Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Muse

Photo of Jean Shrimpton by Cecil Beaton, 1964

The gala opening of the exhibition "Model as Muse" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Monday night was a convergence of the glitterati of the worlds of fashion and Hollywood. Presiding over the event was Marc Jacobs and his co-chair Justin Timberlake who welcomed Anna Wintour, Madonna, Kate Moss, Anne Hathaway, Lauren Hutton.... (to see photos and videos of the gala, check out

Curated by Harold Koda and Kohle Yohannan, the exhibit explores the relationship between high fashion and the evolving ideals of beauty as portrayed in the iconic models of 1947-1997. Models featured in the exhibition include: Dorian Leigh, Suzy Parker, Dovima, Jean Shrimpton, Veruschka, Twiggy, Jerry Hall, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Champbell and others.

To me, what is really interesting is not the models themselves but the concept of muse. What is a muse?

In classical mythology, muse refers to the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne who presided over the arts:
Calliope (epic poetry)
Clio (history)
Erato (lyric poetry)
Euterpe (music)
Melpomene (tragedy)
Polyhymnia (religious music)
Terpischore (dance)
Thalia (comedy)
Urania (astronomy)

(I suppose since painting and sculpture are not included here, that my artwork must fall into the category of tragedy!!!)

In more common usage, a muse is someone (sometimes referred to as a goddess!!!) who has the power to inspire an artist.

For May's issue of Vogue, Hamlish Bowles interviewed Marc Jacobs on his creative process. Jacobs said that "A collection is just that -- a collection of thoughts, ideas, and experiences, trials and errors, editing and adding. It's something that unfolds." And for each collection, at some point in that process, a muse emerges. "So whether it is Kate Moss or Winona Ryder, it's the imperfection that I find so beautiful. The flaw, their Achilles heel, is as interesting as the perfection."

In the book "The Beautiful Fall, Fashion, Genius and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris", I learned that Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent relied heavily on their inner circle of favourite models and friends to inspire their creations. Lagerfeld was especially heartless in that he would use people until they no longer served his creative purposes. "The members of his shifting entouage were there to provide information, energy, laughter, ideas, and significantly, youth, and they were replaced when they no longer fulfilled these criteria" (page 310).

My muse is the goddess of fashion. As ephemeral as she may be, she is a wellspring of beauty and delight.

Who is your muse?