PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN & JUN LU
EDITOR & WORDS BY ELIZABETH CABRAL
Surrendering herself to the photo, without self-conciousness or inhibition, Guinevere Van Seenus creates a connection that is intimate, raw and highly impressionable. She has sustained a modeling career spanning more than two decades, all the while remaining at a heightened level of relevance and modernity. A remarkable feat given modeling’s compulsion with the next, newer face. Surely this has something to do with her unique beauty, but more so it is the net of inspiration she casts on those she works with. With a quiet, unassuming demeanor, Van Seenus actively participates by observation. Taking note of the “moments in between” as she once described it, and transforming them in to a captivating pose. Connecting with the clothes and making them an extension of her body. To watch her is not to watch a model, it is a type of performance art. She is above all things, mindful: of her surroundings, her collaborators and what she is emoting. She values time: to create, to connect, to feel.
With such a thoughtful approach to her craft, it’s not surprising that same mindfulness can be found in her style. The idea of purposeful consumption is not lost on her, making it only fitting that Van Seenus graces our inaugural cover. Her closet is a treasure trove of emotional connectedness, like her collection of Dries Van Noten items personally gifted by the designer, or an original Helmut Lang coat, perfectly worn in and distressed by nearly two decades of wear. And then there are her signature collections of Hawaiian print shirts, vintage t-shirts and archival dresses that while purchased with love, she has yet to find a special enough occasion to wear them to. A signet ring with her family crest and a sentimental pendant rarely come off of her body. Her surroundings are emblematic of the same sense of connection and purpose. On the eve of our shoot at her Brooklyn apartment – a warm and calming space, we spoke for hours while tasting from her collection of teas, her favorite incense, Astier de Villate Yakushima filling the air, and her three-legged foster dog Ashley always by her side. Here, in her own words, Guinevere Van Seenus, model, muse and artist, addresses some of the most poignant topics of our current time.
How do you achieve purpose in your life – what kinds of purposeful decisions do you make everyday?
I imagine it sounds contrived but in truth the way I feel a sense of real purpose is in creating or in being helpful and of service. Fostering and working with animals, finding a way to be kinder than one feels like being on a rough day, cleaning something up that isn’t mine in the park, on the street, anywhere. Simply trying to bring something positive in, wherever it might be possible.
I do also find a sense of this in my working with stones and metals, fabrics, clay, even at times with imagery both in front of and behind the camera. It helps me in knowing that I have made a contribution. That I am not just using and discarding but actually creating and giving. They are small things but I believe every bit counts and hopefully cascades.
What are your codes to self betterment and wellness?
Ha. Well it’s a big job so it’s a big bag of tricks. Meditation, prayer, therapy, inspirational literature and speakers…… acupuncture and a multitude alternative therapies……. yoga, dance, play, animals, family, creating, cleaning…..
Why and how do you think you have been able to sustain such a long and iconic career as a model and artistic collaborator?
I often get asked this and I would love this question to be posed to some one other than myself so maybe I might know. I never had real ideas that I would make it. Then, even in the midst, I thought I would most certainly get booted any day. I am truly very fortunate. Fortunate, I believe, to have connected in some peculiar way with some of these incredible people. Not everyone, not everyday, not for every project, but maybe in some small manner that has lasted a bit, with some. They have certainly affected and inspired me so that is the only way I know how to speak to it.
Beyond a model and muse, you are an artist and expressionist – intrinsically part of the creative process, what do you feel you bring to it and what is it about you that you that has inspired so many photographers and artists?
I appreciate you saying that. I don’t have a real concept of what that means. I don’t really know how others work for the most part, nor how it is to work with me from the other side. I have good days at work where I feel like am able to deliver and others where every minute of it felt incongruent and wrong, and I leave disappointed in myself. But this is the wonderful part about working in these incredible teams, they give you so much. Sometimes your worst day is someone else’s best and they lift you entirely, or the struggle of that day is exactly what was meant and needed for a certain concept. In those moments one can find interesting portraits and stories of truth, imperfection and vulnerabilit.
In the end I know I want to make the best picture possible, I never want to repeat myself, and I desperately want inspiration, for everyone. I am one of many contributors, and I just hope I am helpful to bringing the vision into form.
How do you marry your altruistic pursuits with the world of fashion – are they exclusive of each other?
In a way they are polar opposites and in another they are one and the same. I like to imagine everyone tries to bring betterment into whichever space and field they exist and work in. Some areas may be easier, more fluid and connected with these concepts already. I don’t imagine fashion as one of them. But isn’t that the very reason why it is important? The very reason why they must be overlaid? To apply these ideas into the more difficult realms is exactly the point. There are so many people in the industry doing positive and amazing things, and so much potential to continue and grow that.
It does seem that a good deal of consciousness is needed. Education maybe, awareness…a slowing down…thought. I say this still for myself as well. I can only imagine there are very many things that I can and will improve on once I do know better. That said, I do think there are a number of areas in fashion where we really do know better, but we don’t do yet. This is unconscionable, greedy and lazy. It doesn’t make it ok that the consumer buys it and supports it. I don’t believe it is all about demand and supply. I would hope for the bigger picture to be considered, that a cultural consciousness, an industry pride and integrity could come into practice, a general caring. Ideally to lead the way, not to follow anyone with a dollar to spend and an itch to scratch, but to guide in good and positive directions that are better in the long run. Not to be controlled, but to be truly considered. I don’t say take a vow of poverty, I imagine there is room for both without some of the abusive practices that have become the norm.
She surrenders herself to the photo…
Who in your opinion is creating purposeful design. Which creators/ designers are you inspired by?
Always and forever Dries. I think he is making one of the clearest, strongest and most beautiful statements of today, of staying true to your vision, persevering with patience, staying inspired, believing in beauty, fashion as purpose and art, timelessness, agelessness…… He creates treasures you want to have for a lifetime and garments of chic comfort one can exist in everyday. Having pieces from 20 years ago blending seamlessly with aspects of each of his current collections. He does this without fueling a desperate need to consume, but gives a pure satiation and richness of finding just the right one for you. Like eating the most amazing of chocolates, one doesn’t feel the need to eat a hundred. The “less is more” concept becomes evident and true enjoyment comes in the presence of that one full flavor, or that one amazing item that lights up everything else in your life. For me it is just one great coat that changes my entire wardrobe for a season. Maybe a new pair of shoes that enlightens different aspects of all that I already have, those items that have lasted 20 years because of the quality of construction and design. All it needed was a little illuminating…
Azzedine Alia is most certainly a persevering patriarch of these ideals, Erdem is one that comes a little more recently….. Rei Kawakubo, Yohji ….. There are many to admire.
But all this is considering we are simply talking about clothes, there could very well be a bigger conversation regarding issues like self esteem, addiction behavior, suppression, detachment, ignorance…or a general lack of joy and happiness that is the struggle of many. I realize cost is also a factor but quality and lasting products pay for themselves in the end, and are incredible second hand, inexpensive treasures. They are also very well supplemented with a good pair of Dickies or Carhart pants…… maybe some Converse and your father’s old tuxedo jacket.
In the end consumption is a drug that triggers the rewards centers of the brain just as the “smart phone” does, or that “one” cigarette. I imagine we all struggle with this in some form, so I guess it is just about fighting the good fight.
How do you feel about stuff? Especially since you work in an industry that consumes, creates and markets so much.
Well I suppose any industry consumes, that is the nature of commerce in some way or another. It has been since the beginning of time it would seem. Something is used to make something else, maybe then used several times over and over again, transformed at each step, until eventually it winds up at its end and in the garbage. That cycle just seems to have gotten shockingly rapid in the last couple decades. Fabrics, dresses, coats and shirts may have lasted generations before. Now it seems a wonder if it is weeks or even one washing. We are humans and we leave footprints as they say. We just seem to have gotten really ok with not having a conscience around it. It is strange in a time that we are more global than ever, when we can actually see with our own eyes what is happening on the other side of the world, that we can choose to be entirely blind to the millions of tons of clothing waste that gets deposited on someone else’s land, in some other sphere…somewhere else…that magically makes it all disappear. But I believe the concept of “disposable” and easy and cheap should be eliminated from so many areas of our lives. Nothing comes for free, we do pay in the end. Whether it’s the landfills and environment, the cheap food that fills but doesn’t nourish our bodies, or the toxic products that slowly poison us, our children, the animals and our future.
How do you want your narrative to read?
My mom always said…. “leave a place better than you found it”. If that is possible I would be content with that.