion and going to fashion week. I started a collection called Prim bag by Michelle Elie and I started a jewelry and accessory line. I launched the first collections in 2012. It’s a bunch of things I collected some years back and I put them into my collection. Each is a signature piece. My husband is an art director, he is an artiste. He owns a company called Murray O Murray in Germany. He’s been in the business for 30 years. He started his company at age 16. He does a lot of graphics architecture designs. They are two brothers that own the business .
Why are you in Nigeria?
My son was invited by Arise Magazine to show his collection during the fashion week. He was here for the show about seven years ago and this is the second one. I have heard about Arise Fashion and the quality of the models, the beauty of the people and everything was amazing. My friend came for the first one and just don’t stop talking about how amazing the country (Nigeria) is and the people, the food, the culture, the experience, the light, the heat and her experience was just phenomenon. My son launched his collection and it’s a good opportunity for me to come down as well with him to show his collection.
How do you see the country and her people?
Wonderful. It’s really phenomenon. Five things you can say about Nigeria, is: the people, the people, the people, the people, the people. That is what makes a country. Without the people, a country doesn’t really stand.
Before now what was your perception about Nigeria?
I always have a beautiful perception about Africa in general not just Nigeria. I always imagine it to be exotic. I imagine it to feel like Haiti and it was like Haiti because I’m from Haiti. The vision I had of it was exactly what I imagine it. The warmth, the heat, the food, texture, architecture, the colours, the women, the men, the playfulness, always happy people. It’s exactly what I imagined. Every time I step out of the hotel on the street in Victoria Island, I feel the place is like Haiti. Haiti is one of the only islands in the entire globe that still has the essence close to Africa. I will come back to Nigeria; I think to wait another one year for the fashion show is quite too long. I will come back to Nigeria pretty soon.
Have you tasted Nigerian food?
Yes. It’s super spicy. I knew it was going to be spicy but didn’t know it’s super spicy. My first day was tough but of course I got used to it.
Your products are for what kind of people?
Anybody who is playful, who is powerful, who is not afraid to express themselves and who like beauty and want to dress up or down. It’s for everyone, I can’t say for one particular woman but definitely it’s for everybody.
What’s your fashion sense?
Calm, exaggerated extra, shape, expression of myself. I don’t dress to please men or please any woman. I dress to express myself. I love fashion. For shoes, I’m like a collector. I have been working all my life and I have to enjoy it with money or without money. I have to enjoy life. I love everything beautiful.
Who influenced you growing up?
My mother. She’s a woman of beauty and she’s a woman of tremendous power. She was very powerful. She was very strong and she came from a small village but her horizon was never village. She’s a world traveler in her mind. She pushes me to go out and explore the world. She was always dressed. When my mother was dying, I came to see her in Haiti to pick her up. She was on her chair seated but her hair was done with her lipstick glittering, she wore a nice dress and jewelry. I knew she was dying but she was dressed up to receive me. She was very chic. She came from a village in Haiti but she was definitely much more where she came from. She always says that elegance is not just luxury of wearing clothes. It’s not something you can buy through your clothings, through your house, it’s a lifestyle.
It’s all together. It’s also how you relate to people in the streets, your neighbors, and your co- workers. I think when you have that it’s completely rounded for me. These girls that experience my sons collection (models) are so elegant. They were so beautiful. I don’t know where they came from. They are beautiful boys and girls with such innocence and passion for life. They were so chic and so elegant. There is something so natural about these girls.
There’s something natural about this Fashion Week for me that is more than Paris Fashion Week. There were some top models that were brought over to make it blend, to make it more professional, I didn’t even notice those models. I only noticed Nigerian models. They were out shadowed. They didn’t just exist for me. They were phenomenon. They were just tripping with beauty. These girls were not given drivers or super luxurious fabulous expensive gifts. They just want to walk and you can see it in their faces when they walk on the runway, it’s so natural.
You have a beautiful figure, what is the secret?
I run in the morning. I put on my sneakers and start running. If I’m running, I’m in my own world. After running, I’m with my help, my husband, my kids, my collection, my computers but for me, running is important.
Your kind of jewelry and bags, is it inborn?
I think so. My mother loved jewelry, she loved fashion. When I look back I think I got the inkling from my mum.
Did you have any formal training in these artistic designs?
No. I went to school to learn something different completely. From that point, I found that it is not what I wanted and I went into modeling. I was modeling between working and going to school. I modeled for 10 years. At a point I did a lot of editorials in the magazines. I didn’t do campaign for Gucci and Prada and other bigger brands because they were not using black girls at a time until Naomi Campbell came. Then, it was Naomi and maybe another black girl, Veronica Webb. You have to come from Paris or London to be in the modeling market. If you are American you had to go to Paris to work your way up and do runway. I wasn’t tall enough to do runway. At a time, to be a runway model you have to be a meter or so. These days it wasn’t more about your height it’s more about your character and that changed the whole super model as well. At a time, the super model dominated the market.
If you are not a super model or close to a super model or editorial model, you can’t do well in the industry. Black girls were used as an accessory. Now, it’s more acceptable to have more black girls on the catwalk. I hope it’s not a trend. During my time as a model it was only one or two black girls. That was in the early 90s.