Fat has no place in the fantasy world of fashion, where only thin, beautiful models can cast an ethereal spell.
A terrible rumor hit the fashion field last week – Conde Nast is starting a new fashion magazine, using fat models. This is a bit like hearing that champagne will have no bubbles. Fashion models are not real, just as real people are not models. Fashion may be for everybody, but modelling fashion is not. Fashion begins as a fantasy and dream, which only becomes real by everyday use.
So I found it a huge relief to see that Encore, the new magazine, is simply a very good advice service and advertisement by Evans, the outsize store for outsize women or for those going through a fat patch.
I, personally, like myself thin. I hate it when I get fat. We know a great deal about diet and exercise these days, so why should we be fat? Just leave out the butter and bacon and be as greedy as you like with everything else, like olive oil, ham, vegetables, garlic, pasta, rice, fresh parmesan and fruit.
French women have always understood how and why to be slim. They even manage to avoid adolescent fat to stay healthy and slender. Mothers pass body awareness on to their daughters. You may see French women enjoying enormous family lunches – but later that day they will have avocado and oranges for supper.
There is no doubt that women are getting bigger, thanks to the Pill, better nutrition and health, exercise, sport and probably sheer confidence. But bigger need not mean fatter. The advice in Encore is very good if one is going through a fat patch – waiting until you get thin.
Women have always been good at rearranging their shape to fit the fashion ideal of the moment. As style changes, so we move, talk, and even sit in different ways to emulate it.
In the Forties fashion was controlled; one only has to think of Celia Johnson’s Brief Encounter voice – dry, clipped – and hair. Shoes were neat and intellectual, thighs were long and the knees sat together. The Forties model was lean and abstemious.
By the Fifties, the dream model took on the hourglass shape of Brigitte Bardot, with a round bosom, bottom and pout. She was curvy but never fat – she did not sit down but leapt about.
The Sixties model became a thin child-woman, who stalked on boots and stood with legs astride, head down and with a faintly affected knock-kneed pose known as the “wet-knicker stance”. Hair was Vidal Sassoon geometric, eyes sooty and enormous, and there was little emphasis on the mouth.
In the Seventies the ideal model had lemon-yellow, long, wispy hair, wore fluid crepey flaring clothes and always sat cross-legged on the floor. She was vegetarian and thin and lived on carrots and diet pills.
Then in the late Seventies the fashion world had a change of focus. It was about this time that I first saw the photographer Jimmy Wormser use women athletes to model clothes. I thought they looked wonderfully attractive and sexy; I realized he had something there. I had also begun to notice that women athletes were becoming sexier, and then I realized that our viewpoint had changed. The fashion world’s ideal had become sporty, chic and sexy – well-trained, oiled female muscles had become the rage.
As a follow-on, the Eighties model woman had to have big shoulders and a working woman’s briefcase. She was a company executive who sat with her legs crossed and went to the gym.
Now we are in the Nineties, we have found a balance at last. Models have sporting, athletic silhouettes and wear delicious feminine fabrics which are long, lean and minimalist. A Nineties woman sits with her legs well apart and leans back.
The Nineties ideal of beauty is epitomized by the model Stella Tennant. She is all class and good bones, and waves at street fashion with a ring in her nose and her navel. Her erogenous zone is a delicious gap of perfection between her waist and hipster pants, and her hair is plastered to the head except for a chunk at the back, which looks as if it has been struck by lightning. She has a wonderfully arrogant look, as if to say she can deal with anything from modelling to lambing.
Every ten years or so, those of us who work in the fashion world go through a phase of rejecting thin models. Why use them, we argue, when all they do is remind everyone else that they are fat? So we photograph clothes flat on the floor, or drape them over tailor’s dummies, or dangle them from coat hangers.
But in no time at all we find ourselves wanting thin, beautiful models back, because they cast an ethereal spell on even the simplest clothes. After all, what are models for? They bring romance and magic to simple, elegant clothes and transfer their confidence to us, so we are encouraged just to try the clothes or buy them. If a dress is beautifully cut and made, it will work on almost any body shape, and will make the wearer feel and look terrific. A black polo-neck sweater will be all the better because you saw it photographed on Linda Evangelista.
Models are to the rest of us what racehorses are to the equine world. Their bones stick out in the right places in a satin sheath dress. They achieve the impossible arch of the back and curve of the rump, which makes a tweed suit look ravishing, and the gloss and sheen of their flesh and curve of their nipples make even a cotton T-shirt look like gossamer.
Having worked with so many top photographic models over the years, I know they are just as beautiful with rollers in their hair and no trappings at all. I am permanently grateful for their generosity and wit, as well as their beauty.
Models in fashion magazines teach us how to use fashion for ourselves. When we then buy those same clothes we make them unique, part of ourselves.
I get enormous fun from fashion magazines. I love spotting the subtle differences in French, British and Japanese Marie Claires. But this is different from the terrific pleasure I have as a designer, when I see my own clothes, make-up and swimsuits worn by an individual woman, who wears them in her own way with style and ease, whatever her size.
I do not think the ideal beauty of the future will ever be fat. Instead, I believe that she will have big breasts and become taller than men. She will have a perfect decorative finish, and she will be surreal.