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In the whitewater rapids of fashion, still waters don’t run deep; they breed slime and stink. It’s style stagnation: a designer’s realization — too late — that he has become enmeshed in the algae of last season’s runway hits. To keep a fresh flow of ideas streaming in, many designers surround themselves with a constantly evolving cast of characters called “muses.” Muses supply creative input. They might know what’s going on in the street. They might know what’s going on in high society. Usually, they dress in a fresh — there’s that word again — intriguing way. And for male fashion designers who design for women, muses tell them what women want to wear and how they wear it.

But like most things in fashion, muses have an inbuilt expiry date. Remember Amanda Harlech and John Galliano? Tom Ford and Carine Roitfeld? The style clock is always ticking, ever more mercilessly than our biological one, and turnover is always high in the inspiration industry. So, in the merry-go-round of muses, here is the very latest crop of Influencers.

Is it still Sofia? Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon? Artists Cindy Sherman and Rachel Feinstein? All these … and more. Marc Jacobs’ latest mega-muse is fashionable felon Lil’ Kim. She of the forked tongue and jiggly belly button. The perjuring rapper became a born-again Marc Jacobs fan during her court trial, which ended last March. When it came down to judge and jury, Lil’ Kim dumped her Bob Mackie threads — and, literally, sometimes they were threads — for good-girl Jacobswear and towed a big Birkin to top off the look. The wardrobe conversion didn’t work (Lil’ Kim was sentenced in July to a year and a day in prison along with a big fat fine), but who knows? Maybe Queen Bee’s true trash and skanky style will have rubbed off on Jacobs. If there are rhinestone pasties on the runway next season, you’ll know where they came from.

The latest eccentric to be whispering in Alexander McQueen’s ear is aristo-Brit Annabelle Neilson. Well, Neilson’s not really royal, but she was a Rothschild — briefly married to prime heir Nathaniel — and that counts for something. The thirtysomething divorcee, who is now dating Kate Moss’ ex, fashion-mag publisher Jefferson Hack, was McQueen’s bridesmaid at his wedding five years ago and is one of his most devoted clothes horses. A hard-partying adventuress who has danced on tables the world over, Neilson is also a helicopter pilot who has swum with sharks and crossed Australia on a motorbike. Neilson’s addition to the McQueen mix is her art-world friends, like the Chapman brothers and Damien Hirst, and, of course, her own intrepid, hard-nosed style.
Ever wonder why Jude Law took to schtupping the nanny on the pool table? Maybe it’s because his wife-to-be, style celeb, Sienna Miller, is too busy trading seamstress secrets with London designer Matthew Williamson. Miller is the latest in a series of Williamson’s deluxe hippie-chic girls. He’s a tie-dyed-in-the-wool bohemian all the way back to Jade Jagger days, and his signature is sunny and feminine, a Sienna blend of juicy colours, beaded silks and cashmeres and lots of girlie camisoles and dresses.

Without their muse, Dutch duo Viktor & Rolf would be like bats without radar. Until now, Scottish actress Tilda Swinton had been the one to keep the boys from flying blind, and they paid tribute to her with a runway show entirely modelled by Tilda clones. Their newest muse-another redhead-is an even stranger choice. Headlining Viktor & Rolf’s bedtime collection last March was shock-headed songstress Tori Amos sitting at her piano in a red satin dressing gown and red quilted trousers. The Cornflake Girl performed a 15-minute piece that she had composed especially for the show based on the biblical Song of Solomon. Aping Amos’ emotionally intense lyrics, Viktor & Rolf proclaimed that the collection was about gentleness, love and escaping reality.

Dior Homme designer Hedi Slimane’s new style squeeze is Babyshambles’ Pete Doherty. The drug-addled ex-Libertines front man and current Kate Moss beau
is also the front man of Slimane’s newest photography book, London Birth of a Cult, which documents London’s current rock ‘n’ roll scene. It’s not surprising that Slimane would spend a year following Doherty around with a lens. The singer-songwriter embodies the cult androgynous anorexia look that Slimane has always done and that fashion-forward women like Madonna love. The last Dior Homme collection was full of Slimane-Doherty trademarks, from rakish porkpie hats and military jackets to gut-sucking stovepipe jeans.

Cuban-American designer Narciso Rodriguez designs for Latin curves. His cool, seamed-in architectural pieces demand an hourglass figure, the kind that Brazilian actress Sonia Braga, or singer Bebel Gilberto or Gal Costa — the legendary voice of Tropicalismo — supplies. Brazil is very much on Rodriguez’s mind. He recently bought an apartment in Rio de Janeiro and spends as much time there as possible. The more time he spends in bossa nova country, the more he veers from the patrician frostiness of his Carolyn Bessette Kennedy days (remember the wedding dress?) to the bare restraint of precision-cut suits and tourniquet-tight bra-top dresses.

Zac Posen’s fans include Julianne Moore, Claire Danes, Gwyneth Paltrow and Halle Berry, but the girl who stands by his side — besides his sister, Alexandra, and his mother, Susan — is Natalie Portman. Portman has been wearing Zac Posen almost exclusively since 2002, when the then 21-year-old burst onto the scene with retro-draped gowns and cocktail dresses just begging for a red carpet. Portman obliged. Whether it’s the VH1, CFDA or Golden Globe awards, Portman is always with Posen or, at least, in Posen. Fashion’s Little Boy Blue has told the press that “the Zac Posen woman is an intelligent woman who loves rare and exceptional things.” Given Portman’s Harvard psychology degree, she’s one of the few to have the IQ to wear him.