Monday, February 15, 2010

News Flash: Models Are Thin (A Night at Thakoon)

So, as I mentioned yesterday, Jeff and I went to the Thakoon show at Fashion Week last night. This was the first event like this I've ever been to and my first impressions were: Wow, what a weird thing this is. The people, the ritual of it, the clothes, the models. We got there early and were lucky enough to get a little backstage tour. It was complete madness. I mean really: madness. People and things everywhere. It was kind of like a Bosch painting, except everyone was doing hair and pinning clothes rather than killing each other.

We had a standing room spot RIGHT at the end of the runway. Killer. The soundtrack started as a reverberating, thumping heartbeat (very "Tell-Tale Heart") and then morphed into a lovely, somber instrumental. The models started to walk down the runway. The clothes were gray, drab, and often furry. Their expressions were strained or bored. And their bodies?

Okay, I know I shouldn't have been surprised at their thinness. But believe me when I say that they looked a good 20 pounds thinner than they do in the photographs. Seeing it in person, only several feet away from me, was disturbing to a degree I couldn't really comprehend. Paired with the somber music, monastic ambiance, and drab clothing, it was truly like watching starved inmates march to their deaths. I was viscerally horrified as I witnessed spindly, fragile arms and legs, baggy pants seats, pinched faces, and protruding ribs.

It was admittedly hard for me to focus on the clothes. But of what I took in, it definitely wasn't my cup of tea. (And I don't think it will be Michelle Obama's cup of tea either, so I'll be surprised if we see her making use of this collection.) There was lots of fur, weird gray sweatpants, and fluffy hotpants made of what looked like twisted tulle. The few dresses I liked were definitely the most wearable, like this wonderful little number with pompom trim (a detail has already deemed as too "cutesy").

I also liked this LBD with ivory trim.

The one piece I could totally see Ms. Obama in? This printed, drapey number.

I'm not sure what had to die to make this coat, but it's scary.

Fluffy tulle hotpants!

I've been looking over the other recent shows at, and gray and serious seems to be the theme of the season. I have to say, I felt wildly unsophisticated in my tastes. I like pretty dresses in pretty colors. There was certainly none of that. As for what I wore? I went with the black and white polka dot dress, but never ended up taking off my coat. Good thing it's red and fabulous! I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb in this crowd. If you're interested in what the fashion types are wearing right now, it's this: Gray cape-like coats, tiny skirts, black leggings and sky-high black ankle boots. It painted a very militaristic, somber picture. And there I was in my huge fire-engine red coat, with a large, sparkly strawberry brooch pinned on the lapel. Oy.

So all in all? I'm glad I experienced this. But I'm surprised to feel so much more disturbed by the fashion industry today. As my post title suggests, none of this is exactly a news flash. But it was still unsettling. Oh, and celebrity sightings? Anna Wintour was there and I believe I caught the back of her shiny little bob as she was rushed out at the end of the show. But I did get a very good glimpse of Grace Coddington, the Vogue editor who stole the show in the documentary The September Issue.

All in all, I was happy to get back to Queens where people don't all dress alike and wear scary shoes. Also, after the show I had an intense comfort food craving so Jeff rushed me off to our favorite burger joint. Ah, back in the real world!

If you'd like to see the whole show, click here.


  1. Really interesting post, Gertie! This is why I only have a peripheral interest in the fashion machine - it always, always makes me feel not cool/skinny/trendy enough. For what it's worth, I would choose your coat and strawberry pin (cute, btw!) over any of those fugly, rumply sacks any day.
    I think you said it best - pretty dresses in pretty colours for all!

  2. My mum got to go to a Chanel catwalk show in Paris some 20+ years ago. She came back with exactly the same impression as you, shocked at how skeletal all the models were (including Ines de la Fressange, who was one of their models at the time). Like you, my mum remarked that they were all so much thinner than any of the photos would have you think, to the point that she found it eclipsed the clothes... What a strange dysmorphic world these people must live in.

  3. I work with a woman who is almost six feet and weighs about 120 pounds. She's remarkably tall and thin - as in, people invariably remark at just how tall and thin she is (which I'm guessing annoys her to no end)! Yet, she's actually a bit heavy as far as the modeling world goes. Weird, how a truly minority shape is presented as the ideal.

  4. Lady in red dazzles at Thakoon show!

    I imagine it was quite the experience. But would you do it again?

    The way you have described it, I'm imagining the fashion people as zombies, blindly following the masses. I'm glad you lived to tell the tale.

    How many other designer lines are we going to see look exactly like this one during fashion week? I've been fascinated by the sameness and wonder who has copied who.

    Unsophisticated? You? NEVER! We love your style!


  5. I've been thinking about these issues from an anthropological standpoint. I think the movement toward these ideals has a lot to do with power. The fashion industry see themselves as elite, and in order to display that status, they must exclude everyone else. They call it "fantasy" or "aspirational," but it's really more of a visual language they use to set themselves apart from the plebes. In a way, it reminds me of the way CEOs and managers in large corporations speak in acronyms and corp-speak. It doesn't make sense to anyone else, but that's sort of the point.

    It was so interesting when Betsey Johnson used playboy bunnies on the runway, or Dita walked for Gaultier (I think?). Even though they were substituting one pretty much unattainable ideal for another, at least they broke the formula!

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  7. It sounds really strange, although we've all seen fashion photos from the catwalk I guess it's hard to understand what it's really like, how thin the models really are. Somehow it sounds like it made you more confident in you and your style! I know for sure that I'm glad I have let colours and cute dresses into my life!. I used to care for catwalk fashion a lot more than I do now, in the sense that some of those clothes inspired me. I'm much more happier with my style now. You kind of verify this feeling with your post!

  8. Do you mean the models looked thinner IRL than on the photos you posted - or do these photos just show the fleshier models? I have seen photos before where the models were truly, obviously starving, and literally skin and bones, but the ones that you showed do not strike me as such.

    Like commenter Karyn's co-worker, I am naturally tall (over 5'11'') and thin. My BMI is on the borderline of normal, but whatever I do, fat only seems to deposit in my bum. Based on your post, if you saw my upper body you'd think starving inmate. In fact my spindly arms and flat boobs are the number one reason why my body image is not the healthiest. I was taking my measurements for a sloper that I started drafting today, and I was reflecting on your post from the other day about facing the truth about our numbers - when my full bodice width shows up essentially the same in the back and the front, it's hard not to feel defective. I eat whatever I like and as much as I want/can, and it makes no difference.

    Pointing out that some women just naturally have that body shape, of course, is not newsflash either... just wanted to remind people that if you use harsh words about any body type, chances are that some of the readers will be applying those comments to themselves.

  9. Gertie dear, I'm glad the fashion zombies didn't eat your brain...

    I'm sorry if you felt out of place there in your gorgeous red coat, but I can tell you that I would much rather look at a happy healthy roomful of women dressed like YOU, any day.

    Have you ever seen the Robert Altman film, "Pret a Porter"? There were some surreal catwalk scenes in that. I wonder just how much some of the actresses/models starved themselves so that on camera they would look like what models look like in real life!

    The fact that you felt disturbed by the scene just shows how normal and HEALTHY you are, darlin'!

  10. motyogo, excellent points. I did mean that the models looked much thinner in person than they do in these pictures that I posted. As I said, I felt they looked about 20 pounds thinner in real life than they do in these photos.

    Thank you for your points about using demeaning language. I definitely don't mean to offend anyone who's naturally thin. But is it just a mere coincidence that all these women who happen to be naturally thin were all in the same place at the same time? There's a larger mechanism at work, and one I don't think we can ignore.

    And though I KNOW it's wrong to judge a person's health by looking at them (isn't that exactly the kind of thing I hate when it comes to plus-size women? People calling them unhealthy based on looks alone?), I couldn't tear my eyes away from their drawn, mostly pale faces. It was very surreal, and my reaction was, as I said, completely visceral. I felt my own body reacting to what I saw, sort of inwardly cringing. I see naturally thin people here in NYC all the time, and this was very different.

    Anyway, thanks again for your points. I hope I've cleared my thoughts up a bit.

  11. p.s. and I LOVE that you went a grabbed a burger afterwards! You're my kinda girl!

  12. Wow, thanks for that description -- fascinating and chilling! Your Bosch sentence was the best, BTW!

  13. I wanted to link to this post on Jezebel

    a panel of fashion industry insiders talk about the thin model problem. Zac Posen comes off as sort of an ass, which is unfortunate since I liked his clothes (not that I can afford them, so I suppose he wouldn't care.) The interesting point to me is how many of the very young models come from former USSR countries, and how the ability to get younger and younger models has pushed the extremes of model thinness. I think it's exploitation of such young girls... and it's sad that the industry will throw most of them out once they actually develop a woman's body.

    I love fashion, but I prefer a retro silhouette like you. What's so great about it is how the shapes celebrate a woman's shape. In fact, I'm skinny, and I find myself thinking "Wow, I wish I has more curves so I could wear that!" about lots of vintage fashions.

    Also, shoes today are ugly. Booties? No, thank you.

  14. I'm quite underweight, always have been, and I'm used to getting stares and remarks about it. When I was a teenager I also heard a lot of "You should be a model!" Well, I weigh only a few more pounds than I did then. I usually wear size 6. That makes me almost plus-sized in today's fashion world. And no, you can't see my ribs. There is underweight/naturally thin, and there's starving to death. It seems models these days are starving. That is scary.

  15. Wow. I feel so much better about my potbelly after reading about your experience! Kudos to you for keeping your red coat on and grabbing that burger! Here's to originality and being true to oneself!

  16. Your descriptions are hilarious. I'd prefer your outfit over theirs any day.

  17. I think the context is pretty interesting. Because in that industry people don't consider it a concern or off-putting.

    But in regular life - I have had a history of being underweight when I was younger (many Biafran references or declarations that people's finger fit around my wrist "with room!") and then post-puberty maintained a better weight until a stressful time recently where my BMI hit 17.5 and I went to the dr's to figure out what was going on as a result.

    The number of comments I got from people - especially coworkers - who thought nothing of telling me how I looked like I was "wasting away" as they passed me in the hallway or who pulled me aside after lunches or dinners to ask "if I eat", has been astounding. In one way, it makes me angry because it's an issue I'm dealing with, with a dr, and isn't really anyone's business and would be less likely to be commented on if it was going the other way (weight gain - that's a guess, feel free to correct me).

    But would I rather no comment if I look unhealthy? And just ignore it? I can't be too angry although it's frustrating. Because at least it's registering that in "real life" we shouldn't be the way.

    I can't imagine being in a community that does feel like that weight is the ideal.

  18. Can I say that I actually kind of love those fluffy hotpants? Especially if they came in navy.


  19. I too have had the same expereince, but in Sydney fashion week. Some of my friends are tall and quite thin naturally but the models in real life just looked well...odd.

    I love you wore red against the backdrop of grey, how inspiring!!!

  20. "As I said, I felt they looked about 20 pounds thinner in real life than they do in these photos."

    Eeeek! I thought the photos looked frighteningly gaunt. (And I myself am a naturally thin person.) Knowing that the models looked thinner than these photos is really scary.

    --C.B. (who knows little about the fashion world, but is learning to sew because nothing fits her.)

  21. Thank you for such a frank and fresh review of what it's really like to go to a NYFW show! I used to really want to attend one of these, but realize now that not only would I be horribly out of place (and therefore, probably awkwardly dying for it to be over! haha!), but be rather shocked at what it's really like outside the glossed-over pages of the magazines and images we see on blogs.

    Personally, I'm with you: I prefer pretty dresses and color! For crying out loud: most humans do look best sporting a hue other than the many variations of gray and black. I know "They" say that the colors are an indication of the times, but golly... why depress everyone? lol. You go for wearing your own fashion with panache (even if it didn't ever come out from under your coat! ;) lol)--after all, wasn't fashion about standing out from the crowd, last time I checked? ;)

  22. I wonder if the great fashion powers that be, are expecting us to want a sober color palate? An outward acknowledgment of the current state of economic concern.

    I left an email for you, an idea that I'm working on.

  23. Thanks for your perspective on fashion week. Your experiences at Thakoon seem to mirror other accounts of NYFW that I've read (as well as the times:
    I live in NYC too, and as someone interested in style, I felt like I wasn't missing anything but not trying to hang out around fashion week. The fashion industries goes in waves. I believe that the uber-feminine looks dominated a few years ago and that trickled down into the what I call "ruffle madness" at the mass retailers (not that I don't dig a ruffle here an there). I guess it's cycling to drab and androgynous again. What I don't understand is why it seems so undiverse. Why can't some designers do grey and severe, some do a weird Western/Hell's Angel mashup, some do retro plus modern styling, etc.? It sees a shame that they are so set on manufacturing certain trends, but that can be boring. I get that the NYC fashion industry is under a lot of stress right now, but I'd like to seem more risk taking (and not in the feathered hot pants direction).
    On the other hand, while I like the retro girly fashions a lot, I am also excited about the "dress sweatpants" (perhaps I am in the minority). Bring it on.

  24. i just discovered your blog yesterday and love it, despite my lack of both a sewing machine and thread skills. i think i love it as much for the insightful comments as for the well-crafted posts, so thank you for that. your "vintage authenticity" post was extremely interesting and led me to actually suck it up and not just wet-set my hair in sponge rollers last night, but actually wear the results in public today -- not something ordinarily seen in my tiny mountain town. did i get called shirley temple? yes. was it totally okay by me? of course!

    when i read this post i was reminded of one i put together about a year and a half ago, when i was editing a women's action-sports web site. thought i would share my perspective in case anyone was interested: clothes hangers.

    might be a no-no for a stranger to comment with a link, but i'm hoping to become much more familiar with this crew in the near future...

  25. As much as I agree with everything Gertie said, I was moved to comment by how much I related to things some other commenters said, like motyogo- not that I felt targeted by this post, but how there's this constant struggle with culture-conscious shame when you're skinny, and a desire to not be defined by the deliberate, deprivation-induced skinny. Where you feel defensive about how you naturally can't help but look, feel like you have to be apologetic about it, and internalize a lot of the perfectly appropriate backlash against it. Which makes us squirmy, sad, and feeds our own issues regardless-- at least that's how I took what she wrote. The feeling behind it broke my heart because it's at the center of my own feelings of alienation from my own body- the lack of ownership- from it being other than of my own design, but completely perceived as such regardless.

    As cry-me-a-river as it may sound, unworked-for skinniness can be an awkward position too, and has its own body-image issues. I should maybe mention that while I'm perceived as skinny, a lot of that comes from height (an overall stretch-Gumby-at-head-&-feet look) and there are no ribs in sight here. But I still get a lot of unwanted comments about my weight (admittedly both positive and negative, but the positive ones are often the creepier). You always have this defensiveness, even guilt about it (if you have your eyes at all open to the pressures out there), if it's not something you worked for or achieved through any kind of effort, will, or desire. People have all kinds of body types, we all have our own hang ups and ultimately have to find ways to make peace with them, and it feels so poor-little-rich-girl to talk about how hard it is to be skinny, but it perpetually puts you visually on the wrong side of the argument, if you know what I mean. Sure, around modelly-thin people I look healthy and well-rounded in comparison, but being usually the skinniest person in the room, strangers can assume things about you (shallowness, unhealthy self-deprivation, buying-in to the worst messages of pop culture, etc) that aren't a lot of fun. Visually, overall my shape evokes things to people- being a "minority shape" as Karyn said- that are beyond my control and have no connection to who I am or how I want to present myself.

    Which is of course the quintessential complaint central to anyone's body image woes. And so I always completely relate and simultaneously feel alienated in discussions of body image issues- particularly with larger women. Size remains this oddly socially-permissible (apparently) thing people feel they have every right to comment freely on to your face- whether you are big or small- under a justification of having your "health" in mind. Thanks, but I am not in need of having another cheesburger stuffed down my throat- I eat like a ravenous bear every day, but thanks for thinking I am broken and in need of fixing.

    I had a really eye-opening time in my mid-20s- thanks to a medication side-effect I gained about 60 pounds, which I thoroughly enjoyed in a way only a former bean pole can truly, rapturously enjoy them. I eventually went off the meds and lost all the weight so quickly it freaked the hell out of my doctors. It was truly jarring though, how much unwanted-attention I got in the extreme-weightloss period. People falling all over themselves to congratulate me on going back to the shapeless, stick-insect (but natural!) form I had been so excited to get away from--- & so quickly that it would have been an extremely unhealthy crash diet, had it not been a pharmaceutical side-effect with no other change in diet or exercise. Seriously, skin-crawlingly awkward getting praise for something you didn't do, didn't want, and knew from the fluttering doctors was potentially downright dangerous.

    Sorry for the book. Gertie's blog is always so nice for being able to let off some of that body-image related angst!

  26. I love Poe!
    Interesting take on the show - sorry it wasn't quite what you imagined.

  27. I went to a fashion show once and the supermodel Alyssa Sutherland was in it. Seeing her in the flesh was kinda cool actually. I don't have a lot of body hangups, but something did click in my brain, when I saw her, it was, "oh! so she's just.... like that." Wanting to look that way is one thing (and I don't know if I'd really want to actually), but actually trying?!?!?! If you're not MADE six-feet-tall and bone-lean, ain't nothing you can do about it. Completely, ridiculously futile to even attempt, and such a PITA.

  28. I just want to say I am actually in love with those fluffy hot pants. I am thinking a fluffy bra-top to match and I got myself one sweet bathing suit for summer....

  29. Gertie, I'm definitely agree with you that the facial expression du jour of fashion models - morose/angry - hardly makes one want to buy the clothes they wear! You may want to fly on over to Melbourne Australia in March, the theme of our fashion week is "get happy!" All of the models have been told to smile, laugh and look like they are having fun in the clothes - not marching to their death! I think it'll make for a wonderful change.

  30. Yikes. Real hard-core fashion people always make me realise that I'm not that into fashion. It's another world, where evidently they don't like food.

  31. I like gray, but not a whole wardrobe of it. Winter's long enough! Good thing we have choices--to each her own. And on the body shape issue, there's only so much we can control. The rest we can wrap in beautiful fabrics, colors and patterns, and smile like those models in Australia.

  32. I find Hillary and motyogo's comments really interesting because as someone who has always strived to be thinner with only episodic success, my instinctive reaction is to think how lucky you are. What you view as a bane, others will perceive as desirable - hence those remarks which you find insensitive and upsetting are probably more often than not from people under the impression they are complimenting you. That said, I've never understood the need for people to comment to others on how thin/ tall/ whatever they are. Just because you think it doesn't mean you have to say it out loud... Unfortunately some people don't seem to have a filter.

    Still, there's a very big difference between natural thinness and what we see on the catwalks. Crystal Renn says how she had to be anorexic (eating only vegetables and exercising 8+ hours a day) in order to keep her weight down early in her career. It is this unnatural, malnourished thinness - the process it involves and the industry that dictates it - that I feel able to pass judgement on, not the shape of the women per se.

  33. Seeing how scary thin those models are makes me want to rush out and eat everything in my kitchen! Those poor girls. It's so sad that this is what they aspire to

  34. Skinny models ... well, they do say the camera adds 10 pounds, and they had a lot of cameras trained on them ... lol. And the gray may just reflect recession depression on the part of the designers. Although if they had any sense, they'd be banishing recession depression with a rockin' red coat like Gertie's!!

    Add me to those who like your style and how you create items that flatter you. That's the name of the game, no matter what your size. (I'm a bit of a pear, I think! Bust just a tad smaller than hips, nice defined waist. Not bad for a broad in her 50s :grin:)

  35. I couldn't have expressed my feelings any better than Hillary. I am so used to having my skinny ass compared to survivors of concentration camps, starved inmates and whatever else, that at this point it shouldn't hurt. The sad truth for me is that when it comes to body image, catwalk models are the ones that resemble my body the most. For me, these stick-people are the only ones I can identify with. There are times when it feels reassuring to know that I am not all alone. Having said that, I do wish the fashion industry was able to display all types of bodies for us to look at, and I truly understand why extreme bodies cause uproar. Generally speaking, I do wish there was more consideration to the way models and their weight is discussed. They are people with their insecurities just like everyone else.

  36. Oh, one more thing: in case anyone is interested, I wrote about being inmate-thin and what it feels like here:

  37. I have always been on the thin side, as well, and when I was younger people would say things like I needed to eat more or they would ask if I was anorexic. It bugged the hell out of me. Now that I'm 40 and have had 3 kids I look "normal", I guess, since I'm now a size 4. Anyway, I totally agree with you about the size of models. I sincerely doubt most of them are naturally thin. I watched part of Models of the Runway last week and thought one woman was so obviously bulimic that I had to turn off the tv. (The damaged enamel on her teeth was a dead giveaway). And she was the only woman. The rest of the models seemed to be teenagers who have yet to develop womanly bodies. I think they may find themselves struggling to maintain their teenage-looking bodies when they become adult women.

    That said, I think the thinness of models is one reason why runway fashion very often doesn't make it into real life. You can make almost anything look good on a hanger (read: rail thin model), but you have to have some serious talent to make clothes look good on real bodies.

  38. EDIT: I meant to say: you have to have some serious talent to make clothes that look good on real bodies. A small difference from what I wrote above, but a meaningful one... :)

  39. Gertie have you seen Christian Dior? You fit in there! Loves it! check some out

    -Backseat Betty

  40. I don't know if it's been said yet, but the way you describe your experience sound like an Ugly Betty moment. Haha, she'd probably have your same outfit, too. =]

  41. If we're dressing Mrs. Obama, I think she'd look sharp in that LBD with ivory trim that you posted as well. She usually wears more color, but the style is very sleek and chic.

    I love the structure on the jacket in the first photo you posted, too. I love architectural clothes like that.

    As for the models, I don't get it from either an aesthetic or fit point of view, and I've stopped trying. But I have learned that women who are truly that thin naturally don't tend to look sickly, whereas the ones starving themselves to look that way, do. There are probably plenty of women who are that thin that are perfectly healthy, but not all women that thin are healthy and it shows on a lot of models.

    IMHO, those Colette models are some of the hottest women I've seen lately. They have stunning figures - both of them. They somehow manage to look thin, proportional and voluptuous all at the same time. Color me green.


  42. hi! this is a little delayed but i just saw this post over at the sartorialist[] and it reminded me of you and your red coat going to a fashion show! not sure where this lady is going, but she looks lovely all the same, like i'm sure you did!

  43. You made me laugh.

    It was kind of like a Bosch painting, except everyone was doing hair and pinning clothes rather than killing each other.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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