30 January 2007

Body of Fashion

NY fashion week begins in a few days. Today WWD ran a 15 web-page article on the current push within the NY fashion industry to encourage ‘healthy’ models—discouraging those who are too young, too skinny, or both. Their move has been preceded by more concrete action in Milan, where regulations are in place requiring models to have a body mass index no less than 18.5 (the lowest ‘normal weight’ BMI) and be at least 16 years old. Regulations have not been introduced in the US, but the mere suggestion that they might be got 15 pages worth of fashion-professional backlash, with designers, models, their agents, advertisers, magazine editors, etc. all pointing the finger at the other guy. Designers insisted that they don’t care what a model weighs—just so long as she has the ‘right look’. Models scoffed at the notion that they might not ‘naturally’ be so thin. Agents swore that they would fill the demand for not-so-skinny models if there was one. But there isn’t. Advertisers claimed that they’d already been avoiding stick-insects, opting for ‘fitness’. Same goes for editors. And all of them blamed Hollywood. Since neither has a monopoly on showcasing underweight women, lets just leave that as the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum that it is.

I don’t really care if they regulate this aspect of the fashion industry or not. My personal feelings about the super-skinny prevalence in fashion has little to do with its practical aspects. And the current popularity of the very tall, very skinny look has some practicality to it. For example, tailoring around curves is much harder than tailoring their absence. It simply takes less work to fit a thinner, flatter figure. Thin figures also do a better job of disappearing under the clothes. When a model walks down the runway, you don’t want the audience thinking “oooh, look at that figure!”. Nope. You want them to focus on the clothes. So you go with a body type that on its own isn’t that impressive. As for the height, it too serves the presentation of the clothing. Details of construction and design are more apparent on a tall figure than a short one.

Although they follow some of the same meta-trends (charted over centuries and millennia) fashion and art are rarely alike. Oh they both involve 'artists' realizing a 'vision', and they both have aesthetic elements. And they both exist in rather insulated worlds that interface cautiously and rarely with the 'real' world. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, fashion can’t get away from the body. It needs it. The body reflects on fashion and fashion on the body. Art? Comparatively, bodies don’t have a thing to do with it.


Dad said...

Are you sure bodies don't have anything to do with art? I thought all great artists had to go through the paint or scuplt the body as part of their progression in the field before they could branch out into their own specialties. It is interesting that these changes are trying to be legislated in an attempt to change the image of models. Your points are well made but I would be more interested in watching more fashion shows if there was more "look at that figure!".

Mary Ann said...

Ah, but I said that comparatively, bodies had nothing to do with art. Sure, learning to draw and paint the figure is still a standard element of educating those who would become artists. But art is rarely (if ever) worn or wearable. Bodies aren't required to be a part of what it is or how it works. Fashion on the other hand absolutely needs a wearer, and that creates a kind of dialogue between the form wearing the fashion and the fashion's effect on form that carries it.