Refinement, re-defined: Designer Manon Michel makes a statement via curated print-on-demand shop

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“Free Women of Color Baroque Noir.” Print by artist Agostino Brunias from the Baroque Noir collection, curated by designer Manon Michel.

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Screenshot 2022 01 26 1.12.44 PMIf you happen to be an admirer of elegance, refinement and nobility, Manchester Ink Link’s own web developer/designer, Manon Michel’s, Manon Vertu collection is worthy of aesthetic attention. With collections such as, “Vestigial Light,” “The Stars Within,” and “Baroque Noir,” its séduire (French for allure) is hard to resist.

“I found all this art of people being regal and dignified, beautiful depictions of them just being themselves in their daily lives…so I decided to make collections as a statement about all of our lost memories,” says Michel.

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Artist, designer, web developer, culture connoisseur and entrepreneur Manon Michel’s virtual shop, Manon Vertu, makes a statement on how Black history is perceived and portrayed through her unique curated lens. Photo/Simon Michel

Born into an artistic Caribbean family, Michel was inspired to assemble her own virtual perspective of artistry after learning about print-on-demand services that upend the traditional way of shopping in a sustainable way – although not without some fervent coaxing from her sister-in-law.

“My sister-in-law, Jessie, an expert on antiques and high-end items, used to do estate sales. She knows her stuff. She was helping to decide (what to put in the collection) and it turned into this monster collection because my sister-in-law needs swag,” Michel says, with a hearty laugh.

Michel’s collection includes clutch bags, phone cases, spiral notebooks, throws, pillows, apparel, and more highlighting her design aesthetic to elevate works of obscure art and photography, and shifts the narrative by presenting her subject – 16th -19th-century persons of color – through an uncommon lens.

“You don’t see a lot of art depicting Black people or people of color in history in a positive way. They are mostly depicted as servants, or victims of abuse, or harmful caricatures,” says Michel.

I had the opportunity to interview Michel about her virtual museum below.

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Musical Interlude Baroque Noir Clutch Bag.

CC: What is it about art that moves you?

MM: I don’t know how to explain it. It all makes me extraordinarily happy. I’m a very visual person, that’s what it is. I’m a maximalist. So, everything I do has to have a lot of color and verve to it. I visualize everything in my head, and I used to draw and paint when I was in high school. Then, of course, when I became a graphic designer, and you’re on a computer 10 hours a day, you kind of lose that. But because of my family’s artistic bent, I was able to pivot to computer art and so I became a commercial artist. I was still making art, even though the tool was different. It’s all the colors and shapes. How do I explain this? Chocolate is my favorite cake. I can’t explain why chocolate is my favorite cake. I just love it and I can’t explain why. I love art. It’s just something I grew up with and something inside of me that makes me want to wake up every morning and be surrounded by it; to make it.

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Print: “Zulu Woman,” from the Vestigial Light collection.

I love my work. The thing is that I’m not a Van Gogh, but the work that I do makes people incredibly happy. I can make a web site for a client, and she will be like, wow, this is the most beautiful thing, and then come back and say her business shot up 300 percent because of what I did for her. I have a certain aesthetic, and I think it’s informed by the art that I’m surrounded by. I may or may not use a trend, but It’s not the focus of the site. The focus of the site is to make people go on your website and it pleases them so much, they say it’s wonderful to the eyes. So I approached the shop site the same way, making it as pleasing to the eyes as possible, and a beautiful experience. At one point, I said, Whoa, this is a museum shop without a museum! One of the sites that I go on all the time for inspiration was the MET Museum because that museum is my favorite place in the world. You know, when I lived in New York, if I was depressed I would go, on say a rainy day, to the MET Museum. I was just so happy to just sit there surrounded by art.

CC: What are your favorite pieces?

MM: My favorite piece? It changes every day because I’ve been looking at this thing for the last six months. There are moments where I really hate my site. Like, I can’t look at you anymore.  One of my favorites is the “Master of Hounds.” He’s wearing the most beautiful fabric, and outfit, and the sword, and then the dogs on the side, and the greenery, and you can tell he’s so very proud of his position as Master of Hounds. It’s one of my favorites. Another favorite is “Berber Bride” because she doesn’t have that weird plastic surgery look. If you look closely at her face you realize she is tattooed on her eyebrows and on her chin. All that beautiful jewelry, and her outfit. I’m in love with her. Everything about her is gorgeous.

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“Master of Hounds” notebook featuring art by Jean-Léon Gérôme.

The funny thing about another work of art, the “Free Women of Color” is its servants. All of the women there are free.  But the darker women are at the service of the lighter-skinned women. I love that painting. But it also tells you the history of colorism, it tells a story that you can’t run away from, though people do try to run away from the truth of it.  So, I have favorites, and then I don’t have favorites. And then I’m like, I love all of you. You’re all my children

CC: When someone goes to your website and they would like to learn more, What would you tell them?

MM: I put the name of the artists in the descriptions. Somebody told me not to do it and just to put the art on. I said no, because this is also a learning experience. So I put the name of the artist on the ones that aren’t my stuff. Most of them are artists who were just recording what they saw. They were like a photographer’s studio.”‘Let me paint this person,” because, you forget – a lot of artists were just making a living. 

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From the Stars Within astrology collection: Virgo pillow, Gemini mini-print, Aries cell phone cover, Leo baseball T-shirt.

CC: I love these tote bags, these clutch purses. What’s coming in the future?

MM: It was a last-minute thing that I put on, those clutch bags. I was like, do people still use them? Then my sister-in-law was like, Yes, they do! My son helped me design the apparels section. And he’s the one who told me to do phone cases. That’s how his generation, Gen Z, devours art. 

I’m doing kitchenware next season. I’ve got a whole line actually half-designed. I’m doing more cup ware, aprons and trays. I might do ice buckets because those are very cool, and since the COVID thing people have had a renewed interest in home bar carts. I’m also doing a collection on the diaspora. It’s going to be basically the Caribbean. But I’m gonna do a collection on not just Black people, but people all over the world who leave their countries to make a better life for themselves, or if they’re forced to leave like refugees; people who straddle different worlds. Basically, it’s about human migration. But I also wanted my store to be more than just a statement about racism, I want it to be for everyone. So, I mixed the zodiac with it…because everybody, it doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re from, everybody’s got a take on the zodiac. 

Hopefully, people will go to my shop and they’ll buy something, and when they get this thing that’s gorgeous, I hope it will make them happy. I also hope people will find the time (the lead time for shipping) not to be prohibitive,  because all of the smaller shops, beyond Amazon, all the indie shops, they’re trying so hard to give you something lovingly and with care, through the postal system. And when you open the package, and finally get this beautiful item, it’s worth it. In the end, I’m just a commercial designer. But I’m also a commercial designer with a certain background, and I hope that background informs you in a beautiful way. Everything is a statement piece. That’s exactly what it is.  It’s ultimately about my art, it’s about how I see art, how I view art, and how art can transform, in even the smallest ways.

About this Author

Constance Cherise

Constance Cherise is a freelance writer and contributor for Turner Classic MoviesSee her work here.