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Monday
Mar232009

Reality on the Runway

Some groundbreaking news from AnyBody member Ben Barry...

On Wednesday March 18th Canadian designer Cheri Milaney presented her Fall/Winter 2009 Collection at LG Toronto Fashion Week. She selected 22 real women from ages 20 to 68, sizes 4 to 16, and of all backgrounds to model. These women are teachers, mothers, lawyers, students, sales associates, and entrepreneurs and some have courageously overcome the challenges of cancer. Each women is role model for all of us. None of these women had previously walked a catwalk, and so they each took part in three rehearsals to learn how to walk the runway. One woman, a teacher, said that we used the hallways of her school as her practice catwalk. Each woman brought life onto the runway and into the clothes with her confidence and radiance. Cheri was the first designer to present her collection at any fashion week in the world on women of diverse ages, sizes, and backgrounds. The first step in changing the catwalk has happened

Here are some photos of the show...

Reality on the runway

Coached by Ottawa's Ben Barry, real women do the catwalk at Toronto Fashion Week

Article from: The Ottawa Citizen By Liza Herz, 21/3/2009

With a rolling easy gait, Tamara Morahan practised her runway walk last Monday in a west-end Toronto dance studio along with 21 other happy, laughing recruits. "Your hips should arrive before you do," proclaimed the plucky 36-year-old mother of four, who was chosen as one of 22 "real women" to present Vancouver designer Cheri Milaney's fall-winter 109 collection at Toronto's LG Fashion Week, which wraps up today.

When Milaney decided the models on her runway should better reflect the women who buy her clothes, she enlisted Ottawa's diversity-minded model scout Ben Barry to find the right candidates. Barry is best known to Canadian audiences for having cast Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004. Last fall he received a Governor General's Award for his leadership in advancing the equality of girls and women in Canada. "There are no limits and no restrictions as to who can be on the runway," Barry said in a recent interview, a muted rebuke to those who see modelling as the sole preserve of elegantly starved wraiths.

The women at the rehearsal were drawn from a cross-section of types and cultural backgrounds -- young, old, slender, curvy, short, tall, brash and shy. Using networking websites like Facebook and tips from friends, Barry managed to corral 22 would-be models ranging from age 24 to 60 in sizes 4, 8 and (a decidedly un-couturish yet perfectly normal) size 14. Together with Canadian plus-sized model Liis Windischmann, Barry guided his rookie charges through their final runway paces -- with just two days to go before their big LGFW show Wednesday at the tent in Nathan Phillips Square.

Attired in a natty dark suit, BlackBerry in hand, Barry looked for all the world like the big-time agent he is, yet his wide grin was almost kid-like. "When they started, they were walking much slower with their heads down," he said, "and within three sessions they've come into themselves and really are walking like professional models." Windischmann, a star plus-sized model, knows well the ways of the mainstream fashion industry. "Samples years ago used to be size 8," she said. "It's gone down, down, down to the point that a lot of samples you see now are size 0 to 4 on the runway. "That dictates what goes in magazines ... and the fact that Cheri has three different sample sizes in her show is really revolutionary. If we change the sample size we change the world." This night, she is teaching her conscripts that each size requires a different walk. "If you have womanly curves, you have to adjust your walk accordingly. I've got hips, I'm a size 14, so I tell them I can't walk exactly like a size zero would, no matter how hard I try."

"So many women who we scout are mature," said Barry. "They've often defined themselves outside of fashion. Models look like that," he said, a reference to the cliché of the dewy, snake-hipped stick-figures who still rule the world's top runways. However, the skinnier-than-thou fashion ethos may finally be losing its monopolistic grip, thanks, in part, to the crusading efforts of Barry, who has taken his message of inclusiveness right into the mainstream, with the famous Dove campaign that celebrated the bodies of ordinary women.

Anyone looking for further signs of cultural drift might want to pick up the April Vogue with its annual "Shape" theme (featuring cover girl Beyoncé Knowles), which pays once-yearly lip service to diversity by profiling women who aren't necessarily capable of squeezing into a size 2. The women in Milaney's show definitely covered the gamut, including two breast cancer survivors found through the Look Good Feel Better program and 53-year-old high school teacher Connie Green, who practised her walk by striding the halls of her empty school after class. "It was perfect. Those halls are like highways," chuckled Green, a lithe, five-foot-nine blond. Dressed in Milaney's lush fall collection -- flecked tweed jackets, rich purple silks, flocked organza and textured wools coats -- each of the 22 newbies got her turn on the 81-metre-long runway at her show Wednesday evening. Some showed a little nervousness, while others who may have gone under the radar at rehearsal blossomed under the hot lights. Twenty minutes later it was all over. "People in the industry came up and said 'These women look like they could be models. "You would never think it was their first time walking the runway.' They were wonderful," said Barry. "These are the women that will buy my clothes," said Milaney. "They are the ones supporting the industry and so they are the ones we need to be listening to."

Reader Comments (21)

This, of course, is a wonderful start and I commend Cheri Milaney on her courage and foresight, however I am a little uncomfortable with the language in this piece. I think we have to become more aware of the language of women and of bodies. Are women who are smaller than a size 4 not 'real women'? I think we all agree that the saturation of images of thin women is dangerous and creates unrealistic expectations, but surely we of all people should be maintaining the idea that ANY body is beautiful, and that women who are a size zero are just as 'real' as those who are larger. It all starts with language, and if we aren't willing to take stop to combat sizeism in either direction then we doing a disservice to women everywhere.
March 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNikki
Yay! I commend Milaney for listening to the needs of the average woman. It's refreshing to have a designer respect ALL of her potential clients, not only the size zeroes.
March 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSharon Haywood
This is brilliant! Finally some models on the catwalk who actually look like real people and not stick insects.
April 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChapluqa
Nikki, while I agree that size does not define you as a woman, when you are a grown women and size zero, you are probably underweight which is not healthy. I don't like the idea of overwight or underweight models because the word "model" itself implies that you have an influence on others. I think women at healthy weights should be models. And a healthy weight can truly vary, especially depending on height and has little to do with shape.
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