Her genuinely original and fantastical style of dressing is Ms. Harper’s claim to what by any standards is an extremely provisional celebrity. Over the last five years, she has made herself so ubiquitous a subject of the photographers clustered on street corners and outside fashion-show tents that she was finally forced to reverse herself and declare “street style so over.” During roughly that same period, Nicola Formichetti, creative director of Mugler and a frequent collaborator of that other arch-image manipulator, Lady Gaga, cast Ms. Harper in an Elle video series titled “The New Muse.” In 2012, Vanity Fair named her to its Best Dressed List. She was in a category appropriately designated the Originals.
“She has made herself into a kind of ambulatory work of art,” Amy Fine Collins, a fashion expert and Vanity Fair special correspondent, said of Ms. Harper. “With the passage of time she has pushed it a little further and further, been more experimental and at the same time extremely polished and not clownish.”
Yet who is Michelle Harper? And why do so many people suddenly find themselves fascinated by a 35-year-old businesswoman and brand consultant, a former club kid who once went by the name of Cutie Pie? Is she the endpoint of the overworked Warhol dictum, living out the final seconds of her 15 minutes through a camera’s lens? Is she a shrewd brand builder claiming our collective attention with madcap sartorial antics? Is she a modern-day Holly Golightly? Or is she the spiritual heir of Sylvia Miles, that notorious ’70s party hound renowned for showing up anywhere someone put a potato chip on a windowsill?
“The No. 1 thing I get labeled quite often is socialite,” said the woman in question. “And I’m not. I’m a hard-working girl who may be dressed and out a lot and outspoken, but I’m not in some bubble. There’s no money tree shaking down on me.”