As the Guerrilla Girls taught feminists and the world in the ‘90s, it’s much easier to be the artist’s portrait of a woman than be the artist creating the portrait. However, there’s something to be said for the muses of the world — the women that have inspired for centuries, the women who may not have been allowed inside access to the art world but inspired all of it’s players anyway.
Enter Sylvie Makower — the seventeen year old modelling for, and inspiring, the feminist art scene in London. Our current muse is intelligent, outspoken and incredibly active on Instagram. Her web presence is a curation in itself, a representation to the world of what modern femininity can be. But as Makower says in her What Makes Me interview for Polyester in collaboration with Converse, modern femininity can be anything.
Growing up as keenly aware of fourth wave feminism as she was trying to fit in, Makower’s constant contact with the internet in life hasn’t left her any less aware of the real problems in the world, as well as the true importance of ‘real life’ community. Our modern muse isn’t a blank canvas for men to project upon, instead Makower is reclaiming the muse role for the feminist generation — for those among us who adore all things femme and use that power for subversion as opposed to submission.
How did growing up in the age of Instagram and obsessively using online platforms influence your identity?
Sylvie Makower: My puberty coincided with the growing popularity of apps like Instagram and Tumblr, so I’ve been very heavily influenced by the internet in terms of personal style. Being exposed to so many alternative styles and forms of creativity allowed me to explore a style which isn’t necessarily the norm, and I think that has been especially valuable. Growing up I remember there was a strong emphasis on conformity in style and I feel lucky to have been able to develop my own sense of style outside of that.
How does living in London have an impact on the way you dress?
Sylvie Makower: In London there’s a lot of cultural and economic diversity and I think that’s really influenced my style. It’s allowed me to draw inspiration from so many different places, as far as I’m concerned having exposure to different cultures is invaluable.
How do you synchronise your online world with how you move through the capital city?
Sylvie Makower: Social media has allowed me to form a community of amazing, creative people that I’m not sure I would have found otherwise. I admire those who take action to support others and I admire those who have to swim against the current of conformity in order to have their voices heard.
What are your first memories of Converse?
Sylvie Makower: I remember when I was about 12 or 13 there was a massive craze for white converse, literally everybody had them but mine were black. I was the black sheep in terms of footwear. I got my first pair of converse when I was 14-ish but I still wear converse a lot – they’re totally effortless and genuinely look good with everything and as they’ve been worn by young people for so long, they’re a symbol of counterculture which I love.
What are the most important items in your wardrobe, and why do they mean so much to you?
Sylvie Makower: I love long floral dresses and I bought three of them when I was in New York in summer — those I absolutely love and they remind me of the States and warm weather. I also have a little embroidered blouse which used to be my mum’s which is one of my favourite items, lots of my clothes used to be my mums and they’re probably my most special items.
You’re still in the midst of adolescence — but how has your personal style evolved between your early teenage years and now?
Sylvie Makower: I definitely responded to the pressure to dress a certain way when I was younger – style didn’t represent creativity and expression as much as the desire to look sexy and girly like mainstream celebrities tend to. As I’ve got older I’ve come to enjoy expressing myself through my clothing so much more. I probably owe that to social media and being exposed to styles which do not conform to society’s standards. I still love to dress ‘femininely’, but not because I feel obliged to.
Would you say the way you dress exists outside of ‘mainstream’ culture? Why is that important to how you present yourself?
Sylvie Makower: I draw most of my style inspiration from movies like ‘Vivre sa vie’, ‘Buffalo 66’ and ‘Wir Kinder Von Banhoff Zoo’ so in that sense my style is more old than new. I think that in mainstream culture, “having style” can be quite oppressive and restrictive as everybody is expected to adhere to what is cool at the time.
As a model, how do you hope to represent or subvert femininity?
Sylvie Makower: Honestly, I think one of the main aspects of femininity is pleasing others – making other people feel comfortable by perpetrating traditional gender roles. The easiest way to subvert repressive expectations is to not adhere to them – identify why you’re making your style choices and if it’s any reason other than because you want to? Rethink it.
How does your feminist identity feed into the clothes you choose to wear?
Sylvie Makower: I strongly believe in diversity and freedom of expression, so I essentially try to not let my style choices be influenced by anybody else’s expectations or possible reactions. I used to be very susceptible to other people’s opinions and how I felt instructed — by the media and sexist guidelines in society — to dress. Now I try and keep my style totally free from that.
My appearance does conform to all of these ridiculous standards imposed on people; I recognise that I have it extremely easy in terms of insecurities and social pressure. That being said, even I have been affected by pressure to look skinnier, have perfect skin, etc. I can’t imagine how oppressive and frustrating this must be for those who don’t naturally conform to our western ‘ideals’, regardless, it is infinitely important to represent and celebrate all bodies — whatever shape or colour.