Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.
Pure Collection Ltd.
Net-a-porter UK

Friday 20 June 2008

What do these three men have in common?

This post first appeared in November 2007

A few years ago, I was having lunch at Moro in Clerkenwell Market with the then women's page editor of the Guardian. Sitting at the next table were a group of adoring acolytes hanging on the every word of a flat bloke with a blonde bristly head like a pig, dressed in combats encasing thighs which oozed like over-ripe Camembert sluggishly running off the edge of his chair.

That, said my lunch companion, is Alexander McQueen.

And a spasm of pure rage passed through me. Who was this fat bastard to tell women that they were obese if they couldn't fit into a size 10? To make clothes that half the population couldn't wear? I am tired of fat men telling non-skeletal women that they don't exist. Granted, McQueen, like Lagerfeld, with the assistance of the finest trainers money can buy and no obligation to prepare family meals three times a day, have slimmed down, or in the case of Lagerfeld, turned himself into his own corpse, but fashion is full of fat men (sorry Alber, I really love you in every other way) giving normal-sized women an inferiority complex.

I had my picture take a couple of weeks ago to go with a magazine piece I'm doing . There was a photographer, a picture editor, a make-up artist and the manager of Hobbs all involved in this operation, and after the make-up artist had bemoaned that she couldn't find a pair of trousers to fit her in Zara, the photographer said that one her friends was a plus-sized model. 'What's plus size?' I asked. It's size 12 (US8) she told me.

Myself, I'd put every man in fashion who weighs over 150 pounds on the Atkins diet. And don't come back until you can fit into skinny jeans.


Anonymous said...

"...dressed in combats encasing thighs which oozed like over-ripe Camembert sluggishly running off the edge of his chair." Linda - truly, one of the great descriptive phrases I have ever read. The problem remains, however, that for designers(who are mostly men), it's all about the clothing - it's not about the customer. They could not care less about meeting women's fashionable clothing 'needs'. They are only looking for animated hatracks who don't have anything that will stick out to interrupt the line of their 'fabric art'. With or without 'oozing camembert thighs'.

Anonymous said...

It's always good to let off steam from time to time, and that's what you seem to be doing here. You've described an incident of seeing Alexander McQueen in a resturant and suddenly all male designers are guilty of making you feel fat! If 'fashion is full of fat men' making you feel bad then let's have some examples, because all you've done is apologise to Alber for being fat, (although it seems he doesn't actually make you feel fat because you like what he does) thereby giving him an inferiority complex no doubt.

'Plus size model' means just that, not plus size woman. Photographers know what they're talking about, the lens puts on at least a stone, so they need to start with a slimmer version if they are to create an image that you will enjoy seeing in a magazine. No one wants to see 'readers' wives' modelling fashionable clothing - it just isn't part of the dream.

Has McQueen actually said a woman is obese if over a size 10? I think he has much more interesting things to say. Why shouldn't he design clothes that half the population couldn't wear? Does that make him any less of a designer? Did Chanel, YSL, or any of the greats ever design for the whole population? And (while I'm letting off steam) finally, I don't see your fat bottomed Donna Karan using models anywhere near the size of her, you or me!

Anonymous said...

That was the funniest damn post I've read in a long time. You tell 'em sister. I want my dentist to have had a root canal, by obstetrician to have had a baby, and my clothing designer to wear clothes just as unforgiving as the ones he expects me to wear!

Anonymous said...

Now that designers and fashion editors have become celebrities in and of themselves, they need to pay a little more attention to the image they project. McQueen and Lagerfield don't have to actually utter the words "A woman is obese if she's over a size 10" to convey that attitude. Donna Karan may not use plus sized models in her shows but she always includes some designs in her collection for the rest of us.

This distain for anyone who's not rail thin isn't unique to men. Carine Roitfield has made it very clear that she has no time for overweight women and Donnatella Versace has obviously driven this point home with her own daughter, who's been treated for anorexia. Although they're both painfully thin themselves so at least they walk the walk.

Anonymous said...

I hope your lunch wasn't entirely spoiled.
Thankfully, I don't have to see designers in the (all too....) flesh. What does make my skin crawl, however, is hearing the men gasp about how they "love", "adore", "worship" women; come on chaps - you enjoy making dresses - it's OK!

Anonymous said...

elaine, designers as celebrities is not a new phenomenon, it has been that way for at least the last 100 years. And I distinctly remember reading an interview with McQueen where he said that the people he designed for lived a life way outside his reality. I also read somewhere that Joan Collins considers him to be an excellent pattern cutter and she is hardly a beanstalk!

So Donna Karan always includes some designs for the over size 10s? She and every other successful designer. Do you honestly think these designers would be successful if they could only count on the size 10s of this world for their livelihood? They would have gone out of business years ago.

Anorexia is a highly complex mental illness and there is absolutely no evidence to prove that fashion designers are responsible for encouraging it in young women. On the contrary designers love making women feel confident in their designs - for a designer it's the ultimate compliment. I'm sure there have been many pressures in Donnatella Versace's daughter's life but to narrow it down to pressure from her mother regarding thinness is a complete supposition.

I see all these arguments as petty gripes that deliberatly avoid the point. Clothes do look good on 6ft size 10 models - that's why size 12, 14 and 16s go out and buy them, love them and feel great it them.

Laurel said...

Let's do a reality check, greying pixie. A review of designers' comments on women who weigh will produce evidence enough to put any woman with a modicum of self-esteem under the table. I don't go looking for the these remarks ... one doesn't have to ... they occur just about every time designers open their mouths. Next, plus size IS about a woman's size ... and emerged as the generic response to just about everything above a 12US. A "plus size model means just that, not a plus size woman," is too much of a stretch -- for me, nearing sixty, to not get a bit rankled about given the damage such thinking as this has done to women on any number of fronts.

And, perhaps that is the issue ... the ongoing, insidious damage that is done each day, in large and small ways that bounce back to us as we stand before a mirror. I concur with Linda's rage, so much so that I apologize for the blurt but not the message. Thanks for hearing me out.

(And this post came after flying past a remark from a now deceased YSL client about how she loathed/hated fat people. Sometimes a day can be simply too long....)

Anonymous said...

Laurel, I stand by what I say. Appealing to the larger woman by using larger models does not work. It has been tried and tried again and again, and it does not work. The Dove campaign with girls with fat thighs didn't work, the UK chainstore Evans outsize had to change its name and the M&S campaign of size 16 woman naked on a mountain side fell flat on its face. When I buy my size 16 party dress from M&S I want to feel like Erin O'Connor - that is marketing and nothing to do with designers.

I repeat that anorexia and even low self-esteem are very complex conditions that cannot be laid at the feet of designers. Often these are issues that relate to upbringing, childhood, and parental relationships. Why on earth should designers have to feel responsible for this?

With regard to the YSL client, aka Nan Kempner, I regard her remark as very much about class distinction and snobbery. But she's entitled to her opinion; in my opinion she was way way too thin to look good in any of her clothes!

Anonymous said...

Naively put, I would like to see clothes on the runway I could look good in. But everything is worn by women who quite often look like adolescent boys.
Since my body doesn't comply to the fashion rule of-the-day (be tall, slim, boyish, young) I can rest asured that while I might find the dresses on the runway quite pretty, there's no way they would actually look good on me.
And that's all I want from fashion: Pretty clothes that look good on me. And someone to make them, please.
Enter vicious circle.

Anonymous said...

It's always fascinating to see models from the time before the Naughts (and the current emaciated white doll look).

Those models are model-like: beautiful or interesting, tall, thin, cheekbones, etc. They are clothes-horses yet there's still something human about them. Something that elevates the clothes in an optimistic way.

Today's models are just coat-hangers (and deliberately chosen & styled so). It's almost as if designers (and their moneymen) are afraid models with character will outshine their clothes.


-- desertwind

Anonymous said...

greying pixie said...
I stand by what I say. Appealing to the larger woman by using larger models does not work. It has been tried and tried again and again, and it does not work.

Perhaps it does not work for you but for me and many other readers of plus size blogs it does. But then again I am not often consuming high fashion or even mainstream fashion. I love seeing the big models. They are so much taller and better groomed than I'll ever be. I especially like some sites where they use customers as models and let you see the designs on real bodies. I don't have aspirations to look like the model - i just want a dress that will fit. I don't want to buy from places that use flatchested waifish folks as their models.

Unknown said...

The whole runway/fashion marketing thing really *is* just a fantasy, and it's a mistake to try and see ourselves in it or even want to. *I* am real, marketing propoganda is not. But it's somewhat subversive, isn't it, to take a piece of clothing and make it your own when you are most definitely *not* what the fashion-elite have in mind?

Anonymous said...

Greying Pixie...where are all these ads appealing to "the larger woman" in mainstream fashion? LOL...I'd LOVE to know because they'd be a collector's dream, being so rare (read nonexistent) and all. Those mags are in the same place as the ones that appeal to "the older woman" methinks.

The day Vogue or some other fash rag puts Albert, etc...on a diet/make over routine like they recent did to the Sisters Mulleavy (Rodarte) is the day your points might actually have some chance of being reality based.

Anonymous said...

I’ll just add this interesting tidbit: a friend of mine, who is as contract designer with 30 years of experience, tells me that plus-size styles are not designed as such. The buyers make their decisiona based on the standard RTW size 2 or 4 sloper used in the industry and the styles are graded up to plus size in pattern development.

Susan B said...

anon, that's a good point about the Mulleavy sisters. I also recall from either the late 80's or early 90's a feature in one of the fashion mags about Donna Karan's "successful" slimdown program.

OTOH, The Kaiser garnered a lot of attention surrounding his (bizarre) diet and weight loss (including a book).

greying pixie, I'll agree that anorexia is a complex illness, possibly with some genetic components. But I disagree that fashion and media has no influence. From my own experience and a lot of other women I've spoken with who have battled this disease or treat anorexics, the trigger was dieting in an attempt to look more like models and actresses. And in countries that do not have the same ├╝ber-thin standard of beauty, rates of anorexia and ED's are far lower. Last week I quoted an article where a model speaking before a panel said that she specifically told that she needed to have an "anorexic look".

Anonymous said...

Well to follow up on a few of these points: the images of larger women are no longer seen in mainstream advertising because the campaigns failed. You as an individual may want to see them, but as marketing campaigns they failed - fact!

deja pseu - it's true that anorexia is a Western decease, that does not exist in non-western cultures. In countries that are gradually adopting Western values its prevalence is increasing.

My concern is that all this blame is laid at the feet of designers with no evidence to back it up. In my opinion the pressure women feel to conform to an impossible ideal is directly related to other factors; firstly the use of computer technology in enhancing fashion images (even Kate Moss is airbrushed these days), secondly the availability of plastic surgery to intervene in our natural shape and thirdly the easy availability of pornography today which has an impact on how society expects women to look and behave.

Susan B said...

greying pixie - designers and the fashion industry are just part of the problem, not laying all of the blame on them. But it is disturbing that runway models are now are expected to look emaciated, just to keep up with the photoshopped images in the magazines. Clothes should serve the body, not the other way around.

Heidi said...

greying pixie:

You seem very concerned about facts and evidence. Where is yours? :) Citations, please!

Anonymous said...

I'm a plus-sized consumer. I'm not old and I'm an attorney. I like traditional clothes with a modern look. And sometimes I think I look thinner than I really do, so I buy into the fantasy. But when it comes to serious clothing purchases made on-line or through a magazine, I am suspicious when the model is not a true plus size. Skirts are longer on her - shirts hang differently. Embellishments may not lay the same way on a larger woman. So, I pass. I admit that the mags with larger sized models are not always feeding my fantasies, but at least I can make an educated decision!

Also, I found this quote from a commenter interesting: " plus-size styles are not designed as such. The buyers make their decisiona based on the standard RTW size 2 or 4 sloper used in the industry and the styles are graded up to plus size in pattern development."

This is another reason I distrust the photos taken with non-plus-sized models.

The designers who figure out what bigger women look good wearing - and sell it - will be rich indeed.

p.s. We don't look good in floral, cap-sleeves and low-rider mini skirts! Mumus are out, too!!

Anonymous said...

First of all, "...dressed in combats encasing thighs which oozed like over-ripe Camembert sluggishly running of the edge of his chair..." is wonderful writing, as well as astute and accurate.

The rage here is justified, but here's why I think it is:

Plus size clothes are not designed for women who are larger than the US size eight, nor are they designed for women who are taller than/shorter than/differently shaped from some irrelevant standard pattern shape which reflects the reality of only a small percentage of living women.

And this, for me, is exactly where
"fashion" fails women.

A good tailor, a good designer, anyone who is good at the task of making flattering clothing for a human being should be able to create clothing which adorns the body. No matter what size or shape it is. The idea is not that we come up with some unattainable definition of "beauty" and then force everyone to buy into it: the idea is that it is the designer's sole task to design a way of enhancing the beauty of the human form for which he/she makes clothing. This takes more than just making a spaghetti strapped tank top in a size 22--something unwearable for most women who are older than 12, on a good day. It means imagining a cut that enhances what is actually, truly there--not seeing what's there as a flaw.

The vast majority of fashion designers who "design" for women can't get past that point--they're fixated on making clothing that really only looks good on tall 13 year old boys.
Not women.

Men, however, have had fashion at their service forever. Any man, any shape or size, can get a well made, flattering suit (or shirt or coat or all manner of clothing) with so little effort they all take it for granted. Any tailor worth his pay will bend over backwards to make the clothing work for the client, never the other way around.

I don't know why we put up with it, but we do. And, oh yeah, if you don't think the whole fashion beauty mania is at the root and soul of anorexia and bulemia (not to mention flagrant self-loathing of all other kinds) in women, you're ignoring the reality of the power of images.

Sara Darling said...

This is where a lot of modern fashion leaves me cold. In my opinion it seems to come down in large part due to a laziness or lack of skill on the part of the designer. They could take the time and thought to design clothing that fits a body shape common to the vast majority of women in the world, which includes breasts and rounded hips and perhaps [gasp] a bit of a belly. As those of us who have that figure know, it can be a challenge to really enhance and flatter a curvier figure. Making pretty cloth hang nicely on a figure that is as two dimensional as possible? A heckuva lot easier.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting debate. To return to the point about male designers dictating an unrealistic ideal of feminine beauty, I have a (sort of) related memory from the 1980s. I used to know a male model who acquired a degree of fame at the time. He was up for a catwalk show for Katherine Hamnett, who dismissed him because he was, in her opinion, 'too fat.'