Located on the corner of 37th and Walnut, Raxx Vintage West houses local vendors like Frilly Gurl. Frilly Gurl, initiated by the local artist René Micheli, is a social change awareness project which found its beginning in the ideas of body and womanhood. Juxtaposing line art of naked female figures and declarations like ‘I Am Free’ and ‘No Cat Calls’ on tee shirts and posters, Micheli uses art to highlight the various issues modern women tackle in today’s Western culture. Frilly Gurl is not simply political. It is personal.
“I want to empower myself as a woman, and take back my power,” Micheli says.
She does so through the acts of drawing and printing. Her deteriorating eyesight made it difficult to work in her traditional medium—photography. After discovering drawing, the real challenge was finding a voice within a new field. Other artists around her knew what message they were promoting, but Micheli was still coming into her own after a divorce from her long–time husband and beginning a new form.
Eventually, she found her voice by looking towards her feminist predecessors, ranging from Hillary Clinton to FEMEN. Of course, most would know Clinton and her iconic pantsuits well, but FEMEN is rather foreign. Micheli explains how FEMEN, a Ukraine–based group, “would literally undress, usually half way up their bodies would be nude, and they would paint in thick, black ... body paint, words like ‘I’m not a sex toy,’" a line which made its way directly into Micheli’s current work. But, Micheli is not simply recreating FEMEN’s tactics. She is adapting them to fit the current culture she experiences as a woman in the United States.
She explains the difference, saying, "Here, in our culture, we have a sort of softer, easier way where we were talking about simple things like no cat calls, you know, and this or that, and these women were gonna die; that's why they were protesting, whereas our right here to express ourselves clearly in any form we want, and that was where I became interested.”
Given the global message Micheli draws from, it is clear she is not alone in her mission to empower the female form, yet she does not always feel this assurance day to day. Micheli struggles with feeling visible. She had to shut down Frilly Gurl’s website because of financial reasons. Currently, her work is on sale at Raxx Vintage West after she was approached by owner Amanda Saslow. This provides reminders that her message is being heard, even if it is not on the global level she envisions.
She laughs when she reveals, “I was in there putting T–shirts in there one day, and sometimes I feel like I’m invisible.”
It seems strange that she can joke about this loneliness. Meanwhile, she relishes in the enjoyment and positivity her work has given to women from all backgrounds.
“To me, I see it as like we are just like spirits in bodies, and we love who we love, and we are who we are,” she continues, “and we don’t get to pick our skin suits. We just are in it, and we do what we can.” Frilly Gurl is Micheli’s way of doing what she can.