The Genteel
October 26, 2020


What inspires you? (Source:

What inspires you?

I was page-hopping through the March 2012 issue of Vogue - "The Power Issue" - and landed on a two-page spread of Givenchy's Creative Director, Riccardo Tisci, posing alongside his "muses." The line-up included rapper Kanye West, actress and rock royalty Liv Tyler and singer Florence Welch - The Power Icons. It's a time-honoured tradition, the artist and the muse: the Leonardo and the Mona Lisa, the Kate Moss and the '90s, the Baptiste Giabiconi and the Karl Lagerfeld. But what about everyone else?

A lot of the time, inspiration is discussed with the idea of "genius" and with the pretense of "the artist."

It sounds like a simple, or maybe ridiculous, question. But think seriously: What inspires you? What inspires you to create? Not an "artist"? Fine, what inspires you to get out of bed? To exist? What is that thing - beyond money and the material - that keeps you alive?

It's a question that I've been asking myself recently in the search for, well, new ideas and new interests, a search to uncover the nuts and bolts of my "craft." It's a way of getting to know myself better, as a writer and as a person, and maybe to become a little more efficient. According to Plato, "The unexamined life is not worth living," and that's all I've been doing lately - examining things, identifying things, giving into my own biases, re-shaping some and relenting on others. And then you're left with what propels you forward, with who you really are.

The word "inspiration" can also mean inhalation, or the flow of breath - and therefore, life - into an organism. It's one of the most basic truths that I find fascinating about existing, and that I find intricately beautiful about the duality of creation and life. To be inspired is to live, and vice versa. No one ever talks about this sort of stuff, though, not about what goes into one's work or the many layers that process thoughts, form sentences and create ideas. It is, for better or for worse, a very private matter that lives deep inside the brain, a brain that scientists are still mapping daily. Researchers are constantly discovering new brain patterns during our "Aha!" moments. Yet it's still a matter of determining what that moment is and calculating how "insight" across existing knowledge factors into our moments of inspiration.

Burberry's Christopher Bailey
and muse Emma Watson

The curious case for this "moment," these connections of knowledge, has traveled through ancient Greece into the Enlightenment, fading to near obscurity in psychology until being championed by modern neuroscience. It has been regarded as everything from a gift from the gods, a divine right allotted to just a few, or an innate reaction to economic imbalances as propagated by the Marxists. A lot of the time, inspiration is discussed with the idea of "genius" and with the pretense of "the artist."

But that way of thinking never went out of fashion, so to speak. In ancient Greece, poets were the inspired, categorised as experiencing bursts of "euphoria." During the romantic period, poets again were so lucky to have crossed this "wind." In modern fashion, you've got the muse and the designer, the inspiration and the artist still working in tandem. Look at the millennial examples: Emma Watson and Burberry, the recently-debuted Mulberry bag inspired by Lana Del Rey. The design follows in the footsteps of Alexa Chung's 2009 incarnation.

And it seems that "the inspiration" is always tied to the visual, to the material element of it all. When I want to look for ideas, what do I do? Walk around my apartment eating a freezie. It's not divine, or ecstasy-inducing. In fact, it's become very singular. As a writer, I understand this complex thought process as that thing that just lives within me, and that annoys me when I can't find anything useful to say. I wish I could just say, "Robyn inspires me! I like her look." But it just doesn't work that way, people can't wear words. In fact, it's becoming less common to see a designer seriously interpreting a piece of writing into a collection, and not in a way that's ironic or different for the sake of being different. A good example, however, and the most recent, is Carlos Campos' collection that showed in New York a few weeks ago. The F/W 2012 line was inspired by Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, and if you read the book you'd see it, you can feel it. 

Carlos Campos' F/W 2012 collection, inspired by
Gabriel García Márquez (Source:

I take my cues from other writers whose work I enjoy, but I'm not quite sure they inspire in the same way that a muse does a designer. The best way I've heard it put was from an editor of mine: inspiration happens when ideas resonate with our feelings, and our feelings unearth our thought. For other artists, inspiration is nothing more than pastiche, a cacophony of visual cues or works that fuel an entirely new creation, or, more often than not, a simple homage. This, at least, is what I gather Pinterest is for: a collection of "inspiration" boards that are really just a bunch of pictures. Like the maker movement, it's been made too easy for us. We don't actually have to do any of the legwork. Just pick out what looks good or useful, playing to our senses and not our sensibilities.

The advent of an ADD generation has become the toughest barricade to unearthing any sort of hidden potential or desire. No one has time to read 1,500 word pieces, let alone entire novels. Hence, I'll keep it even briefer: motivation drives us all, but our underlying inspiration is becoming harder and harder to grasp.

What's yours?



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