Fashion

They'll Still Carry Some Weight in 2007

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By Robin Givhan
Friday, December 29, 2006

Fashion is an industry built on planned obsolescence, which means that much of what was breathlessly touted in 2006 will be forgotten in 2007. There will be no need to fret about leggings, wide belts, sweater coats and the various expensive handbags -- the Chloe Edith, Chanel's Coco Cabas -- that once seemed so essential. The industry will be on to something else.

But a handful of fashion stories have unfolded this year that will continue to influence the industry -- and the culture:

· The city of Madrid's decision to ban models from the runway with a body mass index below 18 has sparked conversations about the glorification of unhealthily thin physiques in the most prominent fashion markets: New York, Milan, Paris and London. So far, of these four cities, only Milan has taken steps to monitor the size of the women who walk the runway, but discussions are ongoing in others.

It's unlikely that designers will start sending size 8 models down the catwalk. But the fretfulness over reed-thin models is part of a larger, reinvigorated debate over the impact the fashion industry has on how women are perceived by others and themselves.

The Dove marketing campaign, in which amateur models of various body types posed in their skivvies, is part of that same conversation. The advertisements, which started turning heads in 2005, had many women cheering, but the feel-good photos and videos had little to do with the fashion industry and the way it uses fantasy to sell the most mundane products.

The fatter the general population becomes, the thinner the models -- and their starlet stand-ins -- get. That strange correlation raises questions about the relationship between fashion and the culture at large -- a bond that has been simultaneously antagonistic, condescending and reassuring. The fashion industry feeds on a cult of self-criticism and insecurity not because it needs to, but because it can.

Somewhere between the plump amateur models and the hollow-eyed professional ones, fashion may find its sweet spot: a healthy-looking mannequin who can also sell impossible fantasies. Fashion should be about dreams and aspirations. It should not spark resentment.

· New York has a new generation of designers. Names such as Doo-Ri Chung, Peter Lim, Derek Lam, Thakoon Panichgul and Richard Chai are just a few of the talented designers who prove that creativity on Seventh Avenue runs deep. Their ability to balance the intricacies of the business side with the relentless creative demands will be the ongoing story.

The good news is that Chung, winner of this year's CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award, will receive a year's worth of business mentoring from Millard "Mickey" Drexler, J. Crew's chairman and chief executive and the man who transformed the Gap into a cultural icon. Lam has taken on the role of creative director at Tod's, the Italian leather-goods house, in addition to tending his own brand. It will make his professional life more demanding, but it will be a financial boon.

The bad news is that Alexandre Plokhov, the designer of Cloak, announced last week that he was closing his business. The menswear designer was honored by the Council of Fashion Designers of America as best new menswear talent in 2005. He brought a bit of rock-and-roll danger to his precisely tailored clothes. His departure from the spotlight serves as a reminder that no matter how glorious the media coverage, these new businesses remain fragile.

· Prada, the most interesting brand in Milan, is once again toying with the possibility of public ownership -- perhaps in 2008. Undoubtedly there are folks who are waiting breathlessly to buy stock in Miuccia Prada's creative vision. But the company will be interesting in 2007 simply because one never knows what might turn up on her runway. Such surprises are rare.

· Designer Tom Ford debuted Black Orchid, his first fragrance, in 2006. Packaged in a black bottle with gold trim, the scent is floral but not sweet. The former Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent designer has been adept at keeping his name in the spotlight as he readies for the launch of his first signature clothing collection. He is scheduled to unveil his menswear line in 2007. His name already adorns the blacked-out windows of a building on New York's Madison Avenue that will house his first boutique.

· "Project Runway" hit its stride in 2006 with host Heidi Klum, judges Michael Kors and Nina Garcia, and style counselor Tim Gunn becoming bona fide celebrities. The story lines have been captivating, and the fans are rabid. All that's left is for one of the winners -- or even one of the other contestants -- to become a breakout Seventh Avenue star.


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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