The relationship between artist and muse is as complicated as it is varied. For some, the muse serves as a source of inspiration to help aid the creative process. For others, the muse is a figment of the imagination that focuses the mind on the task at hand.
In the traditional sense, muses are independent sources of creativity that allow all types of artists to direct their vision. However, in the world of fashion, they enjoy a multitude of roles. As well as providing stimulus, many fashion designers choose muses for their body shape, and in this sense, the muse can become a literal mannequin — albeit one that can speak and give constructive (or not-so-constructive) feedback.
Below we explore the link between iconic designers and their muses, looking at some famous examples to see how their relationships worked, traversing the high peaks of creativity and plumbing the lowest depths of betrayal…
Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn
One of the most successful and classical iterations of the designer/muse relationship was the coming together of Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn. What started out as a friendship when the two met on the set of the 1954 film, Sabrina, soon blossomed into a full working relationship that spanned many decades. It would establish Givenchy as one of the foremost designers of his day, and helped turn Hepburn into an international style icon.
“His are the only clothes in which I am myself. He is far more than a couturier, he is a creator of personality,” said Hepburn of Givenchy. Over the years, Givenchy designed whole collections specifically with Hepburn in mind. One of his most famous creations was the little black dress that Hepburn wore in the film adaptation of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. An iconic part of Hollywood history, it was moments like this that would cement Hepburn as one of the most stylish women of the 20th century.
However, the relationship wasn’t just one-way. Hepburn’s global fame also helped propel Givenchy to stardom, making him and his clothing famous the world over. With Hepburn attending premieres and other highly publicized social occasions, Givenchy’s feminine and elegant style was soon appealing to a much wider audience.
This alliance formulated the blueprints of the designer/muse relationship for years to come. Fashion houses began to embrace celebrity like never before, knowing that having their clothes associated with a glamorous movie star would open their label up to a whole new market. This is a trend that has persisted ever since: John Paul Gaultier and Madonna, Marc Jacobs and Sofia Coppola, Donatella Versace and Lady Gaga are to name but a few.
Yves Saint Laurent and Betty Catroux
Often shy and lacking in self-confidence, Yves Saint Laurent’s interactions with his muses are the archetypal example of how designer/muse relationships work at their best. Over the years, Saint Laurent used many women for this role. From the likes of Catherine Deneuve to Victoire Doutreleau, high-society girls gave him the inspiration and confidence he needed to create his clothing.
However, one particular woman that stands out from the rest is Betty Catroux. A former model for Chanel (and allegedly baptized in perfume instead of holy water), the two met at Régine’s nightclub in Paris in the early stages of Saint Laurent’s career. Saint Laurent often referred to Catroux as his twin sister and her blonde hair differentiated her from his other muses. Her slight androgynous looks were the basis of many of his designs, including the much-imitated pantsuit that flattered her long proportions. Like many of his muses, she was born into aristocracy but managed to retain a rebellious edge, something that came to embody the YSL aesthetic.
The two would travel the world and shared a passion for escaping the mundanity of real life. They would visit places such as Morocco and even checked into rehab together. Throughout 35 years of collaboration, Catroux brought the very best out of Saint Laurent creatively and it is no understatement to say that their relationship formed the foundations of contemporary women’s fashion. Of Saint Laurent, Catroux said, “I’m a very lucky girl, I must say, that he picked me up. Very lucky. I had a fairy tale life with him. We had such a beautiful time together.”
Through looking at Saint Laurent’s life, it would seem that the insecurity that enveloped him could only be eradicated through working with beautiful women. In this sense, his use of muses runs much deeper than mere artistic inspiration; they seem to provide him with the lifeblood on which he worked.
Throughout the ’70s the two were inseparable and the ideas poured out of him, garnering much attention and mimicry. Catroux had her own style and was said to be disinterested in fashion, but Saint Laurent channelled this indifference into his flowing, graceful designs that would go on to change the world of fashion forever.
Hedi Slimane and the “Rock Chick”
For some designers, muses aren’t necessarily one individual. In these cases, the notion of a muse is embodied by a particular look. This statement most definitely applies to Saint Laurent creative director, Hedi Slimane, who likes to work with a multitude of muses for his inspiration. For Slimane, the somewhat clichéd rock chick is a central theme of his collections, and an important lynchpin to base his creative output around.
Arguably first originating with Courtney Love, Hedi’s muses have morphed over the years, with Sky Ferreira being a particularly big influence on Slimane’s most recent work. Ferreira encapsulates this new rock chick perfectly and has helped Slimane redefine traditional concepts of femininity within his collections. Although some would argue that the grunge look/heroin chic has had its day, Slimane’s affinity with up and coming musicians continues to mould his designs.
This association with underground artists such as Grimes, Kayla and Kim Gordon also helps Slimane to maintain a youthful irreverence, as well as allowing him to explore other creative disciplines, such as photography (he shoots all Saint Laurent’s campaigns himself). To the more cynically minded, it also allows his collections to have a broader commercial appeal, opening them up to an audience not normally interested in the output of snooty Parisian fashion houses.
This approach is not too dissimilar to what Hubert de Givenchy did with Audrey Hepburn — it’s a reciprocal relationship that works both ways to give creditability to the designer and high fashion allure to the celebrity.
Olivier Rousteing and Kim Kardashian
Described as “the perfect muse for Balmain,” Kim Kardashian’s ostentatious style is an ideal match for Olivier Rousteing’s creations. Rousteing has said that he likes to dress “different body shapes, different girls, different personalities and different backgrounds,” and he also has a penchant for strong women. All of these qualities are wrapped up in Kim Kardashian so it is no wonder that the two share a creative bond.
Since his appointment as head designer for Balmain in 2011, Rousteing has always surrounded himself with celebrity, and has a loyal following from stars such as Rihanna, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Kendall Jenner. Perhaps this allows him to tap into their exclusive lifestyles or maybe celebrity endorsements give him the validation needed to continue designing. Whatever the reasons, strong female celebrities undoubtedly help to inspire him.
“Fashion had started to forget women in a way, and concentrate too much on the clothes. For me it made no sense. In fashion, the biggest moment was when the models were celebrities”. He also takes influence from fashion royalty, citing the fact that iconic French designers such as Dior, Poiret and Balenciaga all used strong women as muses.
On Kardashian’s influence, Rousteing once said, “I choose muses that are actually really different and modern — I chose them because they are contemporary, they are part of this new world. For example, Kim Kardashian. She’s my friend, she’s a woman that I love for different reasons.”
One thing’s for sure, Audrey Hepburn she definitely is not, and that suits Rousteing’s style just perfectly.
Rick Owens and Jera Diarc
Traditionally muses are supposed to inspire creativity, but there are times when they can overstep the line and become a destructive force. In Rick Owens’ case, a particular incident during Paris Fashion Week 2015 exemplifies this. One of his male muses (reportedly his most important), a model called Jera Diarc, took it upon himself to display his rather confusing political views to the world at large.
Walking down the catwalk, Diarc unfurled a homemade banner displaying the slogan “Please Kill Angela Merkel. Not.” Whether this was a nuanced observation of the Eurozone banking crisis or a publicity stunt gone wrong, it certainly stole the headlines from Owens’ show, something the designer didn’t take particularly well (supposedly punching Diarc in the face as soon as he stepped off the catwalk!).
This is a perfect example of how muses can also be detrimental for designers. In Owens’ case, he warmed to Diarc because of his personality and striking physical attributes, but when dealing with independent, fiery people (AM Casting Director Angus Munro has said that Diarc has some “demons”), unpredictable things can happen.
Following the show Diarc was expelled from the close-knit Owens group, dropped from his modelling agency and the mood of the designer in the wake of the debacle was said to be one of “abject disappointment.”
Karl Lagerfeld and Jacques de Bascher de Beaumarchais
Karl Lagerfeld has certainly had his fair share of muses (unsurprising, given how long he’s been in the business). Yet, while his list of strong, statuesque lead women ranges from Claudia Schiffer and Linda Evangelista, through to Tilda Swinton, Cara Delevingne and current obsession Kendall Jenner, way before any of them there was one name that had a more profound impact on Karl’s life then they could begin to hope for.
Jacques de Bascher de Beaumarchais was an enigmatic member of Parisian aristocratic society. By most measures, he was the consummate 19th-century dandy (despite being born over a hundred years after that era) and was frequently found in full three-piece suit and bowtie, instantly recognizable for his well-groomed mustache. He was a regular attendee at the soirees and social events of the city’s upper establishment, and was very much an “it” man with a penchant for all life’s excesses and debaucheries.
De Bascher reportedly first met Karl Lagerfeld (whom he dubbed “Mein Kaiser”) in the late 1960s, and over the following 20 years the two became incredibly close. Despite the former’s multitude of male lovers (including, it is alleged, one Yves Saint Laurent), Lagerfeld maintains that his relationship with De Bascher was purely platonic, and that he simply gained a huge amount of joy and creative energy from being in his presence. When de Bascher died of AIDS in 1989, Lagerfeld was inconsolable.
Speaking to Vanity Fair about the pair’s relationship, he said, “It was like family without the burden of family, and he brought to my life a kind of sparkle nobody else ever will. Maybe there is one person in life for you and that’s all.”
Jacques de Bascher was buried at the chapel alongside Karl Lagerfeld’s mother, and looking back at photos of the Chanel Director in the years immediately following the death, it’s clear to see the effect it had on him. “Happiness, in my sense, doesn’t say anything,” he admitted in the same Vanity Fair interview. “The only person I really cared for died, so—poof—I don’t care.”
Thankfully, the distraught Lagerfeld was eventually able to pull through and move on with his life and career, yet (reportedly) to this day he cannot mention Jacques de Bascher’s name without pausing to grieve.
- Words: Charlie Haywood & AJ Gwilliam