For once the Daily Mail has written something I agree with: Skeletal models and super-sized hypocrisy:
At a London Fashion Week where one designer, Maria Grachvogel, was forced to take in the seams on her samples because she couldn’t find any models who were a size ten, a ghost appeared on the catwalk.
It was as though I were looking in a mirror, at me aged 18, weighing 5st, about to be drip-fed on a ward in St Barts hospital.
I sat up straight on my narrow gilt chair. I looked around me to see if anyone else had seen what I had seen. But no, it was all sycophantic smiles, or that other thing fashion folk do, just the tops of expensively highlighted heads, tap, tapping away on their iPads.
I looked over at front row guest Samantha Cameron, but even she had failed to go pale. It is the drip, drip, drip effect, you see, when so many girls swim like matchsticks before your eyes, a death mask on the face of a teen becomes unremarkable.
I was at the collection for the autumn/winter shown by Erdem, the hot Brit designer of the moment. And this was the hottest model of the season: Chloe Memisevic, who was born in Sweden in 1993, and is represented by Wilhelmina Models in New York.
This is the very agency whose managing director had come along to a debate in New York a few seasons ago about the need for more realistic models, an event where Natalia Vodianova, the face of Calvin Klein, had broken down in tears when recounting how she had been told off for not losing her baby weight fast enough, and rejected by designers for being too fat.
The fashion world is going crazy for Chloe Memisevic — she was back on the catwalk yesterday for Mary Katrantzou looking horribly emaciated. As well as Erdem, she has walked the runway for Proenza Schouler and Marc Jacobs in New York, and Roksanda Ilincic and Twenty8Twelve here in London.
She is the face of Marc Jacobs. She is 5ft 11in and measures 32, 22, 34. On a Body Mass Index scale (a way of measuring body fat that proved too problematic to introduce at fashion shows, though it was mooted by Labour’s Model Health Inquiry back in 2008), she would hover somewhere below number 15.
A healthy BMI falls somewhere between 18.5 and 24.9. This means she is at risk of brittle bone disease later in life. And heart failure. And pneumonia. And an early, horrible death.
Disenchanted by what I had seen at Erdem, I turned up at the Mark Fast show on Monday night, in the hope of a breath of normality.
After all, it was this knitwear designer who had caused such a storm a few seasons ago by using bigger girls on his catwalk, a decision that caused his stylist, a woman who is probably so starved herself she has started to consume her own organs, to storm out.
But while there were bigger girls on his runway, notably Gwyneth Harrison and Laura Catterall, who are both size 14, there were two of the thinnest girls I saw all week: Hannah Hardy, whose hip bones could grate parmesan; and Martyna Budna, who helpfully appeared in just a bra top, so we could break the boredom by counting her ribs.
On the Friday before London Fashion Week kicked off, I had gone along to a packed debate on this very topic held at the National Portrait Gallery in London. On the panel were Erin O’Connor, model and founder of All Walks Beyond The Catwalk, a campaign for diversity in fashion, Kiki Kendrick, a former advertising executive, Dr Linda Papadopoulos, a psychologist, Lynne Featherstone MP, Minister for Equalities, and Lorraine Candy, editor of Elle.The most sense all evening was talked by Erin O’Connor, who described going backstage at a show, trying to get into a pair of trousers and finding she couldn’t get them on. This woman has the dimensions of a reed.
‘Make the trousers bigger!’ she yelled. ‘Make them bigger.’ We all cheered.
Kiki Kendrick, who came up with an award-winning self-esteem campaign for The Body Shop in 1997, featuring a size 16 cartoon doll called Ruby, explained that a woman is like an onion. If she has layers of love, family and self-esteem around her, the negative images in the media will not be able to penetrate. But if she does not have those protective layers, and so many of us don’t, then she is very vulnerable indeed to images telling her to buy stuff and to change herself.
And while I thought Featherstone, the Lib Dem MP who gained headlines by calling for an airbrushing code of conduct, was ill informed and naive when she thought anyone in Milan or Paris would listen to her, it was Lorraine Candy who made me see red. Asked about the airbrushing used by her magazine, she said: ‘My readers want amazing and beautiful . . . Are women so stupid to believe the image is real?’
Well, yes, I am sorry, we are. When I saw the airbrushed photos of Britney Spears released to promote her latest album, my brain told my body: ‘Hmmm, why do you have cellulite and she doesn’t?’ Only when the pop star released the unairbrushed photos (in the industry, these are called ‘raw’) did I realise the sleight of hand that had taken place. And if I — as a former glossy magazine editor — fall into this trap, of course other women will.
I’m sorry, Lorraine (a fellow columnist at the Mail), but you sounded like the Mubarak of the fashion world, unwilling to change due to fear — in your case of losing advertisers and therefore your job. You’ve just put Keira Knightley on your cover and even by this actress’s standards, she looks skeletal.