Designers Face a Weighty Problem

Models at a casting call for designer Tracy Reese.
Models at a casting call for designer Tracy Reese. "I was surprised the last two years," Reese says of runway trends. "We've gone from a model who's a 2/4 to one who's a 0/2." (By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)
By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 2, 2007


In the lobby of 275 W. 39th St., in the heart of the Garment District, a clutch of towering teenagers stand waiting for the elevator. Their tiny doll-like heads bob and swivel atop reed-thin bodies. They are hipless and cleavage-free, but with the luxuriously long, slender legs of a racehorse. They are about to be inspected like thoroughbreds.

The young women are headed to the 11th-floor showroom of womenswear designer Tracy Reese, who is casting her fall 2007 fashion show.

Along with a casting director from Los Angeles, who has already winnowed the pool of models down from almost 100, Reese will see some 60 young women. She will select about 20 to walk her runway Sunday afternoon under the tents in Bryant Park. Similar scenes are unfolding across the city as Seventh Avenue prepares for the opening of New York's fashion week, which begins today.

This real-life version of "America's Next Top Model" is unfolding while the industry engages in vigorous hand-wringing over whether the models it uses are dangerously thin, perhaps even anorexic.

The casting at Reese's showroom is typical. All the young women appear to be wearing four-inch heels and tightfitting pants or leggings. The models are referred to by first name only -- Eugenia, Sophie, Zuzana, Veronika -- and each comes prepared with her "book," a photo album that serves as a résumé in pictures. In person, the models look nothing like their photographs. In an 8-by-10 image, they are all smoky eyes, pouting lips and a gaze far more knowing than their actual years would suggest. In person, they giggle, go wide-eyed and try to please as they demonstrate their "walk."

Reese is known for woman-friendly collections that are sexy and pretty but never vulgar or overly aggressive. Her clothes, sold in stores such as Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue, have a vintage sensibility. She is not an upstart, having been in business since 1999, but she is not an industry powerhouse like Ralph Lauren.

For fall, she was inspired by high-tech fabrics and baroque glamour. Because of the collection's emphasis on black, it has a pronounced air of sophistication. The models -- neither stars nor novices -- are expected to reflect the mood of the clothes. The directions from Reese and casting director Andrew Broz are both painstakingly detailed and incredibly vague.

Reese: "I don't want the sexy pose. I want a more thoughtful pose."

Broz: "Walk in an elegant sexy way, not a bombshell sexy way."

Reese: "I want a pause, reflect, and go back. A deliberate pause, not a catch-me-as-I-swing."

Broz: "No stomping."

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