I Am So Amused

Even in the world of high fashion, having a muse on the payroll seems wonderfully extravagant.

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For my six years at TIME, I have been confident about the fact that I have the easiest job in the world. Then I heard that fashion designers employ muses, people they keep on salary just to inspire them. If those were the rules in normal life, I would still owe Playboy money from when I was 15.

Jealous, angry and more than a little interested in what one of these muses looks like, I canceled an important mid-workday Foosball game and met Amanda Brooks, the muse of Tuleh, at Cafe Lebowitz. She looked the part--like a Klimt painting, tall and thin with wavy golden hair and a Tuleh blouse speckled with drips of gold--and even trumped my corporate Amex with a magical tab that Tuleh employees never have to pay, thanks to a barter deal. Not only do muses not pay for food, but the breakfast was better than it was the last time I ate there. Fashion muses are inspiring even to short-order cooks.

Brooks, 29, a Brown graduate and Manhattan socialite with an easy, blue-blood version of Up with People charm, told me muse responsibility ranges wildly from house to house. I found that surprising for a job in which you get paid merely for existing. But musing can be anything from prancing around the studio, as Sofia Coppola does for Marc Jacobs, to what Brooks does for Tuleh designer Bryan Bradley, which includes giving her opinion on fabrics and designs--something that sounded suspiciously like work until I found out that Brooks draws little hearts next to the parts she likes. I like to think Beatrice's copy of The Inferno was riddled with pink hearts.

Even though it is the coolest job in the world, Brooks admits it's a little uncomfortable to tell people you spend your day musing. Many people seem to think the title "muse" disappeared from the job market around the same time as "serf." "A lot of people have resistance to muses. They want something tangible: she answers the phone; she's the human-resources manager," says Brooks. But despite her job's intangibility, Brooks takes her responsibility at Tuleh very seriously. Kind of. A mother of two, she goes into the Tuleh offices, which are half a block from her apartment, three times a week if she feels like it. "It's my job to spread love to the seamstress, the financial guy. And if I'm not in a good mood, I won't go," she says. "In order to be original, you have to listen to your desires and be indulgent about getting them. If you're not happy, you can't be a muse. You have to be yourself. And how can you be yourself if you're taking the subway to work every day and chained behind a desk? You become uninspired and therefore not inspiring." I am memorizing some of these lines to use on my boss.

In fact, Brooks has done some of her best musing when she's not even around. In a desperate search to find shoes for a show, Bradley got the keys to her apartment from her doorman so that he could rummage through her closets. "I don't even have to be there to inspire him," she explains. Bradley met Brooks after a stylist put her in a giant Tuleh gown for a fashion-magazine shoot. Since then Brooks has increased Tuleh's visibility by wearing the clothing in the shocking number of magazine party pictures she shows up in. Why Brooks--who I'm pretty sure was never on Baywatch--appears in so many magazines is not entirely clear to me.

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