Some background from Laurie: My mother was a dress designer in the period when Paris actually made relatively wearable clothes and set the fashion tone for the parts of the world that cared.
So I really appreciate fashion as art. Now, couturier clothes are made to sell perfumes and other products under the designers’ names, and the clothes themselves are fantasy intermixed with a modest number of “wearable designs.” And the costs of the wearable designed pieces are astronomical.
Real fashion has been coming from the street at least since the 60’s. The politics of fashion and it’s manipulations make me ill but I still think Galliano is saying valuable things in this context.
On to Galliano:
Fashion is usually about a perfect body shape. Either the clothes are designed to fit that shape or they are designed to visually modify “imperfect” bodies to make them look more like the ideal…and if we can’t do that we’ll “put a bag over it. ” In contrast, Galliano says, about this show, that the models were “completely happy in their skins already. All I did was just enhance their beauty.”
We both have a number of caveats about the Galliano show, but he designed for a serious variety of bodies and made clothes that fit real shapes and (within the context of high fashion fantasy)…mostly looked fabulous.
We loved the fact that the web slide show gave everyone’s name. High fashion models are frequently anonymous. We love the fat woman in the transparent fabric looking glorious in a design that draped her hips and emphasized them. We love the gray-haired women in the the maroon gown that embraces her belly. And in the video, you can hear the audience cheers ramp up when the fat woman in the black ruffles sashays onto the runway. Plenty of the fat-friendly catalogues for large women don’t do as good a job of displaying fat bodies as Galliano did in this show. And he absolutely couldn’t do this kind of work if he didn’t appreciate the underlying bodies.
At the same time, reactions from the fashion audience were not simply positive. Here’s one review:
The extremes of humanity were drawn together in a celebration of diversity. It was fashion taking on some of its worse biases: fat, old and ugly.
And it was uncomfortable.
The audience laughed. … Some people pointed and howled in hysterics. Others applauded appreciatively, offering the models encouragement for stepping into the spotlight — a daunting task even for those who do it five or six times a day.
Lisa, yes, the show did have a circus quality, even though it mostly wasn’t a freak show, and indeed many of the traditionally attractive models were performers but it felt mostly respecful to us. Lynne, the make-up and the extremes did create a certain Fellini-esque look, which could certainly be uncomfortable. Compared to the traditional hauteur of runway models, some of these folks’ attitudes seemed far more engaged on the whole then is usual (and yes, Irfon, we can also see that “bored and disaffected is cool” look, and it undermines the total effect). The two little people in the wedding clothes are problematic, not because the clothes don’t look good but because the “Tom Thumb wedding” image (a staple of P.T. Barnum’s early 20th century circus sideshows) was overwhelming.
And of course, conventional runway models are tall emaciated people who are treated as freaks, which makes these contrasts stronger. What’s more, when people wear couturier clothes out of context, they can look pretty freakish as well.
We’ll draw our conclusion from the review linked above, in reviewer Robin Givhan’s speculation about Galliano’s message: “Inherent in that proclamation [‘Don’t Cry for Me, Fashionista’] seems to be the accusation that the fashion industry — with all of its self-important pronouncements about style and beauty — need not pity those who don’t fit its arbitrary definitions.”