Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jaded fantasy: ."The cusp of womanhood? She's hardly on the cusp of prom."

Inspiration. Do you find it is the real or the surreal that inspires you, or a mixture of both? I love fashion and photography, but there are aspects of the industry that at times makes me uncomfortable or question the whole validity and place of it in our society. Such as, the predominance of pre-pubescent young girls having to model ludicrously expensive clothes that few teenagers can ever afford for themselves. Clearly aimed at an older market. So, can a 15 year old really inspire a 50 yr old to invest in Prada? I suppose it's the whole aspirational thing, where one aspires to the dream of youth and beauty proposed by these campaigns. I'm 24, and even I have trouble finding young teenagers in ad campaigns aspirational. If I can barely relate, what does that mean for a career woman in her 30s/40s etc? Why is our culture so obsessed with youth?

Sometimes, these ad campaigns appear to me like young kids just playing dress up. I've met models out and about in Hong Kong, and know that sometimes the girl in that icecream campaign is 19 and actually suffering from anorexia at the time. No joke. I've assisted at photoshoots where the 18 yr old girl from Holland feels pressured to pose topless in front of a room of strangers for fear of not being booked again by the same photographer. [side note: she wasn't really forced into it, but felt it would have been awkward not to go along with it. Apparently modeling was her way of saving up money for medical school. In post editing her twins were pretty much covered up. But still...]I've spoken to male models who say that the best way to make it in the industry is if one happens to be gay and thus become the lover/ muse of a top gay photographer. I had a (very) brief fling once with an italian model years ago who would sometimes lament the fact that he was straight (hopefully for career reasons otherwise that may have been a seriously backhanded insult). And hadn't eaten carbs since he was 15. Seriously. I once watched him eat a Sausage Mcmuffin sans muffin (he really did spoil me with swanky places). Suffice to say, I felt slightly sorry for him in that moment [I think he's in Milan now, so pity is definitely not something one should bestow upon him by any means]. I've had friends encounter sleazy photographers as well. I'm sure there are far more interesting and eye-opening tales of the shady side of the fashion industry, these are just the tip of the iceberg and some of my own accounts. For more scary modelling stories, see here.
My point is, is the fantasy worth the reality? There is all the debate about the improbable perfection of women in the media creating all sorts of problems for the 99% of women not represented, such as eating disorders, low self esteem etc etc. The more we find out about the reality behind the gilded facade, about how young the models are, how photoshopped they are, how sick some of them are, however shady the circumstances (the archetypal sleazy photographer Terry Richardson's sex scandal) the less convincing a campaign might become. In this technological age of mass media, real-time communcation and all-pervasive internet, we now have all this information. The illusion is now crumbling. Do we choose to accept it with a pinch of salt? Is this denial? Or merely an innocent love of beauty which is acceptable as long as it isn't taken too far?

Case in point: the 2010 Miu Miu campaign starring 15 year old Lindsey Wixson. Gorgeous campaign, with an enigmatic beauty. But, so heartbreakingly young. I found a great quote on the subject here:

' A press release about the campaign calls Wixson the "emodiment of a
free-spirit on the cusp of womanhood". The cusp of womanhood? She's
hardly on the cusp of prom.'

What inspired me to write this blog is the timeless beauty of Lauren Hutton. In the first picture she is, in her mid sixties, gracing the cover of Love magazine (one of my favorite quarterly fashion publications). That is what I call inspiring. Quite honestly I have trouble being inspired to purchase expensive skin products when I know that the model in the campaign is in her teens, half asian (ah how I envy the asian/ eurasian ageless skintones...) and has clearly hit the genetic lottery as despite her insultingly gleaming stratified squamous epithelium (say it ten times real fast!) she probably smokes like a chimney and is the inspiration behind that nose candy themed N.E.R.D song. All the girls standing in the line for the bathroom? Yes I'm hating a little. Major white girl skin envy, that's what. I'm not judging what people do for recreational activities, just that I feel my intellect insulted somewhat that I'm supposed to believe that type of ad.

A woman becomes a muse when she is unique, when her beauty is timeless, and when she can age with grace and still look magnificent.

"I'd like to be the first model who becomes a woman. We have to be able to grow up. Our wrinkles are our medals through the passage of life. They are what we have been through and who we want to be".

To me, Lauren Hutton is an aspirational figure. She makes me want to grow old (somewhat) gracefully and to embrace the natural beauty within. Even today, she is regularly booked for campaigns such as Badgeley Mischka and H&M. She is much more exciting to me than a 14 year old Russian girl in Chloe. Purely as I think it's more difficult to look THAT good in your 6os than it is when one is a teen.

One must also note the rise of the use of the eigthies supermodel in many of the recent ad campaigns: Christy Turlington for Bally, Naomi Campbell for Yves Saint Laurent, Claudia Schiffer for Chanel, Linda Evangelista for L'Oreal. Perhaps in times of recession and economic uncertainty, consumers are comforted by the familiar. Plus, the girls from the eighties are now career women (and trophy wives?) and still look up to these women. And who wouldn't? Many of them are now in their 30s/ 40s and looking great. Their fabulousness is not down to teen skin but to a certain je ne sais quoi (with a little help from photoshop, copious workouts etc, I mean who are we kidding?). But at least it's more real than a teen. Which is why I loved the recent Fall 2010 Louis Vuitton campaign starring Karen Elson, Natalia Vodianova and Christy Turlington, perhaps not really that representative of the female population, but a good halfway point between fantasy and reality.

Wow, this little blog about gushing my love for Lauren Hutton turned into quite a hefty long one! Apologies for my liberal use of parentheses - once again I got a little carried away :)

Nat xx