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Issue #11
November 2014 - March 2015
So, What Is A Muse
Maya Dvash / December 02 2014

I heard one of the most sobering answers to the question "What is muse?" from an old friend who said to me during one of my more difficult times, "A muse is a circle around a date on a calendar". If this answer were sufficient, there would of course be no justification for the constant preoccupation with this question in articles, conferences, TV programs, and especially in songs.

When addressing the issue of muses, poet Agi Mishol takes her time before she answers, posing attendant questions: "Is it a beautiful bird? A silent language of the gods? An angel? Perhaps a demon that stirs up the blood?". The recent Holon Fashion Conference was held under the title "Muse - Inspiration in Contemporary Fashion" and addressed the different faces of inspiration. The decision to open the conference with Dr. David Graves's lecture "When My Muse Sings to Me" was appropriate since it laid the foundations on which the subject could be further developed and expanded.

אייל דה ליאו | Holon Fashion Week
Eyal de Leeuw | Director of Holon Fashion Week | Photograph: Benny Gam Zo Letova

When My Muse Sings To Me

In his lecture Dr. Graves reviewed the history of the concept, from the Classical Period in which reference was made to the nine muses responsible for the different domains of creativity as the spirits accompanying the artist, but also controlling him: "possessed by a demon" was a customary saying; through the Middle Ages in which the nine muses were replaced by a single deity - the Holy Spirit - which was a kind of divine gift, in other words "possessed by the Holy Spirit"; the Age of Enlightenment which sought to banish the demons and spirits of the Middle Ages and focused on the intellect that can point to details in reality that others are unable to recognize; the Romantic Era which countered the rationalism of the Enlightenment and indicated human spirit that surpasses itself and touches the sublime; to the modernist perception that opposes both the idealization and romanticization of reality, and proposes observing reality at eye level, and especially working untiringly.

David Graves | Holon Fashion Week
Dr. David Graves | Photograph: Benny Gam Zo Letova

Dr. Graves divided the definition of a muse into three main factors: an objective external factor, a kind of inner logic of the system (in the fashion world it is style, a system of rules which is a kind of non-verbal statement that unifies the collection); intuitive recognition, a knowing or understanding that cannot be scientifically quantified; and exhilarating discovery, a kind of madness or passion through which the artist sees reality in a different way. This is how Rembrandt discovered the "I" in the portraits he painted, and Van Gogh the ability to express feelings in paintings.

David Graves | Holon Fashion Week
Dr. David Graves | Photograph: Benny Gam Zo Letova

So, what is a muse?

Charles Batteux said that a person to whom the muses sing is neither wiser, more superior to, or more intellectual than others, he merely registers and does things faster.

Auguste Rodin said that inspiration is a fairytale we tell to entertain the ignorant.

And Pablo Picasso asserted: "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working".

In praise of slowness

Anja Aronowsky Cronberg is a fashion researcher, entrepreneur, and editor-in-chief of Vestoj, an annual magazine that each year engages in one topic and its connection with the fashion world. It is hard to call the printed product published by Cronberg a magazine - its format is not big and ostentatious, the images are not huge and defiant or printed on glossy paper, and the text is not minimal, or merely descriptive and attendant.

The hybrid Vestoj, which is neither a book nor a catalogue (or perhaps it is both), is in fact one of the more interesting projects today in the world of writing on fashion in particular and culture in general. In an attempt to accord equal weight to images and photographs Vestoj is designed as a sophisticated book comprising two sides or facets: one comprises articles, and the other conversations with key personalities on the selected subject.

Anja Aronowsky Cronberg | Holon Fashion Week
Anja Aronowsky Cronberg | photo: Benny Gam Zo Letova

The current issue of the magazine is devoted to "slowness", and engages more comprehensively with the subject of time. "Time is of paramount importance for the creative person", says Anja Cronberg and quotes Czech writer Milan Kundera: "There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting".

"In the world of fashion this bond is of particularly acute importance, when a particular style is forgotten so quickly even when a moment before it seemed that living without it was impossible", she says. By its very nature fashion constantly aims to be contemporary, reflecting the moment, and in order to do so it has to forget the past. But according to Anja Cronberg, in fashion the past is always pursuing the present, and slowness is a conscious preference of the journey over the destination.

Anja Aronowsky Cronberg | Holon Fashion Week
Anja Aronowsky Cronberg | photo: Benny Gam Zo Letova

She summarizes her philosophy on the subject of "slowness" with the following inspirational words: "Let yourself be idle, stop for a moment, delay, and repeat the same things over and over. Use your hands to create something that a machine can do faster, look for beauty in things that are not whole, that are temporary, and flawed. Take your time, and remember the words of Rebecca Solnit: ‘Time always wins; our victories are only delays; but delays are sweet, and a delay can last a whole lifetime'".

So, what is fashion?

By their very nature, in the world of culture questions immediately lead to additional questions, and it is no surprise that the question that came up in the conference was: What is fashion?

"Fashion is a wonderful democratic culture, but it is not art" asserted Damien Whitmore, an expert on museum branding, and currently a strategic consultant for international corporations including Prada Fashion House, which plans to build a new museum in Milan.

Damien Whitmore | Holon Fashion Week
Damien Whitmore | photo: Benny Gam Zo Letova

"Fashion is culture", said Eugene Rabkin, founder and editor of StyleZeitgeist Magazine, New York. He came to the world of fashion from the world of music, and is currently one of the industry's most important and interesting fashion writers. A considerable number of fashion designers today will only give interviews to him (including Iris van Herpen when she was interviewed for the exhibition currently showing at the Museum).

Eugene Rabkin | Holon Fashion Week
Eugene Rabkin | photo: Benny Gam Zo Letova

In their lectures, both Whitmore and Rabkin emphasized the need for a designer or museum to have a clear point of view, an ethos, and an esthetic direction - a rather rare commodity these days. Part of this ethos, said Rabkin, is to bring back the old method of shopping.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world" (Mahatma Gandhi).

A clear ethos was evident in Michael Hadida's lecture, in which he presented his new website, BEtoSEE ("be the change you want to see"). The website, which aims to help designers make a living and expose them to the general public without the mediation of store owners, buyers, and fashion shows, expresses profound belief in the power of the audience and the power of fashion to the blaze the trail to a revolution in the consumer world.

Michael Hadida | Holon Fashion Week
Michael Hadida | photo: Benny Gam Zo Letova

However, the mediation between the audience and the designer cannot merely be the passive purchase of desirable products; visitors to the site will be able to determine which of the items will be manufactured and exactly what they will look like. The notion of designing in accordance with audience demands and establishing a committed relationship between it and the products it consumes is already being utilized in a considerable number of platforms in the fashion world. Sites such as Co.Co invite customers to participate in designing the collection, and Famuza (one of the startups presented in the conference's workshop day by McCann Tel Aviv and Geektime) offers a new shopping experience based on wisdom of the crowd.

Michael Hadida | Holon Fashion Week
Michael Hadida presenting BEtoSEE | photo: Benny Gam Zo Letova

A great many ethical questions arise from the new platforms that alongside an enhanced shopping experience also offer information gathering and monitoring of consumer habits. Thus, AWEAR, a platform that enables distance identification of a fashion item and where it can be purchased, or SnapGet that enables instant purchase of similar products, raise serious concerns alongside great curiosity. Feelings that take us back for a moment to the questions Agi Mishol asks: "So, what is a muse? Is it a beautiful bird? A silent language of the gods? An angel? Perhaps a demon that stirs up the blood?"

* Assisted in the preparation of this article: Maya Frenkel-Tene

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