Weight for It
October 15, 2009

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Boy, fashion is barely standing on its spindly little legs this week, sorta collapsing under its own weight – or lack of it. By now you all know about Ralph Lauren model Filippa Hamilton – first she was deflated by a round of extreme retouching by her employer and lizzie-miller-2then we found out she had already been taken out of the lineup and fired altogether six months ago when her size-4 figure reportedly became too big for the clothes. From the news today comes a report that overweight women’s self-esteem plunges when they look at any model, whether she’s toothpick thin or flaunts a few extra pounds (like Lizzie Miller, left) Skinny girls had the opposite reaction: they always felt better when they looked at a model, whatever her size. In France and England, meanwhile, there’s a move to label Photoshop-crazy retouched images on a sliding scale with a health warning like they do for smoking. And in Germany, leading mag Brigitte will no longer use models in its pages, only “real women” that readers could identify with. Of course, Bavaria’s favorite-son fashionista Karl Lagerfeld dismissed that with a wave of his gloved hand: “No one wants to see curvy women,” Lagerfeld was quoted.”You’ve got fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly.” Nice.

There’s no denying that Ralph’s retouching was absurd, however limited they say the use of the image was intended to be. According to insiders speaking out in blog comments,amd_lauren there was even a reaction inside the company before the picture was released. On the matter of Hamilton’s dismissal, their statement that she did not live up to the terms of her contract probably means that yes, her now size-4 body didn’t fit into their samples. No doubt that’s true – she’s 23 now and has been working for the company since she was 15, so she’s not a gangly teen-age girl anymore. And unfortunately that’s the problem and it’s a lot bigger than Lauren – the runways of the world are now populated by the beautiful beanpoles and the entire fashion system of runway and sample garments has been “downsized” to their 0 to 2 frames. The reign of the shapely supermodel, being long over, has been replaced by underdevloped hordes of mostly Slavic teens, like the Prada model at the top of the page.  And it’s Prada, headed by a woman I must point out, that usually gets the credit for turning the industry to the look-alike and lanky Lolita’s. They wanted the clothes to stand out and the girls to disappear on the runway; well it seems they got their wish and then some.

As for magazines, Diana Vreeland famously said they were “the places that people dream,” and now some people see only a nightmare. Overheated blog Jezebel doesn’t even believe the skinny on skinnies – that they like looking at models.  No, no, no – models are part of the “beauty-industrial complex (that) is basically designed to enscript” women everywhere. (Are they armed? Is Agent Orange the new trendy color?) I know the topic is serious, but the true wisdom comes from a reader who notes that models are, like always, just models – beautifully shaped and cellulite-free – whatever their size. Women need to look elsewhere for their self-esteem.”The “plus” and “real” women never look like us,” she adds. “It’s easier to ignore the message sent by the skinny model.”

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Fashion Flock
October 2, 2009

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You know, sometimes things are just in the air – like runway trends, even though insiders like to say it’s because designers go to the same European fabric shows or their assistants all talk to each other. I was reminded of that when I picked up last week’s New Yorker and saw Susan Orlean’s article, “The It Bird.” Though once scorned, a lowly farm animal is in vogue again – I’m talking about the chicken!

Of course it all started with Martha. Stewart, that is. Her first book, Entertaining, “featured her flock of rare-breed chickens and their pretty pastel-colored eggs,” Orlean writes. “The photographs of Stewart with her flock were a revelation.” And Martha stayed loyal to her girls when she started her magazine, “and often featured her chickens in Ford-model-style head shots that made them look ennobled; she also introduced her first paint collection, which was based on egg colors from her flock.”

buo_1_sI just about fell over when I saw the article, and here I’m getting to my point about things being out there in the either.  In July, I had spent my annual and awaited East Hampton weekend at the home of my dear friend George and his partner Norman. George is an avid rose gardener (his beds stunningly planted at the edge of a forest!) and one day we paid a call “in town” to an elderly gardening friend of his who had been a bit unwell.  There in the village of East Hampton, “Camellia Jim” welcomed us into his historic home and out to see his yard, shaded by tall hedges and ringing with show tunes emanating from the neighboring summer house of a Broadway star.  But what caught my eye and stayed long in my imagination was the flock of exquisite chickens running to and fro underfoot, which I later learned were Buff Offingtons, prized for their deep gold color, winter-proof thick feathers and stately disposition.

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Reminded of that sunny afternoon by Orlean’s article, I started seeing the spring collections in a whole new dappled light. New York’s young Turk Joseph Altuzarra had taken a detour from his sharp-shouldered draped minis to a collection of buff browns, surprisingly combined with delicate white dimity. Where some thought Woodstock, I saw an updated take on Green Acres, barnyard-born style for the city street.

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Over in Milan, Alberta Ferretti got buff too by working a similar color scheme and topping her little dresses with aprons, just the thing for gathering up some farm-fresh eggs early in the morning. And 00730mKarl Lagerfeld at Fendi also seemed to have been hanging around the coop with his delicate buff gown. He even complemented his country-girl collection with go-to-market burlap handbags with a button-off floral-embroidered cover, as the humble but I’m sure equally expensive successor to the Fendi Baguette. At this rate, how long can it be until we see delicately-hued Buff Offingtons and Buff Cochins clucking around the feet of models in Vogue? (As it is, the random photograph I found on online at the top of this column of an English lad, his pet chicken and a buddy, is barely a step away from a fashion shot.)  Right now, the fashion flock is in Paris, and I’m hoping feathers will fly on the runway. C’est chick.