Harper’s Bazaar

“My friend calls it dirty dish water!” laughs Michelle as she takes a sip of her third glass of Zico coconut water. “I’m obsessed with it. It’s delicious! And hydrating!” Most of the statements Michelle Harper makes are lucid, high-pitched, and accompanied by at least one exclamation mark. Every sentence is an eloquent waterfall of refined vocabulary. Born in Colombia but schooled in Switzerland, she pronounces every word as if it’s her last and as if she’s speaking to a higher audience. And when it comes to her love for fashion and beauty, the conviction and tone in her monologues is even more elated.

“I love anything from the 20’s to the 60’s,” she tells me. “I have different people in different parts of the world hunting for vintage pieces for me, like crawlers sourcing treasures, all the time.” Yvonne Potter who owns Britannia Antiques is one of them. She found the black feather hat (above) that was made by and belonged to Lynne O’Neill, a 1950’s burlesque dancer. “Some dealers I assign to find hats or old McQueen, others find beaded flapper dresses. I pick and choose and send back what I don’t want. How lucky am I!?” One of her latest obsessions is to find another gold wig from the 20’s. They are extremely rare, fragile, hand stitched with gold thread and in fact quite heavy.

Michelle’s wardrobe would make any woman (and their man) weep. It takes up the entire exterior wall of her living room. Left to right, floor to ceiling. Most of her clothes are vintage and organized per category: coats, day dresses, evening dresses, contemporary, shoes, jewelry, all dry-cleaned, stored in boxes, wrapped in tissue paper and/or polished. And the entire thing is seasonal too! Come spring everything will be shipped to storage. “I am building a cabinet just for my hats now,” she points at the opposite wall. “I simply don’t have room anymore to store them properly.”

Michelle collects vintage hats, glasses and lingerie. She admits, she has the perfect little frame for those tiny corsets and bras. “It’s wonderful! Contemporary lingerie doesn’t fit me because I’m narrow and petite.” But her love for vintage goes far beyond that. When it comes to the old crafts Michelle is somewhat melancholy, even borderline vexed. She does not understand why designers these days don’t do anything fun and exciting anymore. “Probably because it wouldn’t sell. Today’s fashion market is primarily a financial business.” According to Michelle, the designs of the past are without comparison. “Look at the detail that went into this dress, ” she whispers as she pulls me closer to a 1930’s green netted dress. “You would be hard pressed to find anything like this today. Every green velvet line has been hand stitched to perfection onto the netting to create this coral like pattern – when I look at the stitching and think of the delicacy of the material and the work that it took to do this – I am truly transfixed.”

She also does not care too much about comfort when it comes to vintage. “Some criticized Cristobal Balenciaga for lack of comfort and practicality in certain instances or over-manipulation and transformation of woman’s natural silhouette – but since I really don’t care about those things, I think of him as the master of masters. A true visionary sculptor in fabric and glamour.”

Michelle’s all time favorite fashion quote is by Rudi Gernreich. He said that “Fashion will go out of Fashion”. Her degree in Art History from NYU’s Fine Arts program, comes in handy as she systematically breaks down his observation: “In essence the present fashion becomes the past and that past becomes vintage. The fashion of the moment (which is aspirational) is continually passing becoming passe (which is the contradiction). But for me the wisdom and realization in this quote is that there is no real moment, only a sea of moments, a sea of vintage fashion that we love. And its value, for me never dies. So let fashion go out of fashion… And love vintage.”

“My grandmother is my fashion icon – she was fortunate enough as a young lady to be able to shop in the couture houses in Paris, shop in the best boutiques in New York, and have couture items and jewelry made to her specifications. She was classically but boldly elegant and growing up in her closet with all her gowns, jewelry, wigs, hats, bags, and her crystal perfume flacons and her Paloma Picasso lipstick!!! That was what set the stage for me.”

February 3, 2011

Leave a Comment

41 Responses to “Harper’s Bazaar”

  1. avatar
    Holly Springett - Reply

    What an absolutely amazing collection of vintage! The print and cut of the sleeves on the Jean Varon op art dress are so striking!

  2. avatar
    Crystal Lee - Reply

    my mouth is still open in awe! What an unbelievable wardrobe. She looks most stunning in the 1930s green netted dress & the 1920s gold wig. My heart flutters over those butterfly sunglasses. wow.

  3. avatar
    heatherbell - Reply

    O.M.G. To have that closet, that body, those vintage connections. Seriously drooling right now.

  4. avatar

    Who is this person? OMG, those wigs! I'm gonna go cut my hair and lose…100 pounds, LOL

  5. avatar
    elizabeth - Reply

    Who represents this girl? What agency is she with? She needs her own TV show yesterday!

  6. avatar
    Stéphane Malingue - Reply

    all the pictures are so cool on your site, Stéphane, Paris

  7. avatar

    Sweet jesus, what a woman. Thanks for interviewing her…beyond inspirational!

  8. avatar
    thebohemienne - Reply

    What fabulous, fearless style. I love the glamour evident in every shot.

  9. avatar
    Style-wonderland - Reply

    Great post !!! very inspiring ! i love the line :" So let fashion go out of fashion… And love vintage."
    Looking forward for the next post….xx

  10. avatar

    The fact that she is willing to traipse in the snow in those precious shoes says volumes.

  11. avatar

    She's lovely her closet is so amazing!, and her sense of taste and refinement is swoon worthy!

  12. avatar
    The S.S. Santiago - Reply

    Completely obsessed with the Galanos…and paired with those Louboutins! Dying.

  13. avatar
    Cator Sparks - Reply

    Darling the clothes pale in comparison to what comes out of her mouth!
    As a journalist she is constantly inspiring, and has me on the floor gasping for air I'm laughing so damn hard.

  14. avatar
    Kristopher - Reply

    I just died and went to Harper Heaven.

    Not only do I adore MH's closet (and of course the frocks that line them) – BUT – I adore the person who can add a bit of substance to our current state of fashion greed and commitment to funding creativity vs. trend. admittedly anyone who references their grandmother as a personal style icon is tops in my book. love love love.

  15. avatar
    youknowandre - Reply

    Michelle, you are truly amazing! God Bless You, Chylle!
    What a beautiful piece!

    It's not necessary for me to say more because its all above.
    I feel like we need to have a Maggy Rouff moment soon.

    Your Cristobal viewpoint is totally what i know to be true.
    It would be incredible to be designing again, with you as one of my 15 clients internationally.

    That's it !

  16. avatar

    love it. my favorite part is that she has people in hunting down items in other parts of the world. she has her own little vintage army and that is all kinds of awesome!

  17. avatar
    street number eight - Reply

    Is Michelle looking for a roommate by any chance…? 🙂 the apartment, the view, the vintage, and the hats–i die. who is she, and why do i have a feeling i'll be hearing more about her soooon!


  18. avatar
    DON'T FORGET THE 'Y' - Reply

    Oy that psychedelic Jean Varon gown is making me weak in the knees…

  19. avatar
    Stéphane Malingue - Reply

    Jadore l'ambiance qui regne dans cette série d'une grande beauté comme son modèle,Stéphane

  20. avatar
    Calamity Jem - Reply

    That Jean Varon frock is spectacular!
    What a captivating young lady & what an enviable vintage wardrobe she’s got.

  21. avatar
    cakesandshakes - Reply

    Unbelievable! Surely the apex of vintage-love. I came to this via the Karla's Closet blog thinking if she thinks it's rad, it totally must be! And it is! : ))


  22. avatar
    aa31b8d4-3390-11e0-b088-000bcdcb471e - Reply

    She was born in Colombia* not Columbia… University

  23. avatar

    Ahhh so this is the lady with THOSE sunglasses I've seen everywhere in every street style blog at NYFW… What a clothes horse. I love the cropped hair-do – such a shame Kelly Framel is growing hers out, as she has a similar pixie face that carries the style so well.

  24. avatar
    Tashrin - Reply

    She is absolutely eclectic and totally fabulous. I wish there were more women like her who understands the real beauty of fine craftsmanship and taking risk. 🙂


  25. avatar
    Raymi Lauren - Reply

    i, myself, am a muse to many and collect many in return. i haven't before wanted access to someone so powerdully before via the internet. so impressed with your coverage, and your inspiration. xo your pal raymi.

  26. avatar
    sisters in black frocks - Reply

    epic vintage collection. i have vintage envy in the best way

  27. avatar
    makeupfanatic - Reply

    Oh my goodness! This woman is amazing! I was particularly struck by the photo with the creepy doll 😉

    Roxana @ makeupfanatic.wordpress.com

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