Saturday, 9 October 2010

Paris Fashion Week, Gaultier, Crystal Renn and the plus-size debate

Beth Ditto taking to the runway for Gaultier is arguably one of the most talked about moments of Paris Fashion Week, well besides the mind-blowing Chanel show. Although designers have used plus-size models in shows in the past, but what made this so revolutionary is Beth is size 28 whereas the average plus-size model is a mere size 12-14…not so plus-size when you compare it to the average dress size in the UK. Just one example from last season is Mark Fast, who used three or four size 12 models in his show. There was a lot of buzz and debate after the show but rather than helping to normalising the use of these models, it felt a little like Vogue Italia’s all black issue – a publicity stunt for column inches rather than a genuine statement to the industry. It’s sad when a designer’s team needs to resort to model casting to cause controversy. I wouldn’t call size 12 plus-sized, voluptuous or overly curvy; it’s just a normal size .Yet one stylist reportedly walked out over it.

And what about Gaultier? Well, Gaultier has been a supporter of using plus-size models for a while; he’s used both Crystal Renn and Velvet d'Amour in the past. The show invite promised to explore the contrast between XXL and XXS, I’m not surethis promise was actually fulfilled. I also think that perhaps Beth should have been designed something to complement her figure rather than a flowery, frou-frou top. Think Christina Hendricks in Zac Posen at the Emmys, the size issue just melts into the background as the world is bowled over by how drop dead gorgeous she looked. Christina is said to have had difficulty finding a red carpet gown to fit her famous curves as most of them are sample sizes. Zac Posen came to her rescue with his gorgeous gown.

Beth Ditto in Gaultier, Christina Hendricks in Zac Posen, model in Mark Fast
Zac Posen makes a gorgeous gown and loves curves. He’s been using Crystal Renn as one of his models for a while. Unsurprising as she has become the poster girl for plus-size models in the fashion industry in recent years, many designers including Gaultier and Chanel have used her in recent years. Her career began when she was just 14 and almost immediately she was pressured into losing weight, she was told to lose a third of her body weight in order to make it as a model! Eventually, due to health reasons, Crystal stopped dieting and her agent entered her into their plus size category. Fast forward a few years and she’s become the most successful plus-size model in the world. Or has she? Over the past few months, there has been much debate about her ever-shrinking frame. Reports on her dress size vary so widely that I don’t even want to use them and campaign shots are always subject to airbrushing. Instead I’ll post an image of her at the Gaultier show in 2010 and one from 2005. I think it’s clear that Crystal has lost a lot of weight in the past five years, something she attributes to a hiking trip in Patagonia.

Crystal Renn in Gaultier 2005, Crystal Renn in Gaultier 2010
I’m not here to speculate why she lost weight and whether or not it was due to industry pressure. I think it’s sad that more people pay attention to her dress size than her beautiful face and that she’s had her most successful season walking 1 show in New York and 3 in Paris – but only after she slimmed down. What’s also sad is designers still using ‘shock’ casting of plus-size models to cause a buzz. I understand why designers prefer to use slimmer models but I don’t think that needs to be a size 0 or even a 2 or 4 for that matter. Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue, recently asked for fashion to move away from ‘shock’ casting and use models which are a (UK) size 10 rather than an 8. This is something consumers have been crying out for but thus far, the industry simply teases with the odd campaign or show featuring a handful of models. 
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