Who’s Musing Who?

As the great modern philosopher Julia Fox once said, “You’re either born a muse or you’re not.” By her own meme-ified suggestion, the actress has been a source of inspiration to many. Most notably, Uncut Gems co-director Josh Safdie and her former paramour Kanye West. Say what you will about the veracity of Fox’s claim, but her allusion to this mythical role was a callback to one of history’s oldest tropes. In ancient Greece, Muses were goddesses and sources of inspiration for the arts and sciences. In more recent eras, this embodiment of the divine feminine came down to earth—and started dating an artist or a musician. Think of Picasso’s lover and subject Dora Maar; Kiki de Montparnasse, who appeared nearly nude in some of Man Ray’s surrealist photos; or the fictional Penny Lane in Almost Famous.

In this conception, the muse “is this source of aesthetic creation, but she’s not actually a creator herself,” says Laura McLaws Helms, a fashion and culture historian. That assumption has obscured her crucial role in rock’s visual mythmaking. The Penny Lane character was the embodiment of rock star muses of the 1960s and ’70s, like Anita Pallenberg, a German-Italian model, actress, and artist-turned-muse of the Rolling Stones. A notable It Girl who dated both Brian Jones and Keith Richards, Pallenberg was key to developing the band’s era-defining aesthetic. “She totally changed the way they dressed, one member at a time,” McLaws Helms says. She introduced them to floppy hats, slinky layers, and fur-trimmed coats—and also taught Richards how to scowl as he performed wearing her boho tunics, scarves, and bangles. “If you think about what we think of Keith [Richards], that person is because of Anita,” she says. Skip a generation, and Pallenberg’s clear successor was Kate Moss, already a legend when she shape-shifted into a rock ’n’ roll party girl on the arm of the Libertines front man Pete Doherty. Her style during this time—miniskirts, low-slung belts, leather—has been trending again thanks to #rockstargirlfriend, a TikTok hashtag with over 3 million views that is populated with images of Moss and Alexa Chung.

kate moss and pete doherty

Kate Moss and Pete Doherty

Mark R. Milan

Today’s rock star girlfriend aesthetic is best embodied by Kourtney Kardashian and Megan Fox, both of whom underwent a shift in personal style inspired by the pop-punk look of their respective partners, Travis Barker and Machine Gun Kelly. And while Kardashian and Fox seem more than willing to play their parts, that the tagline should refer to established women like them as mere arm candy underscores the power imbalance within the musician-muse relationship. “There seems to be some inherent patriarchy in the word muse—this idea that the woman has to be made in the man’s image,” says Emily Kirkpatrick, a freelance writer covering fashion and celebrity. These days, though, it’s harder to back women into the muse corner. “Today, people have their own platforms. There’s more structure for the muse to have their own voice and create their own identity,” says Briana Andalore, one half of Julia Fox’s styling team, alongside Peri Rosenzweig. “Especially for Julia. She’s always had her own voice and done her own thing, and she’s going to continue to do so.” The traditional concept of inspirer and inspiree doesn’t apply, in her view. “I don’t know if that dynamic ever fit into this particular scenario…. We were all inspiring the situation.”

rihanna and a$ap rocky

Rihanna and A$AP Rocky

Raymond Hall

A symbiotic exchange—of style, of cred—might be a better metaphor for what goes on between musician and muse. Fox offered West many things, including an entrée to New York’s downtown scene. Nowadays, we’re seeing fashion inspiration being more evenly distributed within celebrity relationships. Look no further than Rihanna and A$AP Rocky, whose shared fashion language seems mutually beneficial. Together, they continue to inspire us all.

This article appears in the June/July 2022 issue of ELLE.

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