The Burden of Inheritance

Anyone lucky enough to become the steward of a storied business knows that learning you’ve been chosen to lead a legendary institution, fashion house, business or publication inspires two immediate reactions. The first is excitement. The second is fear.

The fear is not because you think you can’t do the job — it’s because the weight of the past can feel so oppressive. How much of your creative life is expected to be, or can be, spent fulfilling the legacy of another? Is your desire to innovate — and to perhaps ignore, subvert, discard — allowed? At what point does the obligation to be respectful become stultifying?

Credit…Artwork by Andrew Kuo

But innovate (and ignore, subvert and discard) you must, if you want to survive. You weren’t hired to be obedient. You were hired to find that undefined liminal space, the one in which the past becomes an animal you figure out how to tame … before it’s able to tame you.

All artists have to learn this lesson. Sometimes the legacy surrounds you, literally, as in the case of the designer Anthony Vaccarello of Saint Laurent, probably the most iconic modern French fashion maison. Upon being hired in 2016, he had to contend with both the inescapable presence of the house’s founder, Yves Saint Laurent — whose former atelier is now a museum — and the legacies of more recent predecessors, as well. Trying to define who you are as a creative person (and as a person, period) while also hitting sales targets isn’t easy; but as the T editor at large Nick Haramis writes, Vaccarello has managed to do just that.

On the Covers

Emporio Armani vest, $525, and pants, $425,; Hermès belt, $3,500,; Grenson shoes, $730,; and stylist’s own socks.Credit…Photograph by Collier Schorr. Styled by Sasha Kelly
Bottega Veneta jacket, $2,900, shirt, $650, pants, $1,200, and necktie, price on request,; and stylist’s own jewelry.Credit…Photograph by Collier Schorr. Styled by Sasha Kelly

Sometimes, however, the legacy takes the form not of a person but of an idea, one so fixed and beloved in the cultural imagination that we’re no longer able to see it anew. The writer Evan Moffitt talks with the primarily queer artists of color who are challenging that most famous of American archetypes, the cowboy. In their work, the cowboy is at times gay, at times Latino, at times Asian, at times trans — challenging an icon doesn’t make it less important, these artists seem to say; in fact, quite the opposite. An icon can withstand any number of embellishments, re-creations, interpretations. All it needs is someone unafraid to try.

Covers: Hair by Tamas Tuzes. Makeup by Dick Page. Models, from left: Fuma Maruno at Soul Artist Management. Daniel Abramson at Rapture Models.

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