Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue, is bored with being asked why models are so thin. She said this on Radio 2 to Lily Allen, who acted like a frightened child but nonetheless asked Shulman tough questions that fashion journalists won’t ask. Fashion journalists are notoriously prostrate beneath the clothes; their shtick is to act like Vladimir Putin’s acolytes trapped in Topshop, screaming about belts, and if you break out and speak the truth, you become Liz Jones, an outcast in your own genre.
Allen said images of thin models made her feel “crap”. Well, they don’t make me feel crap, answered Shulman (I paraphrase) – so who cares what you think? Anyway, Shulman is bored with this thin-themed twaddle; such a fashion word, “bored”, so passive aggressive, so unanswerable. You may be right but you’re dull; this is no-platforming in the style of Mean Girls. In fact Shulman can’t even really stretch to being “bored”, despite being paid what I presume is a large salary for a slender workload; she is, in fact, only “sort of” bored, because this phrasing better expresses the exact proportions of her ennui, which I can only presume is definitely overweight.
She told Allen that looking at overweight women didn’t make her feel good, as if overweight is the only alternative, in her mind, to significantly malnourished. Shulman has written to designers asking for larger sample sizes. (I read that in another piece of iconography posing as an interview.) But that was it. She is, at the end of things, only an advocate for the clothes. She calls herself a journalist; but she is a saleswoman.
The answer to the original question of why models are so thin – and do prepare to be bored, because I cannot give you a new answer because the old answer is boring (as is the old question, of course): it is the incitement of misogyny in pursuit of profit.
What fashion considers to be the ideal is barely a woman. This is so obviously the case there is almost nothing else to say. In this dystopia Shulman can, in her defence, tell Lily Allen that the Vogue cover girl for April, Nigella Lawson, is a “totally real person” – as opposed to what? Lawson is a woman of extraordinary beauty, but to Shulman, obviously deadened by an unceasing parade of tiny, malleable teenagers (she says “clothes to our kind of western eye look better on a thinner frame”), Nigella is simply “real”.
But fashion’s fantasy woman – her default fault, if you will – is a mere scrape of a woman, a woman who has had no time to actually be a woman: too young, too small, a vulnerable thing I often imagine crawling from an egg in Karl Lagerfeld’s fridge. (And he is a man so pathologically isolated, his stated muse is now a cat called Choupette with a Twitter feed. Sample tweet: “Anna Wintour sits SECOND ROW at @MaisonValentino? Tres Horror!”) It is as if fashion closed its eyes and dreamed up the woman who most closely resembles dust.
Why? Some say it is because designers are all gay, and are afraid of big bottoms and so forth, but this is nonsense, and homophobic; fashion is full of straight women capable of revolution, if they weren’t all hostages in Topshop and so very bored.
Shulman says that fashion sells a fantasy, a wonderland, and this may be true for the few thousand women who can afford to wear couture; but it is a wonderland where happiness is as fleeting as any narcotic (six collections a year?). And it is, above all, monetised.
If fashion is your primary means of expression, you are, for me, only to be pitied – because women have better means of expression nowadays. Is it a coincidence that the fashion houses’ most avid customers are the female relatives of the tyrants of the Middle East? Fashion is obsessed with surfaces; and it is full of victims.
I would not say that all fashion people are unhappy, but it does seem to attract the unhappy, the soon to be surgically enhanced. And so this child creature, this ideal, is no coincidence. She is a complex sales strategy; both fragile and remote. Because she cannot be impersonated, she sells self-loathing, as Lily Allen noted, and therefore clothing, perfumes and the rest. It is not the wonderland that Shulman espoused, but it is an escape from something that can never be successfully eluded for any length of time – yourself.
If fashion is truly, as apologists suggest, dedicated to female self-expression, then why have trends? Why have a homogeneous law of beauty that cannot be bent? Why have subservient media that behave, so shamefully, like a marketing subsidiary? Why call it “fashion” at all?
In fact, the fashion industry is the most perfect expression of the late capitalist business model. It pretends to sell free choice, but is conventional. It is conservative, racist, misogynist, a terrible polluter, and a fearsome hierarchy. It is covetous, exploitative of models, workers and customers, and it is often tasteless: Vogue Italia’s 2006 State of Emergency, for instance, photographed models being sexually assaulted by a tableau of men dressed like Batman, to celebrate – or commemorate – 9/11.
And all this it does, as Alexandra Shulman has demonstrated, with a tiny yawn – a cat’s yawn, perhaps? – and entirely without shame.
• Twitter: @TanyaGold1