In this article and many others in circulation today, we are told about how Leslie Jones couldn’t get any offers from designers to dress her for her movie premiere. That is where the depth of discussion ended before a hero was made of the one person prepared to help her out. What a champ.
The suggestion was that she was ignored by all other designers, who would normally rush to get a garment on the red carpet for such a high profile event, and that this was due to either Jones’ race or size (her celebrity status here is sufficient to attract positive media attention). We know there is a race issue in Hollywood no matter how much denial seems to get tweeted, but this time I don’t think it was the primary problem. Instead the problem was her size. Just as her co-star Melissa McCarthy found, the designers didn’t come forward with any offers to lend something they had knocking around at their studio.
But surely that’s not the designers’ fault. Mother Hubbard’s fashion cupboard was bare of anything not of size zero proportions; we all know they make clothes to sample size (tall and skinny) for ease and consistency in production. Some will even argue that the clothes look better on a model’s frame, so why should they go to the extra effort of making a larger size for this one occasion?
Well, if it really is just the one occasion then this does flag up a huge problem. The unhealthy cycle of promotion between celebrities and fame and fashion and women’s body image ideals is perpetuated by just that; being a cog in an existing, well oiled machine that has to fit right, or nothing works. Casting directors employ stars to promote their films, and they’ll only get the best gowns if they fit the sample sizes. The fashion houses want to promote their brand by using model like celebrities as one spoke of their media wheel, it is very little effort for a high return in brand exposure and profile. This has all worked very well for both sides of the agreement so far, if the celebrities are model size. The movie-goers, and fashion consumers want to see these images of ‘Hollywood Beauties’ because we are conditioned to see them as the one type of beauty that holds any real value in our aspiration-led society.
Also, in this instance, let’s remember that no-one is obliged to dress women for free in return for advertising, especially if it’s not the image they wish to convey.
But why don’t designers want to stray from the white and skinny norm that has become the fashion convention over the decades? I understand that luxury brands aim to put their garments on an elevated plane, out of reach for most people; exclusive, desirable. This helps to justify the luxury price tags of the real designer-label deal. But would making the fashion accessible to other sizes do damage to that brand? Do they fear being seen to encourage obesity or unhealthy lifestyles? Do they fear that the female body detracts from the art? Do they fear being laughed at by fashion insiders if they break away alone?
And while this whole affair seems like a #firstworldproblem on the surface, ‘oh no, A-lister celeb can’t find anyone to give her a vitally needed freebie for an night at the flix’, it is however indicative of the wider problem; that there is very little diversity in the fashion industry, and this has a direct impact on the self-image aspirations and beauty ideals of women and men across the world. It is horrifying to think that the presence of a bigger body could cause such upset in global media without everyone affected also trying to address this outrageous root cause.
So who is to blame for this? Is it a problem of the people, that we should cast out to ‘society’ telling them they’ve got it wrong, then sit back and see what happens? Should we give the responsibility to the consumers to tell the power houses in fashion and film what we really want? Or should we insist that Designers and model agents, while proud of their strange art in their tiny, niche, fabulous world, should take full responsibility for pushing one body type (that is unattainable for around 90% of women) as the one that is beautiful.
I know about the high end fashion scene; it is a bubble within which everyone involved validates its culture and ideals and objectives, but still I feel the initial excuse of only making garments to sample size, seems thin, and again points to all the issues outlined so far.
So here’s the answer. Designers should book models in advance, before designing a new collection. They should be obliged to show how one collection can work for different skin tones and shapes. The skill and craftsmanship of the elite within fashion is such that they can create excellent quality and beautifully made garments to suit all. In shows, hair and make-up teams can create a unified look easily. The real objective for designers should be to create a unity within diversity. It’s more of a challenge, but I think it would drive creativity. We’ve seen the same old thing over and over again. A pre-used aesthetic with an updated twist, a nod to this or that from yester-year. But no-one really uses women’s bodies as the base structure to the clothes. So far the clothes have provided all the structure themselves, merely resting upon the ‘walking clothes hangars’.
If it comes from the top, it will trickle down. Instead of this guy Christian Siriano being the hero, very nobly agreeing to design for an individual that strays from the fashion norm, shouldn’t we be rising up against the villains here, the individuals within the whole of the fashion industry who are collectively culpable for the current disastrous state of women’s social self-esteem, which superficial campaign after token campaign is not getting addressed in any meaningful way.