The Muses Worthy of a Museum

As the Met opens “The Model as Muse,” celebrating the iconic women who inspired famous designers, Renata Espinosa recalls the faces that launched a thousand lines.

It takes a designer to dream it, it takes a model to wear it—and it takes you to live it: This is the fashion cycle as we know it. One might argue that the store selling the fashion is the crucial link between creator and consumer, but anyone who’s ever flipped through a copy of Vogue at the nail salon and silently admired just how smooth and buttery a handbag looked when juxtaposed against the equally smooth and buttery (right, airbrushed) skin of model knows that these glamazons, these waifs, these sexpots, these immortals are truly the queenpins that subconsciously instigate our material desires.

Recognizing the impact they have and the way their image shapes perceptions and buying habits—as well as the creative process of design itself—the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute organized an exhibit opening May 6, “ The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion,” curated by Harold Koda and Kohle Yohannan. Sponsored by Marc Jacobs, it celebrates models both past and present and the legendary looks that they inspired and burned into our retinas.

Click Image Below to View Our Gallery of Legendary Muses

For every runway model who collapses like a flat pancake into the background, there are those models who possess such iconic charm and grace—a certain je ne sais quoi—that a designer cannot help but use them time and time again, on their runways, in their ad campaigns, on their inspiration boards, until that model becomes that brand.

Dovima was Christian Dior in the ‘50s, thanks in part to Richard Avedon’s photographs of her, and nobody but Jerry Hall could have been more Halston in the ‘70s. Donna Karan’s first signature model, Rosemary McGrotha, in 1986, epitomized Karan’s sensual, sophisticated urban woman for years to come. And Kate Moss—well, who hasn’t she served as a muse to? Even Justin Timberlake, her co-chair for the Met’s annual “party of the year,” the Costume Institute ball on Monday night that will kick off “The Model as Muse,” cleverly told Hamish Bowles in Vogue this month that Moss was a muse for his William Rast label. How’s that for marketing?

"Each season there will always be that one model who personifies the look and feel of a collection for you,” says designer Anna Sui, who will receive the lifetime achievement award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America on June 16. “Invariably, that girl will be the first model out at the start of your show, and wear the finale look at the end as well.”

Sui tells The Daily Beast that her "It Girl" as of late has been Agyness Deyn: “Agyness is way more than just a model,” she says. “Her appeal transcends all genres; fashion, music, film. Her personality is so adorable…everyone who meets her, falls instantly in love with her."

But then there are the eternal muses, such as supermodel Naomi Campbell, who has inspired everyone from Dolce & Gabanna to Sui. She, along with fellow “Trinity” members Linda Evangelista and Christy Turlington, the self-named trio who rose to fame in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, are the closest thing that fashion has to pop stars.

“She is such a force of nature,” says Sui of Campbell, who said she was her constant muse for nearly a dozen shows. “It is so inspirational to work with her, and she has also remained a very dear friend.”

Though she’s never walked in one of his shows, Thakoon Panichgul remains in awe of Christy Turlington. “Her beauty is so timeless," he says.

Linda “the Chameleon” Evangelista’s ever-changing hair colors and cuts served as muse to my own chameleon phase in high school, and I had one wall in my room devoted to pages ripped out from W and Vogue of her various metamorphoses.

Likewise, designer Jeremy Scott nursed a particular affinity for Evangelista in high school before moving on to Kristen McMenamy and ‘60s legend Peggy Moffitt: “I would draw [McMenamy] all day long wearing my future creations while I was in college. When I discovered Peggy Moffitt and all her amazing, inspiring photos early in college, she took the level and raised the bar for what a muse should be.”

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!

Daily Digest

Start and finish your day with the top stories from The Daily Beast.

Cheat Sheet

A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know (and nothing you don't).

By clicking “Subscribe,” you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.

But it was Devon Aoki who ultimately captured Scott’s heart—his own eternal muse. “She was one of my truest, all-time love stories as a muse,” he says. “I brought her to Paris and my show was the first-ever she walked in. I would draw her face, and still often do, wearing everything. Everything!

At the end of the day, who wouldn’t rather imagine themselves sitting in St. Bart’s, a tangle of tanned skin and strappy gladiator sandals, as opposed to being that person who sticks color coded post-it notes to cut-outs of shirts and shoes in Lucky magazine? The stuff just looks better on a well-styled and photographed model, period. So let’s give them their due: Here’s to empty wallets and the seduction of unattainable perfection!

Plus: Check out Fashion Beast, for more news on the latest runway shows, hot designers, and emerging trends .

Renata Espinosa is the New York editor of Fashion Wire Daily. She is also the co-founder of impressionistic fashion and art blog TheNuNu and a sometimes backup dancer for "The Anna Copa Cabanna Show."