Image C. Elise Slater
Ottawa Citizen, Friday, October 26, 2007
By Anybody member, Ben Barry
Montreal Fashion Week 2007 made headlines around the globe last week. It wasn't trendsetting creations generating the fashion frenzy. The buzz was all about Montreal's leadership as the first Fashion Week in North America to impose a minimum weight and age limit on models.
Designers were warned that any models under 16 years old and with an unhealthy body mass index would be removed from the runways and redirected to medical professionals.
Montreal's move follows similar efforts in Madrid, Milan, and London this past year, instigated by public outcry after four models died from malnutrition.
Progressive, you might think. But I have to ask: Does regulating models actually create a healthier fashion industry?
Not if you ask me, and I'm a renegade modelling agent: I represent models of all ages, sizes, colours and abilities. Sure, imposing new size limits will keep models from dying on the catwalk. But it also blames the models for being too thin when, in fact, it is not their fault; it is the designers who invented size zero and perpetuate it as the standard.
So, I say, hold designers responsible.
Fashion shows are all about the sample size. The runways we see on Fashion Television are only the end result of long process. Size zero took root the moment the budding designer entered fashion school.
Last year, I attended the graduation show of a Toronto-based fashion college. During the reception afterwards, one new graduate told me, "I wanted to design a collection that my friends could wear after the show, and me, too. But everyone said that I'd never pass if I did."
Fashion students are taught to create clothes for a standard sample size and are required to submit assignments in that size, and that size is ultra thin. Anything larger gets squelched with a failing grade.
These are our future Stellas and Karls. Teaching them to design for one tiny size limits their skill, creativity and vision. Ambitious new talents head out into the fashion world not to challenge the status quo but to uphold it -- petite gets cut in stone.
When I began my agency, I was told that my models were "too big" to fit into samples. So I'd go to the stores in question, flip through the racks and find everything I needed in a zero to 18-plus. I'd go back to pitch meetings holding up hangers full of normal apparel. More "no, no, no" Those clothes were strictly for retail, not the runway. Making samples in any other size than zero was "impossible."
Why impossible? Sample sizes don't appear out of thin air; they are designed, cut and stitched. Can't they can be designed, cut and stitched in something other than a teeny?
I don't want to do away with glamour. I love glamour. I don't want to see dowdy mug shots. Keep the fantastic clothes and the fabulous styling; just make looks attainable for a range of women.
The businessman in me understands that it would be highly inefficient -- and costly -- to create samples in every size. Instead, I propose that samples be standardized in three sizes: zero, six, and 14. If consumers can see themselves in the clothes, they will be better able to determine what the clothes will look like on them. The result, trust me: increased sales.
Canadian fashion educators should encourage students to submit assignments in a variety of sizes. Government funding for design schools should depend on size diversity in curriculums.
However, the industry can step up to the runway first. This week is Toronto's L'Oréal Fashion Week, organized by the Fashion Design Council of Canada. Why can't the FDCC publicly encourage designers to showcase a variety of sizes and offer subsidies to designers who do?
Fashion labels are only in business because of your dollars at work. Consider buying your fashions from designers who showcase diversity on the catwalk. Write to firms who stick to skinny. Without you, fashion is out of business.
I'm going to keep trying to take size diversity all the way from the rolling racks to the runways. In 10 years I know that's going to be what's truly fashionable.
Ottawa native 24-year old Ben Barry is CEO of the Ben Barry Agency, a model consultancy, and author of Fashioning Reality (Key Porter). He is currently conducting doctoral research on beauty at Cambridge University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org