This Girl Is On Fire
Adeline Michele heads up Escort, the 17-piece disco band ready for its close up
by Ayana Byrd photography Brooke WilliamsAdeline Michèle believes in the power of collaboration. And she would have to as a member of the colossally sized, 17-piece disco band Escort, which blends electronic dance music with the exuberance of ’70s disco. Yet with all those bodies on stage, she manages to be the person that no one in the audience can stop looking at. She is the band’s lead singer, yes, but the 24-year-old also has a few other things in her arsenal: beauty, balls (of the musical performance kind), a bass that she plays in addition to singing and a style that is colorful, eclectic and just-left-of-center sophisticated. The looks and musical talent are hers alone, but the wild wardrobe looks are created with her friend and stylist, Irini Arakas.
“You thought I put this together myself?” Michèle asks, laughing, posing in a pair of sequined animal-print pants with two-foot suede fringe in the middle of Arakas’ office. The walls are pinned with press clippings and inspiration boards, and the room is filled with scarves, clothes and jewelry for Arakas’ line Prova. Michèle, who commutes to the midtown space from her Brooklyn apartment, considers it her “second home,” where she regularly comes to put together outfits that help her to get into her onstage character: “If Prince and Chaka Khan had a kid together, that’s how I am onstage.”
“If Prince and Chaka Khan had a kid together, that’s how I am onstage.”“Let’s be honest, it’s not really a collaboration—it’s a dictatorship,” says Arakas, who admits that she is a perfectionist. A year and a half ago, she met Michèle through her college friends Eugene Cho and Dan Balis, the founders of Escort. A former Vogue staffer-turned-designer, Arakas had started to feel like clothes and fashion were more work than play—until she took on the task of styling Michèle. “Bands with a comparable number of people onstage, like Flaming Lips or Arcade Fire, they can outfit everybody,” says Arakas. “But the jubilee and spirit of Escort’s music can be channeled into the looks we put on Adeline.” Lately, she has taken to naming some of her inspirations with monikers like “Axl Rose Meets Fela Kuti.”
Michèle, who was born and raised in Paris, welcomes any flavor of jubilance, but notes that whatever she wears needs to be able to move with her. “I love putting on fancy outfits and belting out a song…that’s disco! But comfort matters, because onstage I need to be able to dance,” she explains. “And I squat a lot.” She also plays bass and jumps around—which all makes for a great performance, but presented a big challenge to Arakas, who before working with Michèle, was more familiar with dressing models who only moved on command. The outfit that changed it all for them both was a sequined piece that Arakas found at the bottom of a box in a Palm Springs vintage store for $60: “That dress was the ‘a-ha’ moment, where I got everything right. It worked for the kicking, spinning, all of it.”
Like the line from Escort’s latest single, “Barbarians,” which goes, “Stand up…stand up…bang your drums, we are the barbarians,” Michèle is a force to be reckoned with, both onstage and in real life. She insists that she’s “kind of a tomboy,” at which Arakas scoffs and explains that really what she is, is French. Michèle doesn’t argue. “I don’t hug people,” she says. “In a movie, someone dies, I don’t give a fuck. But a horse falls down and I lose it, crying hysterically.”
“I don’t hug people. In a movie, someone dies, I don’t give a fuck. But a horse falls down and I lose it, crying hysterically.”It may also be the reason behind her general frankness, as Michèle dismisses the recent online chatter that Escort’s buzz is only growing because the helmet-clad electronic duo Daft Punk has re-introduced disco to the masses. “We’ve been doing this for six years,” she says of Escort, which has been met with critical acclaim ever since the release of its self-titled debut last year, an album that was hailed one of the 50 Best of 2012 by Rolling Stone. Fresh off of a European tour, the group hits New York this week at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg before a busy summer schedule.
Though Arakas is excited to send Michèle on the road with a trunk full of inspired looks—the Brooklyn show’s outfit is a nod to the gold chain tunic that Isaac Hayes wore at the legendary Wattstax concert—she is really looking forward to recreating an idea she’s been pondering for months: Keith Haring once covered a nude Grace Jones in white body and face paint, a red wig and metallic see-through circles on top of her lady parts. “Go ahead, mention it in the article,” she says, teasing Michèle. “It’ll be more pressure for her to do it.” Michèle looks decidedly calm about the future prospect of showing all her business onstage. After all, what’s disco if not daring?
Makeup: Mimi Kamara
Hair: Shelli Mosley