Thursday, February 26, 2009

Rose tints

With the world temporarily blinded by all things lovely and beautiful during the Fall fashion shows, and with a boyfriend modeling in those shows in Milan and London, it got me thinking about how much we don’t know behind the glamorous facade. Or how much we do know – but choose to ignore.

For a model, right next the drugs always on offer from agents and having to deal with seedy male clients who will assure you campaign status if you play up to their affections, there’s the relentless anxiety about weight and a compulsion to fit into the unreasonably small size of runway clothing - which is now even affecting the boys. While it used to be fashionable for male models to sport the six-pack with pecs and biceps, even they are shrinking before our eyes.

Picture this: a 6'3", 72kg male model is asked to try on a pair of pants at a Gucci casting…but he’s too big for them. How? Because the pants in question are a size 27. And so the mantra between the boys becomes ‘lose weight or you lose the jobs’ – if you thought all the anorexic hoop-la was just for the girls, you’re sadly mistaken.

Then there are the actual clothes that sashay down the runway on these gaunt looking creatures. They don’t just miraculously turn up in your favourite store a few months later you know. If you haven’t read Dana Thomas’s book, How Luxury Lost It’s Luster, let it be the next thing you pick up. It will change your view on Canal St, the LVMH group and the never-ending cycle that is fashion forever. One poignant point that will stick with me forever is when Dana talks about an assembly plant in Thailand that had seven children, all under ten years old, sitting on the floor making counterfeit leather handbags: "The owners had broken the children's legs and tied the lower leg to the thigh so the bones wouldn't mend. He did it because the children said they wanted to go outside and play."

On top of this, there are the Asian factories (the same ones that put together bags for luxury brands whose owners insist they're manufactured only in Italy) worldwide that are collapsing at an extremely fast rate. Indians claim 700,000 clothing and textile workers have lost their jobs already and at just one single textile factory in Shanghai, 300 workers did not return after the Chinese New Year. Unfortunately the fashion carnage will get worse and the weak will get a lot weaker.

The whole world has been hit hard by the recession, but no industry more so than fashion because it is, and will always be, a luxury rather than a necessity - which means far too many people lose their jobs, including myself.

That's why it really pissed me off when I read Jamie Huckbody’s (Editor of Australian Harper’s Bazaar) most recent editor’s letter. He described the news headlines that scream Global Recession as boring, which to an extent they are, but he then went on to say the fact he’d just ordered two pairs of custom made Gucci shoes, two Vivienne Westwood suits and a stack of made-to-measure shirts worried him a bit because, how could he possibly pay off his credit card debt now that there are no banks to lend him the money? Is he serious? Doesn’t he realise that’s mildly insulting to many of his readers? It’s exactly this kind of attitude that is what’s wrong with the fashion industry.

But, no matter how many fake and soulless people are in this industry, no matter how many young models are taken advantage of and no matter how brainwashed we let ourselves become by luxury goods marketing, at the end of the day, no-one really cares because deep down we all just want to look pretty in beautiful clothes - and no-where is that more true than in New York.

Is it right that a US$1,200 Stella McCartney bag is marked up so humongously that it still turns a profit when it's on sale for a mere $160, four months later? Who knows - but it's something to ponder over your morning coffee.

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