The A-list: Charlotte Higgins
Charlotte Higgins’s “Greek Myths: A New Retelling” inspired the mythological themes and motifs animating the Fall Winter 2023 Collection. The British writer and classicist sat down with us to discuss everything from the representation of the women in Greek mythology to her days at British Vogue.
1. Your book, Greek Myths: A New Retelling, offers a fresh perspective on these timeless tales by narrating them through the voices of female protagonists. What ignited your inspiration to delve into their stories?
It was always the tales of goddesses like Athene and fascinating mortal characters like Penelope that delighted me when I was young. After studying Latin and Greek literature and history at university, I became a journalist, but most of my books have touched on the classics in one way or another. In the end it’s always been the endlessly rich, often troubling, strange and exciting literature of the Greeks and Romans that has fascinated me. In many modern stories from classical mythology, I found that female characters were given a back seat compared with the so-called “heroes” of Greek myth. And yet, if you read the original texts, female characters are so complicated and fascinating. I wanted to reflect this in a new retelling of stories from the Greek myths.
2. Could you provide us with some insights into your creative process of reimagining ancient myths?
When thinking about this book, I knew that I wanted some kind of structural device to frame the stories I chose to retell. I gradually developed the device of female characters weaving mythological stories into elaborate textiles. The stories are told through descriptions of these designs, as mythological women take control of the narrative through weaving – Penelope, for example, delays the moment of deciding which of her suitors to marry by refusing to do so until she has finished weaving her father-in-law’s shroud, which she unravels every night. One of my questions to myself was: what designs would she have been weaving? It was satisfying to me that the words “text” and “textile” are closely related, etymologically. In terms of actually retelling the stories themselves, I consulted as many ancient sources as I could and then allowed my own narrative voice to take over as I told the stories again in my own way.
3. What were the key takeaways you hoped readers would take away from your unique perspective on Greek myths?
Greek myths have never been locked in unchanging form and have always inspired new forms of creativity. They have been reinvented, rewritten, rethought by writers and artists, such as Chris Ofili, the great artist who created wonderful drawings to illustrate my book. And they inspired Joseph Altuzarra for his beautiful new collection. I’d like to think readers would find their own kind of inspiration in my book.
4. Living in a vibrant fashion hub and being a culture writer for The Guardian, how does the world of fashion influence the narratives and stories you craft?
I began my career as a junior copy-editor on British Vogue so I do have rich memories of working adjacent to the fashion world. The connection to my work as a culture writer is probably rather indirect these days, but I am always alert to what people are wearing, what kind of aesthetic choices they have made, particularly when profiling people.
5. Joseph’s FW23 collection was a nod to Greek Myths: A New Retelling, where each print in the collection tells a story of its own. How do you find that the FW23 collection intertwines with the narratives in Greek Myths: A New Retelling?
It is a great joy and a wonderful compliment to me that Joseph found something in my book that sparked his own immense imagination and creative process. There are so many things I love about Joseph’s catwalk show – the references to the complex clothing we can see in ancient Minoan images of women; the sense of twining, twisting foliage in some of the fabric designs; the gorgeous colours reminiscent of pulsing blue seas or Mediterranean sunsets. The fact that the central principle of my book was connected to the creation of textiles means that Joseph’s collection brings the idea full circle in a gloriously satisfying way.
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