Street-style favourite Michelle Elie is well known for being snapped wearing Comme des Garçons’ experimental creations in Milan or Paris. The Haitian-American and Cologne-based muse, however, is also a fashion editor for Garage magazine, former model and the designer behind Prim, an art-influenced accessories and jewellery brand that’s commanding the attention of the style community.
For Prim’s autumn/winter 2015/16 collection, Elie took design inspiration from the brutalist mid-20th-century work of Venetian architect Carlos Scarpa, creating a mix of statement gold jewellery with sharp, geometric lines and bags handcrafted in leather and wood. ‘Scarpa was a brilliant and undervalued architect and he was able to create iconic work which is so relevant now. He included perfect, handcrafted details in his brutalist architecture which was a huge inspiration to me,’ says Elie. Ornate carvings feature on both Prim’s geometric gold rings – such as the unforgettable Ponti design – and structural wooden handbags, including the Palermo, the Canova and the Veneto. The carvings are reminiscent of Scarpa’s work on the façade of the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice.
Fine craftsmanship has been part of Prim’s brand ethos since its inception. To create each season’s collection, Elie travels to Granada to work with a small group of local Spanish artisans, goldsmiths and woodworkers. ‘Handmade, local craftsmanship is very important to me because it’s a dying industry,’ she says.
Despite her dedication to this fading art, handcrafted work can come with its own unique set of difficulties, some of which Elie experienced first-hand with this collection. ‘[Autumn/winter 2015/16] was challenging because none of my craftsmen spoke English, so my assistant had to always translate what I wanted,’ she explains. ‘I sometimes change the designs a bit too much, which can be a pain for everyone. There were a few mistakes along the way but one learns from those mistakes in the end.’
Regardless of the challenges, the handcrafted quality of Elie’s work is what makes the pieces in Prim’s jewellery and bag collection true investment items. The Condo bracelet, for example, combines the simplicity of a square design with domed details to create something truly covetable that can be paired with anything.
It’s not only architecture that inspires Elie’s designs. For Makak, Prim’s spring/summer 2015 collection, she turned to her Haitian roots and Claude Lévi-Strauss’s anthropological travels to create her tribal-inspired jewellery, including rings topped with bananas, skulls and gorillas. ‘Every collection is different due to new impressions and new inspirations that entice my imagination,’ she says. While each season brings something new and unexpected, Elie’s signature design is her Rabbit bag, featuring gold and silver mixed with leather. ‘It’s timeless!’ she exclaims. This season’s version boasts a hot-pink and orange interior with a touch of fluff – a great conversation piece at parties.
The name Prim comes from the term ‘prim and proper’ which Elie fell in love with when she decided to launch her brand in 2010. ‘My three boys had enrolled in school and I wanted to go back to work. Since I come from fashion, starting Prim was the obvious way.’ Her husband, art director and photographer Mike Meiré, created the handwritten logo and designed the branding, too. ‘It all fitted perfectly since most of my collection is handcrafted,’ she says.
Elie’s work as a fashion stylist and model has influenced her work on Prim. ‘I think you are never too far from your experience in your earlier years,’ she says. For example, her choice to wear Rei Kawakubo’s designs for Comme des Garçons is about much more than just garnering street-style appeal. ‘Comme des Garçons is a brand I identify with. It is more than just fashion. It is an ideology and a way of life and it has all the elements that are important to me right now – architecture, form, design, poetry, modernity and timelessness. It’s never a trend.’ This timelessness is what she hopes will entice people to wear Prim. ‘It’s for any woman who enjoys wearing jewellery,’ says Elie.
And, looking to the future, who is the inspiration for her spring/summer 2016 collection? ‘A combination of Alexander Calder and Eileen Gray. A mix of shape and interior,’ she reveals. Combining details from Calder’s kinetic sculpture and Gray’s modern movement architecture will certainly produce some unique design concepts. We can’t wait to see Elie’s interpretation.