The super-tanker that is fashion and its messaging to women about their bodies must surely shift course now that the publishing monarchy Conde Naste has finally and officially weighed in to: "Encourage designers to consider the consequences of unrealistically small sample sizes of their clothing, which limits the range of women who can be photographed in their clothes, and encourages the use of extremely thin models".
Confirmation that fundamental change must surely now be upon us has come with this recent Vogue announcement. And this is good.
"Big deal!" you say? Well actually yes, yes, yes! At All Walks, we are all feeling positively fizzy with excitement. It comes after three years of campaigns and collaborations with image makers like Kayt Jones for i-D Magazine (whose image for us of Laura Catterall for William Tempest appears below), Rankin and Nick Knight to iconise beautiful women who are older or curvier (as well as racially diverse). When we started we hoped to inspire women to feel that their own beauty was valid. We also hoped to influence our industry! and change the way fashion is taught in colleges...big fat tick in the box, on all counts.
Our connections to political figures like Jo Swinson MP and government minister Lynne Featherstone, our insider status in said fashion industry, and speed dial access to world-renowned psychoanalysts like Susie Orbach, have help our voluntary - everyone works for free All Walks Beyond the Catwalk campaign, progress the debate. Thank you to them also... and now I'd like to pop my cork!
Raising a glass with us is Mal Burkinshaw, course leader at Edinburgh College of Art and Director of the All Walks Beyond the Catwalk Centre of Diversity.
"Vogue takes the lead where others must surely follow," he says, relieved. "Students are highly impressionable, the uninspiring depiction of unhealthy body types and childlike imagery in recent years from various creatives sources, has only served to create young designers with very narrow understanding and appreciations of beauty and body diversity. It has limited their understanding of the broader context for their designs; the diversity of customers bodies."
Melissa Benn; writer, campaigner and author of forthcoming book What Shall We Tell our Daughters? is cautiously positive:
"If we're going to get real change on this pressing issue of the size madness that is warping the lives of so many otherwise healthy and lovely young women - and maybe a few young men, too - then we need style leaders to take a stand and to take that stand right NOW. This is a great start. I salute Vogue."
And so do we. UK editor, Alexandra Shulman, is in line for a posy of stylish flowers from us. It was her leaked letter in the Times of June 2009, asking designers for bigger sample sizes, that provided encouragement for us, in the finals stages of our first All Walks Beyond the Catwalk campaign for London Fashion Week in September.
Shulman knows the bigger impact of catwalk shots and fashion editorials and will surely have been agitating behind the scenes. "Fashion imagery is particularly powerful since it combines glamour, clothes, imagination and aspiration," she explains. "These are all potent ingredients and appealing to many young women. Vogue is the leader in creating fashion editorial and now is producing editions in 19 countries. We felt that it would be wise and helpful to have a common stance on our attitude to the well being of models."
"A connection, a dialogue and ultimately a wider understanding of this complicated issue is the only way changes can be made," agrees internationally renowned make up artist Kay Montano. "And change needs to be made willingly by all concerned for it to be fruitful. All Walks, has been a catalyst for opening up a discussion that the fashion business as a whole has not been able to recognise. Now that Vogue have publicly joined in this crucial debate, the elephant, or rather the underweight model in the room will finally be properly acknowledged and acted upon."
So let's play catch up! I'll include model agencies, casting directors, stylists, art directors and of course photographers here as yes we are all in it together! Many designers will already be working on their Spring/Summer collections for 2013 to be showcased this September. It could be nine months or so before the catwalk apart from conscious clothing innovators like Mark Fast, can actually deliver change.
And even then... will the default setting of the pubescent waif still hold sway for too many, when ideas begin life as clothing illustrations resembling a lanky Japanese super hero like this one helpfully supplied by Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy?
"As a global authority and power in the fashion industry the voice of Vogue could make a significant difference," says Debra Bourne, co-founder of All Walks, "and that in itself, is just as important as the changes they call for."
Doubt, complacency, or fear that new templates will unhinge smooth running of day to day business and even interfere with route to profit, the sort that would surface in any commercial sector poised for change, will take some leadership. Will Vogue call upon its huge stable of world class creatives to generate stunning, highly aspirational, pro-active fashion editorial? Stepping in with the sartorial equivalent of NIKE's 'JUST DO IT?'
Currently occasional curvy model spreads, parade as an 'intentional lingerie shoot' in the absence of er... larger sample sizes in let's say a UK 14 from high-end fashion houses such as Prada, Gucci, Chanel and friends, Vogue fashion directors could work with current samples from companies like Anna Scholz, Marina Rinaldi and Elena Miro (design pictured below) who already have them ready to go? Thin angular bodies sharing the page with curvaceous bodies, older women, younger women and of course a diverse range of skin tones is the icing on the cake...what's not to like? Dazzling new research from PHD graduate Ben Barry will give doubters the rocket they need to get on board.
Featuring gorgeous, voluptuous and aspirational women, not just as novelties or maverick rebels, in short normalising women with larger bodies, has to happen. With Vogue's leadership, a wider range of bodies could be seen to be 'fashion forward,' within a single season. Designers and everyone else would just have to GET WITH THE PLAN.
"My real excitement will come when I actually see one of my curvy girls in a Vogue fashion spread," says Sarah Watkinson, director of 12+ UK Model Management.
"Our top model Laura Catterall (pictured above and below) has done everything a top model should be doing: Milan Fashion Week, London Fashion Week, magazine covers and ad campaigns for major Italian designers."
Laura works for so called 'plus size,' companies, illustrating the division in our perceptions of women's bodies. Vogue then, if it truly is to make a difference, might iconise women like Laura, issue after issue in the same way they heap regular praise on waif-like girls. It's time for more than one body ideal to exist in our media. Agents like Watkinson wait for that call.
"Vogue's new Health Initiative is a welcomed contribution to the growing worldwide movement towards promoting positive body image and body size diversity that we are seeing across industry and the political, health, education and not-for-profit sectors," says Doctor Phillipa Diedrichs, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Appearance Research.
"It is great to hear that a world leader and trendsetter in print media, and the fashion industry more broadly, has recognised the significance of body image as a public health issue. I look forward to seeing how Vogue will translate this initiative into real changes in the media and fashion industries."
Indeed Phillipa. Just how Vogue will translate this initiative into tangible progress and a solution that really is a NO BRAINER... is something we all await. JUST DO IT VOGUE and women everywhere will love you for it!
All Walks Beyond The Catwalk will announce Diversity NOW - a national student competition, in association with i-D Magazine at Graduate Fashion Week this June.
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