Friday, March 11, 2016

Is the fashion industry selling an impossible dream?

From a complete outsider’s point of view, being in the fashion industry probably seems like one of the most glamorous, privileged, and unimpaired ways of living. This may be the case, however, there is another side to this world that many people don't know about. Many aspects of the industry that in fact, are the polar opposite of perfect, although it is never showcased unless you are in the world yourself... Or have a secret insider telling you all…

The allure of fashion is based on illusions, not the reality achievable to most consumers. What I mean by this is the industry tends to select models, during Fashion Week for example, who are not a proper representative of the ‘general pubic’ (a size 12 for the average woman). Consumers aspire (by design) to follow current fashion trends but how can this be reasonable when the majority of consumers do not resemble (in height, body shape, or size) the models who bring the fashion trends to life on the runway and in magazines? It does not make much sense in many ways but at the end of the day, fashion designers continue to showcase their collections this way.

David Graham is a set designer, as part of the “Design Team” for Jerry Schwatrz, a high-end Fashion Photography Group based out of NYC. David was born in London Ontario and followed his dream of becoming a photographer, which led him to go to New York City where he then was introduced to Jerry. He has worked for Anna Sui, Perry Ellis, Neiman Marcus (among many others) and I got the opportunity to ask him for some inside scope that relates directly to the illusions of the fashion industry. David described the long and very “unglamorous” end of the fashion industry that involves the endless hours spent creating the set (the background, props, landscapes) for fashion shoots and fashion shows (including NYC Fashion Week). He has witnessed, first-hand the “hypocrisy” of the fashion world in which what the consumer ultimately sees bears no resemblance to the individual parts before the ‘illusion’ began. For example, models who, when they arrive at the photo shoot or fashion show, appear to be very young (14 - 15 at times), exhausted, pale, thin to the point of being frail, drinking energy drinks to stay awake…. followed by a 2-3 hour sit in a chair where their hair and make-up are done (by 4 - 6 experts) while the model tries to stay awake by focusing on her IPhone - Then, when the model enters the set (at least for still shoots) everything is “fake” according to David; clothes are held together (hidden, at the back) with clothes pins, 90% of the models have hair extensions, the lighting and editing experts remove any perceived “flaws” (such as freckles, birthmarks, scars) and they even contour the models’ bodies (via Photoshop) to make them more voluptuous (enlarged breasts, wider hips, thinner waists).

To David, the whole scene is both “fascinating and revolting” (Graham 2016). It is lucrative but he does not personally agree with the “selling of unattainable beauty” that is most often based on artificial premises. He loves the creative aspect of it, like when he painted the sail with butterfly images for a Nieman Marcus magazine cover and when he created an artificial field of grass filled with daisies so that the model could lie in it and be photographed to sell Joe Fresh Clothing. He feels conflicted because, as the father of a 10 year old daughter, he wants her to aspire to be her best “original self - whether that is an auto mechanic, lawyer, writer or painter” When asked if he would approve if his own daughter chose to be a model, he said, “God, I hope not, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Look what her dad does for a living.” Ultimately, he is thankful for his job and the opportunities it gives him to take his daughter away from the big city while he also admits that he has taken her to 3 NYC Fashion Week events and concedes that “she was absolutely thrilled by it all.” Therein lies the complication. While we may intellectually reject the premise of false representation that the fashion industry perpetuates, we are nonetheless drawn to it.

Although there is also an opposing side to the topic of whether or not fashion is selling us something impossible.. Are things changing? Is the fashion industry becoming more accessible? More ‘realistic’? Some people are taking a stand and doing things differently than the standard, photo shopped, unachievable lifestyle given off by the majority of the industry. Many Advertisers and the fashion industry as a whole have taken some recent strides to offset the perceived hypocrisy of the “unattainable dream.” They are beginning (in some ways) to recognize the need to CONNECT more closely to the ‘average’ consumer:

Someone really using her voice to make a change is 28 year old body activist Ashley Graham. A size 16 model on the rise of stardom! Sports Illustrated Magazine Swimsuit edition (its most popular annual edition) has sent shockwaves through the swimsuit modelling industry by selecting Ashley Graham, a plus-sized model for its 2016 February cover. Ashley says in no way shape or form was the cover picture of her on the beach in a bathing suit edited or photo shopped; “They (Sports Illustrated editors) did not retouch me,” she said. “They did not take out things. They didn’t reshape my body in any way, shape or form.” (PeopleStyleWatch 2016)

Countries are also taking a stand for change in the industry as a whole. Israel, Spain, Italy, and most recently France as they enforce new rule to ban excessively thin models from model activity. Anyone who is below the Body Mass Index (BMI) proposed by health authorities (18), are no longer legible to be showcased in any form (runway to still photo-shoots). Fashion agencies that use models with a BMI under 18, could face charges of six months in jail and a fine of $82.000USD. This will hopefully positively affect the way society is influenced by the fashion industry due to the fact that more realistic women and men will be showcased on runways and in editorials, therefore no longer giving off an unattainable, unreachable, and unrealistic standard of what is ‘in’ in the industry.

This shows how fashion can EVOLVE and adapt to meet the current needs of its consumers whether that is creating an illusion that only few can attain, or promoting a style or brand that can be emulated (copied) by more ‘average’ consumers.

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