Beyond the Catwalk
Every fashion week, the same debates come back and issues are raised. One of them particularly, that I have not really developed on here, is that of diversity in fashion, and the eternal dilemma of Size Zero.
On Friday, I attended the event Snapped at the National Portrait Gallery, curated by organisation All Walks: Beyond the Catwalk, celebrating fashion, beauty and diversity. There was a lot going on – maybe too much – and nobody really knew what they were there for, yet the questioning, exploration of the gallery and dress-up were the experience itself.
Portraits of fashion’s greatest figures by Rankin were juxtaposed to old master’s paintings from the Tudors, creating a rather surprising pop-art like effect. DJs were playing loud music, while fashionistas were queuing at the bar for late-night cocktails or being snapped by hip photographer Alistair Guy. Other activities included illustration classes and a Photobooth session.
But the real debate was downstairs, chaired by Caryn Franklin-founder of All Walks, Lorraine Candy-editor of ELLE, and Lynne Featherstone MP-Minister of Equalities, about the impact of fashion imagery on identity. This seems to be a never-ending topic and a rather hypocritical trend: when Mark Fast introduced curvy models on his catwalk, they looked out-of-place in tiny unflattering crocheted minidresses, yet his sales and fame boomed. Then there was the naked Beth Ditto on the cover of LOVE magazine – not the classiest example I have seen either. At the same time, Crystal Renn, deemed the quintessential “plus-size” model, doesn’t look that curvy anymore to me – see image above.
Overall, it seems the fashion industry has to make shocking statements to make a point, when in fact these images become even more opposed to “normal” fashion imagery. Also, who said showing a curvier girl in a particularly unflattering pose may not spark a body-conscious girl to become anorexic more than the photoshopped image of a skinny Russian model?
I find remarkable for an editor such as Lorraine Candy to question benchmarks of the industry, but while she praises Caryn Franklin’s ELLE article about fashion being “racist, ageist and fattist”, every model in the same issue is the stereotype of the skinny Eastern European model. In a magazine dedicated to Tom Ford whom she admires for using “women of all shapes, size and age”, she chooses Keira Knightley to model the collection of Mr Ford, including on cover. She did however admit: “More thinking on this to do at ELLE” on Twitter after the event.
Eventually, what I enjoyed the most from this evening was the original taxidermy sculpture from artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster, representing the head of unusual beauty icon Isabella Blow- mentor of Alexander McQueen. Stunning, and inspired.
In fact, preaching what you don’t do and establishing legal editorial requirements are not the solution. What is truly beautiful in fashion is inspiration and talent, and people who have these think outside the box anyway.
Credits: Left: “The Head of Isabella Blow” sculpture by Tim Noble & Sue Webster, on show at the National Portrait Gallery. Photography: Alize Morand. Right: “Plus-size” model Crystal Renn by Derek Kettela for Paper Planes F/W 2010.