In a series exploring the complicated relationships we, as women, hold with our hair throughout our lives, All the Pretty Birds introduces ‘Our Hair, Don’t Care’, an installment series of women we love sharing their personal beauty journeys.
Bold, confident, and avant-garde, Michelle Elie-Meire is living in another universe. She is the kind of effortlessly cool that comes from knowing yourself and being unafraid to share that with the world. You’ve probably seen her on the streets of fashion weeks around the world, being snapped in head-to-toe vintage designer gear. Her Comme des Garçons collection is legendary, spanning decades and yes, she’s worn it fresh off the runway.
Meet Michelle Elie, ATPB OG
Michelle is a Haitian-born designer and former model, who grew up in New York but is now based in Germany, living with her husband and three kids. She’s an All The Pretty Birds OG and met our Chief Lover Tamu in Paris, way back in 2012. This meeting ended up on ATPB as the very first article featuring Michelle Elie and her incredible style.
Beyond her enviable closet, mind-blowingly cool accessories, and affinity for pushing boundaries with her style – what about her hair journey? She sat down with us to share some of her personal hair-story and journey with relaxed hair for Our Hair, Don’t Care.
All The Pretty Birds: You have Haitian roots and lived in New York – can you share a bit about your childhood hair experiences and memories?
Michelle Elie-Meire: I left Haiti when I was very young, around age 6 and I don’t really have much recollection or memory of my childhood. But when we moved to New York, I remember attending school and having ribbons in my hair. That’s a very Haitian thing, to have girls wearing ribbons in their hair for school. I wasn’t allowed to put chemicals on my hair with my Haitian background. Traditionally, your hair was braided by your parents from an early age to prevent damage. The routine was my mom combing my hair, greasing the scalp, and then ironing the hair using a traditional iron that needed to be heated from the stove. I’d leave the house with ribbons in my hair and when we got to the corner I’d change my hair because it really didn’t fit into the American way of things. I left home a Haitian girl but I’d often try to blend into the American society around me.
ATPB: Often hair discrimination and colorism form part of our hair experiences from childhood to adulthood – are there any that stand out to you?
MEM: I do believe that hair is a part of your body and we have the opportunity to change it tremendously, because you are just expressing who you are at the moment. I’ve gone to many events, where I’ve worn a wig and I made an effort to dress up for an occasion. Once I arrived, one of the guests asked me, ‘Oh is that your hair?’ in front of everyone. I said to her, there are certain questions we do not ask. Black people can do so much with our hair and if you don’t get it in 2020, you just don’t get it. I think the conversation around hair is so important but I’m not here to change the whole world. I’m here to raise my kids, make sure they know their culture and embrace their hair. I do realize there’s a message we can send with our hair.
I don’t wear my natural hair out or have an afro. I was modelling during the time of Naomi and there was more emphasis on weaves. But there’s a huge movement towards natural hair and I’ve seen it in fashion with more models wearing natural hair out. I absolutely love it – however it’s not the choice I make for my hair.
ATPB: What was it like being a model of color with natural/relaxed hair? Did you experience any negative work experiences related to your hair?
MEM: Luckily, I had access to Troi Ollivierre in New York (founder of Troi Ollivierre Beauty). He was my hairdresser when I was modelling in fashion, doing all my hair, cutting and styling all my wigs. Because when I was modelling, they did not know what to do with our hair, so I was constantly putting a wig on. I remember clearly that I didn’t have a weave then and it also wasn’t the time that our natural hair was accepted either. So as a model, I was walking around with five or six different wigs in my bag. Simply because they didn’t know what to do with my hair. Now, you see black women with their natural hair on magazine covers. We didn’t have that, we didn’t have Lupita Nyong’o. As a model of color, we didn’t have that voice. But we paved the way and had to deal with a lot of complexity.
ATPB: Your style is simply one of a kind – how do you factor in your hairstyles along with this?
MEM: You know, my hair is always slicked back. I usually wear a scarf to keep my hair sleek and my ponytail down. I’ll be honest, I also do install weaves or extensions, simply because I don’t want to fuss with my hair during big events like Fashion Week. I guess my signature hairstyle is having a sleek ponytail or just straight down. But I’m thinking about changing it and doing a Bride of Frankenstein look but I’ve not had the guts to do it, because I have to deal with my family (laughs)!
ATPB: You have lived in Europe and have been based in Germany for 15+ years. Please tell us about your hair journey in Germany.
MEM: I’ve been lucky enough to find African hair-stylists in Cologne and Paris. When I visit Paris, I make my appointment and travel to Nicole, my hairdresser who is so divine. She’s got a talent for hair, cutting and weaving. I usually spend five hours getting my hair done. But I don’t visit Paris as often, so I go to my African hairdresser, Baaba Yankah-Oduah, originally from Ghana. She owns Zeebra Tropicana, the first black hair salon in Cologne, which has been open for around 24 years.
ATPB: Please share some of your favorite products with us. Any tips?
MEM: I love doing oil treatments, you know, wearing the wrap and sitting under the dryer. I used to use really expensive products but now, I’ve gone back to basics and use castor oil. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also started doing less to my hair to prevent damage.
Follow Michelle on Instagram for more inspiration!
Images via Michelle Elie