Multi-hyphenate academic, aesthetic and creative, Dr. Christine Angèle McLaren de Riordan, is a woman who knows no bounds. An interdisciplinary thinker to her core, she effortlessly folds mathematics and astrophysics into her design, fashion and music; in turn, her art reverberates back into her work in the academy.
We caught up with Angel last year in Paris, before she defended her PhD thesis A Bridge between Science and Beauty at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, advised by College de France Fields medalist Alain Connes and Princeton philosopher Dan Garber. Transfixed by her intellect and grace, we knew she had to participate in our Expressionists series.
Read our full interview with Christine below.
MORGENTHAL FREDERICS: How has your work on astrophysics and mathematics shaped the way you see the world?
C-A: As a child, I was at MIT often as my parents finished their degrees in mathematics, and I attended some of their classes regularly. As I reflect on it, I think I ingested the most profound of these areas possibly through their inherent feeling, even if I did not rationally know or understand what I was seeing or hearing. Astrophysics itself came about in my undergraduate work. I majored in music at Princeton, yet I was researching gravity waves, pulsars and their exact time-keeping, weak stability boundary theory and more. Today I am blessed to work with scientists, mathematicians and philosophers as well as those in the humanities and arts who nurture my connections inside mathematics/synesthesia/music/beauty, but respect my mental freedom and independence.
How it has shaped my world—I feel an excitement and responsibility to share some of the more hypothetical, invisible and mind-bending ideas in these fields in an artistic way to non-experts, as well as formally publishing academically.
MF: Your work marries the hard sciences with art and fashion. What is that connection and how do you translate those ideas for a broad audience?
C-A: I think the translation part for a non-expert audience is to help them feel concepts that have previously seemed very intimidating. Since I, too, have always learned more by my perception, and kept my early childhood receptivity; as an adult I have been able to use the connection of my abilities in design, music and the arts to explore difficult concepts within astrophysics and maths while remaining focused on the mathematical accuracy. In between formal education at Princeton and ENS, I chose a new and modern atelier where I got hands-on with multi-technological materials and soft materials, to begin to make some of my ideas into finished concepts in prêt à porter and haute couture, as well as having positive experience fashion modeling. Now, I am taking the research in my PhD thesis and making it into a new project in haute couture and dance in collaboration with my former advisers.
What I love so deeply about haute couture is the originality of each piece, and how certain "patterns" of seams, of certain centimeters for cuffs or collars that you see in pret à porter, that can all go out the window; and just like a virtuosic violin solo, you're on your own, it’s you and your brain, your body and nature.
MF: What is something people don’t know about your work, and how do you balance more than one field of research at a time?
C-A: I love poetry and creative writing, to allow the wonder of written prose and poetry to transport you. Reading and writing are great passions. Sports have also factored into my work, both having been an athlete at Princeton and then experiencing the very different fashion worlds in Paris and Milan fashion modeling while overcoming an illness was life changing. The mind-body connection is astounding for use in healing, and I found I could actually translate physical muscle fibers and body memory into creative ideas in the mind. I believe that for me I actually was born needing to solve and integrate areas that have not been integrated yet—it may be my raison d’être. Being inter-disciplinary for me is on a visceral and viscera essential DNA level, not something I desired or planned to be. That does not mean it has always been easy!
MF: Is there any interdisciplinary advice you would give, having been so deeply ensconced in it yourself for so long?
C-A: The most important mentoring around being interdisciplinary I received was from Toni Morrison advising me in my writing. It turned into much more than just my writing, because she talked to me about the publishing world and my work in music. That experience forever imprinted me. It was a great honor to be in her first Princeton Atelier and I continue to abide to her separate 1 v 1 mentoring everyday. Many aspects of that experience with her hardened my resilience— especially my need for space and time to stay internal, within my mind. Also to pay attention to what my intuition told me, even if other people tried to alter that at times. She understood all kinds of different forms of strength and how important it is to tap into their subtleties.
So about strength: I would say my own advice is to keep your independence and autonomy at highest priority, because the creativity of your unique ideas are precious. I may help or work with wonderful people at points, and we help each other by complementing our different skill sets, but I guide the ideas. I receive input I ask for, but I do not let anyone alter my ideas. Originality is the vital ingredient that makes you free and keeps your mind free. So just stay true to your inner soul as it already creates for you anywhere you need to go, by itself. Only you know you, so celebrate that.
MF: So what are you working on now?
C-A: With Alain Connes, in France, I am working on something called the cosmological chrysalis. The starting point is his cosmological amplification model which allows us to imagine how we reach macroscopic dimensions by applying an amplification process. By artistic and musical creativity, I transform this metaphor into a real show. This show would either be “life-size” as a fashion show, or as a video production with aesthetic dimensions of dance, music and fashion.
I love original design so much—and this brings me back to you, thank you so much for having me.
MF: Thank you!
Grace & Beauty
Christine is a perfect match for the bold sophistication of our Oscar de la Renta x Morgenthal Frederics Twist I frame.