New York Fashion Week is totally phat. Sorry, make that fat. As in: fat-obsessed.
The current international are-models-too-thin? brouhaha has turned the week into the world’s largest discussion forum for weight loss and related issues, a veritable fat summit. It’s fabulous! Finally, we fashion folk have an issue, something really meaty upon which to chew while waiting for those 221 shows to begin.
I arrived at the Bryant Park tents on Friday to find summit attendees reeling from Victoria Beckham’s announcement that she was eschewing size-zero gals and had chosen Daniella Sarahyba, a 35-26-36 Brazilian, to represent the image of her upcoming collection. Was this a visionary flesh-positive gesture, or one of calculated cunning? The always-charitable British tabs have wasted no time in accusing Mrs. Beckham—they have referred to her as “Skeletal Spice” for years—of opting for larger gals in order to make herself look thin when she trots out to take her catwalk bows.
“I thought models were supposed to be skinny,” said a remarkably svelte Carson Kressley when I cornered him before the John Bartlett show and asked his opinion about Mrs. Beckham’s decision and the current anorexia/fashion hysteria. He was wearing a form-fitting Mr. Rogers cardigan and skin-tight jeans tucked into riding boots. “I myself live on a steady diet of Ex-Lax and grapefruit juice,” hissed the lovable Bravo superstar as the first model, a well-formed young lad named Lucas Kerr, came striding down the runway.
After the show, I headed backstage in the hopes of checking the body-mass index of Mr. Kerr. I also wanted to see if Mr. Bartlett had followed the recently issued CFDA bulimia-battling guidelines, in particular the one which suggests that designers “supply healthy meals, snacks and water backstage and at shoots and provide nutrition and fitness education.”
After hugging and congratulating the beefy Mr. Bartlett, I located Mr. Kerr and asked him for the male perspective. His response was chilling: “I’m surrounded by girls—gorgeous models—and they all think they are fat. Guys don’t get crazy about that stuff.”
Hmmm. If girls are somehow predisposed to succumb to self-punitive eating disorders, I mused, maybe it really is time for intervention at a higher level? Maybe we need those infantilizing nanny guidelines. Maybe Congress should follow the example of the Spanish authorities and start calibrating limbs and counting calories for girls at risk. “The government has bigger fish to fry—pardon the expression,” Mr. Kressley opined.
Friday p.m.: At Barneys, we threw a cocktail party to reintroduce the historic house of Vionnet under the creative stewardship of the talented and voluptuous Greek designer Sophia Kokosalaki. The esprit of this house is one that celebrates the feminine form in a curvy Isadora Duncan sort of way. The brilliant Madeleine Vionnet invented bias-cutting—amongst other things—in order to compliment and organize the fleshy realities of women’s bodies rather than deny them.
Diane von Furstenberg’s wrap dresses perform a similar function. If you are fat, the wrap will not make you thin. But if you are normal—i.e., you have those wobbly bits around your middle because you deem it necessary to ingest the occasional meal—a wrap dress will sharpen up your silhouette.
Sunday p.m.: The D.V.F. show. A fevered pre-catwalk fat-centric discussion raged as the ladies divulged what they had eaten so far that day. (It was but 4 o’clock.) Some interesting patterns emerged. British fashionistas seem to have a less neurotic relationship with food than their American counterparts. Harper’s Bazaar editor in chief Glenda Bailey, who had already eaten a poached egg on toast and a bowl of soup, told me, in her signature North English lilt, “Ooh, luv! At Harper’s Bazaar, we looove food as much as we looove fashion.” Fellow Brit and Marie Claire editor in chief Joanna Coles proudly declared that she had just eaten a bowl of mashed potatoes “with lashings of butter.”
Of all the women I spoke to, ex-supermodel Veronica Webb had eaten the most: “Chicken satay, french fries, yogurt and this amazing stuff called Bagel French Toast.” This prompted me to consider the notion that African-American fashionistas enjoy a more easygoing relationship with food than their Caucasian equivalents. Robin Givhan of The Washington Post weighed in on the issue: “We black women aren’t so hung up about food,” declared the Pulitzer Prize winner, adding: “That’s why I happily ate a bowl of pasta this morning. But the fashion person in me did not allow me to eat the bread which came with it.”
The show began with an intriguing black-taffeta version of the signature wrap, worn by a gal who definitely looked as if she could use a cheeseburger—or seven. All that prefatory discussion about calorie intake had given me a chilling objectivity about the models du jour. Anybody who attempts to deny that today’s cadaverous lovelies have become absurdly attenuated—they move gingerly down the runway like starving egrets—must simply not have been around when models looked more human. The current accepted norm is so extreme that if Naomi Campbell were to magically appear on the runway, spectators would mistake her for Rasputia, the female lead in Norbit.
Sunday 5 p.m.: It was so bloody cold that I bagged any further shows and ran home to catch Super Bowl 41. After staring at all those haunted, wraith-like models, the adorable Indianapolis cheerleaders were a real picker-upper. With their 1950’s physiques, these doll-like cuties possess an optimistic joie de vivre not shared by those poor, stringy melancholics in the Bryant Park tents.
As I watched the Colts-Bears game, I thought of all the blokes across the country boozing, belching, farting and munching their way through the Super Bowl, and I had an epiphany: Why not serve food before every fashion show, à la the sports stadium? Maybe the reason that men have a more laissez-faire attitude toward food is because they are around it more often. If the CFDA wants fashion folk to develop positive eating habits—or any eating habits at all—it needs to integrate food onto the runways. There is absolutely no reason why Diane herself—the CFDA president—couldn’t push a big, stinky hot-dog cart down the catwalk while we wait for her show to begin. (“More relish, Anna dahlink?”) Instead of perfume in those goody bags, why not a piping-hot chipotle burrito?
Monday p.m.: Finally, the weight-loss babble took a back seat to fashion, with a capital F. Thom Browne’s men’s show that was a jolt of insane creativity: a Visconti-esque, Pasolini-esque montage of gender-confused fascist lesbianism. Thom took his signature silhouette—a shrunken preppy jacket with a high-waisted pant—and drove it to its complete and utter lunatic conclusion. We’re talking Lacroix meets von Trapp; we’re talking Liberace meets Hitler. White mink stoles, calf-length skirts, marcelled hair, fur-trimmed capes, cashmere stockings and Swarovski-encrusted attaché cases—and that was just the men! David Furnish was kvelling. It was right up Elton’s boulevard.
Monday soir: The day’s second jolt of creativity arrived like a sledgehammer from hell. It was the celeb sighting to end all celeb sightings. Indeed, the range and breadth of front-row notables turned the Marc Jacobs show into a veritable waxworks: Rod Stewart, Lil’ Kim, Lenny Kravitz, Lee Radziwill. Other than Dr. Phil and Weird Al Yankovic, it’s hard to think of a contemporary icon who was not present.
Then she arrived.
Voluptuous, amused, exotically fleshy, Lost star Michelle Rodriguez sauntered toward her seat wearing a pale yellow strapless chiffon cocktail dress. Her only accessory: a massive police ankle bracelet!
“Shackle chic!” quipped my neighbor, Williamsburg musician Casey Spooner, as the stampede of yelling photogs recorded this fashion first.
Scoop Doonan charged over to Ms. Rodriguez, notepad in hand. I toyed with congratulating Hollywood’s current bad girl on not having adopted the prevailing super-skinny look, but decided that I wanted to keep my front teeth, at least for the time being.
“Tell me about your accessory.”
“Ha! It’s my new punk look! Ha!” laughed the gorgeous probation violator.
While Ms. Rodriguez may not be obsessively counting calories, the same cannot be said for Monsieur Jacobs himself. When I ran backstage to congratulate Marc on another breathtaking show—it was an elegant homage to Danielle Steel or Bernardo Bertolucci, or possibly both—I found a wiry gamin who reminded me of the fresh-faced lad I first met over 20 years ago at a club called Area. Rumor has it that Marc has reclaimed his former glory without resorting to dolls or tapeworms, but with “healthy meals and fitness education” à la the CFDA guidelines. Mazel tov, Marc!
Though the Fat Summit continues through Friday, I have already reached a number of conclusions. Here goes: The current fashion ideal for women is very thin. A more forgiving Greek ideal—see Madame Vionnet or Michelle Rodriguez—would allow women to eat more. If you are one of those women who have adopted the super-skinny physique (and I saw them everywhere at Fashion Week, and not just on the runways), remember this: You are missing out. While we men unapologetically stuff delicious haute couture quesadillas and crates of Ladurée macaroons down our big gullets with nary a raised pinkie, you gals go hungry.
Does this mean that you women are more stupid than us men? If this were the case, it would be disappointing to me: I always thought women were smarter. Could it be that contemporary chicks merely need a jolt of old-school feminism? They have simply forgotten the fabulous liberationist viragos who burnt their bras and hurled themselves onto the ramparts to fight the looks-ism and objectification of women.
Memo to me: Invite some hairy-legged, fanny-pack-wearing man-haters to next year’s Fashion Week to ding some sense into everyone and help push the hot-dog carts.
Let’s end on a positive note. The good news is that, while super-skinny is the style du jour, the majority of the population is not at risk. Based on the national obesity stats, your chances of ending up like the female lead in Norbit are much greater than your chances of ending up like Karen Carpenter, God rest her soul.