A skilled mentor can change your life.
It’s exhilarating to have a sounding board for your ideas; to have someone who will help guide you on your path; and someone who will deliver that sharp kick in the pants when you’re acting small.
Professor Tani Barlow took me under her wing in the late ’90s – and helped develop my intellectual capacity for forming original ideas and recognizing patterns. She also taught me how to challenge assumptions – incredibly useful in constructing arguments and negotiating deals.
I recall one Friday evening I was up way past midnight axing 25,000 words from my manuscript because of something Ruth Ann said to me.
Months of hard work – GONE!
It was incredibly painful and incredibly right! It’s not the word count that matters, it’s the impact of those words.
Both these mentors were TOUGH.
In fact, one of my friends warned me that Professor Barlow made many of her students cry with her high demands. I, of course, thought her eccentricities and strict requirements were hot!
These women helped shape me into the woman I am today. Which is why I want YOU to have a mentor.
However finding your PERFECT mentor who totally gets you – and supports you can be hard.
Because unless they’re retired – or being a mentor is part of their job – people who excel are busy crafting & creating their own thing.
My unique proposal: Instead of seeking out a mentor – seek out a Muse.
And if saying ‘Muse’ makes you think of loser artists who populate cafes while waiting for some unknown goddess to come hit them with an inspiration stick, or of those nine fancy ladies from Greek mythology, forget that for a minute, and try this:
A MUSE IS SOMEONE WHO INSPIRES YOU.
My current muses are Karl Lagerfeld, Carine Roitfeld & Diana Vreeland.
MADONNA chooses a new Muse practically every year. Remember her Marilyn Monroe phase, the Eva Peron phase, the geisha phase, the not so virgin Virgin Mary phase, and the recent matador phase?
Once she chose a muse, Madonna made every decision based on what that Muse might do.
What they looked like, what they sang, what emotions they would want to convey. Her Muse of the moment directed Madonna’s projects, her photoshoots, and her public persona – until she moved onto the next Muse.
One of my fave examples of using a Muse is the elegant & refined clothing brand MARCHESA.
Not only because the clothes are fabulous, and the ladies behind the label are smart, but they have chosen as their Muse one of the most extravagant style icons – the Marchesa Luisa Casati.
Heiress, fashionista, patron of the arts, and a woman so extravagant that the Poiret number she’s wearing above could have been her equivalent to lounging around in sweatpants.
A little background on our Muse…
Luisa was born in Milan in 1881 to a wealthy cotton manufacturer, who was later made a Count (and given even more money) by King Umberto. Her mother was even wealthier, so the young Luisa lived a life of luxury.
She was told she was horribly plain, and would have to cultivate social graces, or else she would never marry (a fate worse than death, back in the day, apparently).
So, in order to catch a husband with wit and charm, Luisa engaged in a wide variety of studies, and became passionate about the arts, theater, and costume.
She also became OBSESSED with eccentric members of the royal family and flamboyant theatrical figures, realizing that if you had enough style & money, you would be forgiven a great many other flaws.
That’s one smart kid! And when both of her parents had passed away by the time she was 15, Luisa – along with her sister – inherited a fortune. And became the wealthiest woman in Italy at the time.
Imagine being 15. And being able to buy anything you wanted, when you wanted it.
Luisa indulged in all the pretty objects, art, exotic animals, and clothes she could get.
She later married the Marchese Casati Stampa di Soncino in 1900, where she gained her title of Marchesa.
(One step up from a Count, and a step or two below a Duke, for those of you who are counting.)
At that time, Luisa figured that she had done her duty by conventional society – and in a few short years had established a separate home from her husband, and began indulging in pretty much anything she wanted to.
Strolling around European streets in couture & costumes, or entirely NAKED beneath lush fur coats, leading her pet cheetahs or draped in snakes, the Marchesa was possibly the most scandalous, recognizable and talked about person of the early 20th century.
Here’s what Michael Mattis has to say about her:
“She was the most flamboyant and dramatic character to flit through the early 20th century European beau monde. They simply don’t make her kind anymore: richer than God, gloriously semi-sane, with outrageous tastes in friends, art, decor, clothes, houses, pets and lovers. Guests of Casati’s boudoir were a veritable who’s who of the aristos, aesthetes, artists, bon vivants, poets, dancers and dandies that made the early 20th century’s art scene what it was; totally, utterly and delightfully mad.”
It’s fair to say that the Marchesa Luisa Casati inspired tons of artists, designers, painters, poets, and writers.
Cartier’s panther jewelry was designed with her in mind, and John Galliano’s Spring Dior collection in ‘98 was dedicated to her, as was Alexander McQueen’s 2007 collection.
But what happens when you take the MARCHESA on as your Muse?
Well, according to Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig – founders and designers at the Marchesa brand – it created a set of guidelines against which to measure all their work, starting with Lusia’s statement:
“I want to be a living work of art.”
Which sets the stage for the kind of clothing they want to create. So starting with “what would Luisa wear”, and removing the snakes and cheetahs – you have stunning ball gowns and extravagant bridal couture. Opulent luxury, with plenty of jewels, lace, velvet and feathers.
Everything is ‘seen’ through the Marchesa’s lens.
Even as the Marchesa brand has expanded to perfume, handbags, a partnership with Lennox, and bridge offshoot Marchesa Voyage, Georgina and Keren ask themselves – is this rich and opulent enough for Lusia?
So, even as they’re creating themes for the season’s runway, such as Bohemian for Spring 2015, the collection is still about what the Marchesa Luisa Casati would wear to Woodstock. Trust the Marchesa to make it Fabulous.
Your Muse is your mentor.
She’s always on tap – all you have to do is ask, “What’s next?”