Many things contribute to shaping our personalities, interests, and the people we become. Most commonly, this comes from our friends, family, and culture. But something that has always interested me is how much of an impact those we have never met can imprint on our lives. Those who speak to our souls through their art, wisdom, beliefs, and style. These inspirational figures can have just as much an impact on our lives as those we know (sometimes more) and I always love to find out who those “people” are for anyone I meet. You can tell so much about someone by who inspires them. So, here are my top five inspirational figures that have shaped me as a person – the people who have fuelled my passions, moved me to tears, helped me find my way in the bad times and continue to inspire me no end. Why not tell me your inspirational heroes in the comments!
Lee Alexander McQueen (17/03/1969 – 11/02/2010)
“I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.”
Lee Alexander McQueen, better known to the world as prolific British fashion designer Alexander McQueen, has probably impacted my life more than any other person (besides family of course). A bold statement I know! I was introduced to McQueen’s work in my early teens whilst studying art at high school and I genuinely will never forget seeing his designs for the first time; clothes resembled works of art and the models sometimes didn’t even look human. McQueen often challenged our perception of “beauty” making us realise that our standards of beauty are fabricated; through his work he highlighted that true beauty is often found in the unusual and unconventional, even in the deeply dark, melancholic moments. He also championed women as a powerful, strong presence on the runway; how they dressed was not merely for the male gaze, like we see with many designers in the 1990s/2000s, but to empower the wearer to be a true reflection of how they feel on the inside. Like his famous quote above says “I want people to be afraid of the women I dress”. McQueen’s collection vary from dark, twisted and at times grotesque to unbelievable beauty and decadence. Every single piece is a triumph of British design. As a gay East End London lad from a working class family, he wasn’t the norm in the world of high fashion at the time either, but his early beginnings on Saville Row proved he had skills with fabric that can’t be taught (I swear his tailored pieces are second to none). But much like his collections, he had his dark side, and much of his work is autobiographical. A life of drug addiction, over work and depression eventually led to McQueen take his own life in 2010, a devastating loss of a beautiful and talented soul. The way I view the work of Alexander McQueen is unlike how I look at any other fashion design, or even any other artwork. His ability to evoke real emotion through his clothes is truly unique (I urge you to look up some of his catwalk shows on YouTube, they are more theatre than fashion) and those feelings, along with his words, have connected with me for such a long time. I’ve taken solace in the beauty of his art in the very worst moments in my life and they never fail to bring me so much joy and understanding; a knowledge that you can find even a glimmer of beauty and hope in the dark. What an unbelievable achievement to be left behind by a fashion designer – in fact not merely a designer, but a true artist. I don’t think anything I can say brings justice to what Lee McQueen’s work has meant to me throughout my life, but I will forever be grateful to him for making me feel understood.
Edie Sedgwick (20/04/1943 – 16/11/1971)
“I’m in love with everyone I’ve ever met in one way or another. I’m just a crazy, unhinged disaster of a human being.”
Edith Minturn Sedgwick was an American socialite, artist and fashion icon, famously making waves in 1960’s New York as one of Andy Warhol’s muses – better known as his “Superstar”. I encountered Edie around the same time as I did McQueen, and I was completely captivated by her style, beauty, and quirkiness. The more I researched her, the more fascinated I became, not only by her contributions to the underground film scene of the 60s and her love affair with Bob Dylan, but her tumultuous relationship with Warhol; the fact the artist leeched off of her fame and wealth to further his own interests is a topic that doesn’t get examined enough (I love Warhol’s artwork, but can’t say I love him). She also suffered majorly with mental health issues throughout her life, from abuse by her father and his incarcerating her in psychiatric institutions at a young age, to her drug addictions in later life, Edie was the epitome of a tortured soul. But look up any video or photograph of her and you cannot feel anything but love for her endearing smile, followed by deep heartbreak knowing what a tragic and short life she led (she died aged only 28 from a barbiturate overdose). I always strive to make more people aware of Edie – her contribution to Warhol’s famous Factory was just as integral as he was, and yet she too often gets lost to history or remembered merely for her addictions. A sad end she may have met, but what a beautiful, if brief, mark she left on the era that she epitomised so well. I recommend the book Edie: American Girl by Jean Stein and the film “Factory Girl” if you would like to learn more about Edie’s life.
Walt Disney (05/12/1901 – 15/12/1966)
“Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, dreams are forever.”
A name known all over the world as one who has brought joy and magic to many a childhood (and adulthood), Walter Elias Disney was the ultimate example of rag to riches, growing from poor newspaper boy into the creator of the biggest entertainment company in history. Walt was an innovator, pushing the boundaries of animation and entertainment throughout his career, from the early days of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, to bringing his magical world to life with the creation of Disneyland in 1955. Walt’s ethos was always if you work hard and dream big, anything is possible – the best mantra to have in life if you ask me! Like many people, Disney movies, from the classics right up to the new and visually stunning Pixar creations, have brought absolute joy to my life. I am in awe of how one person could be so unbelievably talented and ahead of their time; Walt’s drive and passion for what he wanted to achieve will forever inspire me. That, and the fact he urged everyone, children and adults alike, to always find the magic – like he famously said “adults are only grown up kids anyway”.
Frida Kahlo (06/07/1907 – 13/07/1954)
“I am my own muse. I am the subject I know best. The subject I want to better.”
Whether you know who she is or not, I would bet you certainly recognise the striking image of floral adorned, strong browed and utterly captivating Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist who is hailed as a global feminist icon. Frida lived a life dominated by pain: her dreams of becoming a doctor were shattered at just eighteen when a bus crash left her incapacitated and in unthinkable pain for most of her life. She spent large portions of her life bedbound, leading her to seek solace in painting, often using herself as her muse by placing mirrors above her bed to aid her self portraits . She created a glorious image for herself, focusing heavily on Mexican culture and she is recognised just as much for her clothes and the way she looked as she is her artwork. Pain followed Frida throughout her life, from the amputation of her right leg to extensive spinal surgeries (she wore steel and leather corsets to aid with support which she of course painted and adorned with flowers, birds and political imagery), the woman barely knew life without suffering. To still find beauty and comfort in art, fashion and life itself shows how strong a resolve she had. I love that she focused on herself in her work – teaching us to look within and get to know our true selves, as in the end that is all we have. We should all do ourselves the service of being our own muse. I absolutely adore Frida. Her artwork, her words, her strength, the way she created her image is just endlessly inspiring to me. I have a photo of her pinned to my mirror so I see her every day – on the not so good days just looking at her and thinking about everything she achieved and what she stood for gives me a little boost. That and her glorious clothes and colourful image just make me so happy. We should all “be more Frida”.
Marilyn Monroe (01/06/1926 – 04/08/1962)
“Keep smiling because life is a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.”
Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jeane Mortenson) probably seems like an obvious choice. She is probably the most recognised and beloved woman in modern history, and who could fail to be charmed by her smile and beauty? I have my mum to thank for this obsession, as I was brought up in a household that worshipped the Old Hollywood movie stars: I am even named after Hollywood icon and femme fatale, Lauren Bacall. Marilyn’s image and her films have been in my life for as long as I can remember and although I can’t help but be captivated by her undeniable beauty, it is her humour and vulnerability that I love and admire the most. Marilyn never really gained the credit she deserved as an actress in her lifetime; often portrayed as “the dumb blonde”, you only need to watch even a few of her films to see she was an unbelievable talent. From genius comic timing in movies like “How to Marry a Millionaire” to heart breaking vulnerability and anguish in “The Misfits”, Marilyn had layers that run far deeper than her sex symbol façade – but these layers often get overlooked in favour of idolising her beauty. As a result, we have to shout even louder about the fact she championed racial equality, was highly intellectual, adored to read and be educated and even put herself through gruelling acting classes, always doubting her own abilities due to the public’s perception of her. And that’s before we even look at mental health, from her mother’s obvious struggles, (leading to Marilyn’s childhood largely taking place in orphanages) to her own traumas of desperately coveting a child that she would never be able to bear. She was an unbelievably complex and clever woman who knew exactly how to make her way in the world – she done it so well it was far easier to paint her as “dumb” than to try to ever understand her. Marilyn proves that you can be everything you want to be and more; beauty does not equate stupidity nor does it hold more value over intellectual pursuits. It’s just a shame it took until after her death for people to realise the talented and inspiration woman she really was.