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Michele Lamy's Venice Bargenale

Susannah Frankel explores the inimitable Michele Lamy's Venice project – a brilliantly named salon-on-sea

"I wanted to make a place to be. A place on the water. A place where all my friends can come. And where I can be surprised by new people too. I’m super proud of this barge here." So says Michele Lamy of her latest endeavour, the brilliantly named Bargenale, a Lamyland salon-on-sea, if you will, and among the places to be seen in during the 56th Venice Biennale.

The project follows on from Bargel – an equally witty and water-based play on Art Basel – which whipped up quite a storm at Frieze London last year. The vessel in question now is not of the whimsical, pseudo Romany variety. Instead, in a former incarnation, it carried trucks and, with the help of Lamy’s architect, David Leclerc, it maintains a distinctly industrial flavour. It’s home from home, Lamy says. She lives with her husband, Rick Owens, in a magnificent bare-boned, predominantly 19th century building which was once the French Socialist Party’s headquarters. The couple gutted it and now work, play and party within its grand but in no way bourgeois walls.

"We’ve been under construction for ten years," Lamy says. "There is always scaffolding. And so I told David: 'that’s what I look at and that’s what I want to look at here’".

Lamy is well-known as the brains behind Owenscorp’s upscale fur collection and, more recently, fine jewellery which is beautiful – resonant of both the ancient and futuristic at the same time. In her former life, however, and for many years, she owned and ran Les Deux Cafés. A Hollywood hotspot located nowhere more obviously flashy than a disused car park, it was a destination for le tout fashionable LA including her now partner who started his career making clothes for its fabulous clientele. Lamy has something of a gift where entertaining people in extraordinary places is concerned, then.

For Bargenale, she has employed the services of 23-year-old chef, Dieuveil Malonga. He is known by his second name, was born in the Congo, raised in Germany and creates what he describes as Afro-fusion cuisine in Paris. Lamy’s choice relates to this year’s Biennale, she says, curated by Nigerian-born Okwui Enwezor. "Malonga did a dish for us last night, shaped like Africa, with all these berries." It formed part of gallerist Jeanne Greenberg’s birthday celebrations. 

As well as a kitchen serving brunch and late lunch, Bargenale has a recording studio, presided over by UNKLE frontman, James Lavelle. When we speak, ASAP Rocky has been in residence and Lamy too ‘"did a little poem. James is going to make an album out of all of this’. Then there’s an ‘abstract garden’, courtesy of Lamy’s artist daughter, Scarlett Rouge, where guests can make wishes and bury any bad thoughts.

"Gareth [Pugh] is here, Matthew Stone is here. Rick is at his factory but he was here yesterday. All our friends," Lamy says. "It works on many different levels. And that is what I love."

Bargenale is at the Venice Biennale until May 8.