BENJAMIN CHAIT ’16
On a recent trip to New York I happened to go for a walk along Fifth Avenue. Only a few blocks later I was standing in front of the world famous windows at Bergdorf Goodman. The windows are often considered to be some of the best installation art around—especially considering that they get completely redone about 20 times a year. Currently the windows are a retrospective of the red carpet gowns designed by Giorgio Armani for Armani Prive. Gowns worn by Camilla Belle, Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Chastain, and Zoe Saldana were only some of the dresses featured in the exhibition. The opportunity to study the cut, shape, and beadwork was certainly one to be taken, which was why I was saddened when I later thought about the collection of dresses chosen and who was wearing them.
The window displays got me thinking about size and color. Two of the dresses, Anne Hathaway’s gown for the 2009 academy awards and Zoe Saldana’s gown for the 2012 Cannes Film festival, were noticeably too small for the mannequins and only two dresses worn by non-white celebrities were featured. It was quite sad to think about the hundreds of thousands of eyes that will look into those windows and get a very limited idea of what is considered beautiful, especially considering that none of the high-profile custom gowns made for Adele were chosen to be presented.
Anyone who takes fashion seriously is an idiot. However the fashion industry has a very serious role in what is considered beautiful, sexy and attractive. And they have, for the most part, failed in reflecting the real world, but we as an American culture have also failed—for the most part—in not demanding better. Even seemingly positive steps forward are still halted by a certain standard of beauty. Though the number of non-white women on fashion magazine covers has heavily increased, most final images are victims to severe skin lightening during the retouching process (Gabourey Sidibe on the cover of Vogue; Aishwarya Rai on the cover of Elle India). Also, when most non size-two women are featured on covers, they’re cropped oddly or hidden under shapeless garments (Adele on the cover of Vogue; Melissa McCarthy on the cover of Elle). There are very few dark-skinned models and the whole idea of “plus-size” is ironically offensive. It is realistically impossible to have plus-size as there is no standard size of women to be bigger than. It’s tragic how scared our society has become about widening the vocabulary of beauty. It’s as hurtful to see this continuation by the fashion world, as it is to watch both men and women negatively tear women’s body shapes apart.
But not all hope is lost. There are still members of the fashion elite who are changing and expanding the notions of beauty. Alber Elbaz of Lanvin has spoken often and loudly about how he wants to see women of all ages and sizes wear his mostly un-corseted clothes. He ended his spring 2011 show with a group of five black models. Though it sounds minimal, it is quite a large statement compared to what is seen in the rest of the runway shows.
Riccardo Tisci of Givenchy uses one of the most diverse collections of models in his shows. His spring 2011 couture presentation featured only Asian models, who arguably have the hardest time breaking into the fashion world despite the large fashion markets in Asian. One of the most used models by Tisci is Lea T. A native of Brazil, Lea T. was physically born a male, and is the only prominent transgendered model in the industry. Kanye West is one of Riccardo Tisci’s best friends, thus his fiancée, Kim Kardashian, is one of Tisci’s muses. Though she doesn’t exemplify the ideal role model, seeing a confident and beautiful women who isn’t a size two, is refreshing and important for both the fashion and real world to see.
Of the Spring 2014 shows, no show was more epic or more important than Rick Owens’s Parisian spectacular. The American designer’s show wasn’t a typical fashion show, but rather a step-team dance performance. The women in the show were of all sizes, all ages and almost all black. The great clothes coupled with the dancing, the women, and the fun, was the most important message coming out of the fashion world so far in the twenty-first century. Not only because of the commentary on race and size in the fashion world, but also because the message of the show was all about strength and celebrating women.
After all, nothing is cooler than standing out. Think about Beth Ditto’s stunning nude cover of Love Magazine, Alek Wek, who’s gorgeous dark skin, shaved head, and wide bright smile have helped to make her her a favorite among the fashion world, or the lanky frame and large nose of actor Adrian Brody who walked in the Prada Menswear show in 2012. My goal this week is simply to point out how we as a fashion-consuming culture need to demand changes in the representation of beauty. I want people in this world and on this campus to expand their ideas of what is beautiful to each feel sexy and confident.
No one should ever be made to feel ashamed for who they are. Fashion is fun and it’s a way to express oneself. You should always feel comfortable and positive in the clothes you wear and the skin you’re in.