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Life of a muse: What is it like to inspire art for a living?

Published 8:31 AM ET, Tue December 24, 2013
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Throughout history mesmerizing women known as muses bewitched artists and inspired them to create works of great beauty. CNN spoke to some of the world's most famous modern-day muses and artists to find out what it takes to ignite the spark of creativity.

Hailed as the queen of burlesque, Dita Von Teese has topped best dressed lists all over the world and performed at exclusive events for high-end fashion brands. Her look, which references the golden age of Hollywood, has inspired designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Christian Louboutin. Apart from being a muse, the statuesque beauty also creates lingerie and fragrance of her own.

Dita says: " It's really clear to me that anyone who ever placed me in the position of a muse did so because they appreciated that I always stayed true to my own personal style."

Interviews by Milena Veselinovic
Photo Ali Mahdavi, Courtesy Dita Von Teese
Chanel Iman, model

American model Chanel Iman has graced the catwalks of all major fashion capitals, and earned a spot on the coveted Victoria's Secret show. She has worked with numerous fashion houses, but has a special relationship with Michael Kors whose creations she started modeling when she was a teenager: "He was the first designer to really take me under his wing and introduce me to the world of fashion" says Iman.
David Bailey, photographer

David Bailey's lens captured the greatest beauties of the swinging sixties, including two of his wives - Catherine Deneuve, and Marie Helvin. Known for his electrifying charm, Bailey says that muses would find him, rather than the other way around, and that there wasn't only one type of personality that inspired him: "Like finger prints, everyone is different," he says.
R. McPhedran/Express/Getty Images
Gong Li, actress

Gong Li is the premiere dame of Chinese cinema, whose exotic beauty has transfixed audiences across the globe. She has starred in numerous films by her former partner, prominent Chinese director Zhang Yimou, including the The Story of Qiu Ju which brought her the Best Actress award at the 1992 Venice Film Festival.

Gong Li sees her role of a muse as active: "I'm not the kind of actress who just does what she's told. Communication about the script with the director is of vital importance to me." However, the knowledge that she inspired a director bring her professional gratification: "That's what I expect and hope to achieve every time when I shoot a movie" she says.
Courtesy Gong Li
Celia Birtwell, textile designer

Celia Birtwell, known for her bold and feminine fabrics, has been a long-standing muse to painter David Hockney. He featured her in one of his most famous works, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, and designed a fabric called Grand Punchinellas for her.

Celia says: "I always enjoy modeling for David because I find it intriguing to know what is going on behind the easel. As we are such great friends it just feels an extension of our mutual respect for one another. I consider him to be our finest draughtsman and artist, so it is extremely flattering that he likes to draw me, and I believe he is delighted by the critical acclaim that his work achieve."
Photo David Hockney, courtesy Celia Birtwell
Veruschka, model

German countess Vera von Lehndorff-Steinort was born in East Prussia, but by her early twenties had adopted the exotic moniker Veruschka and moved to NYC where she reigned as the queen of magazine covers.

Legendary photographer Richard Avedon called her the most beautiful woman in the world, and she has also worked with Salvador Dali. Veruschka says that in her work as a model she has always seen herself as an artist: "Now and in the past, my interest has always been my total involvement in the working process of creating a project, or an image. It is not something you talk about, it just has to happen."
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Yoko Ono, artist and peace activist

Yoko Ono is famous for being both a muse and an avant-garde artist in her own right. She received a Golden Lion Award for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale in 2009, and she is known for her peace activism. Her marriage to John Lennon was a union of creative minds in which they both inspired each other.
JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, fashion designers

The famous Italian fashion duo Dolce and Gabbana say they don't have one specific muse, but draw inspiration from daily life, people they see walking down the street, books and songs. "But you need to have a special eye to catch it, because it goes beyond the surface of things," they explain.

When it comes to personalities they admire, they all share one trait: "Attitude is for us a very important aspect of a woman - and a man for all that matters."
Photo Gimpaolo Sgura, Courtesy Dolce and Gabbana