Few industries owe a greater debt to Robert C. Atkins than Seventh Avenue. Atkins -- creator of the hugely popular high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet -- died today in New York. Designers and editors alike will undoubtedly eulogize him over chicken Caesar salads and bunless turkey burgers.
As difficult as it may be to believe, the fashion industry has recently been more obsessed with weight loss than usual. A host of high-profile designers and editors have shed a significant amount of weight. Folks such as Karl Lagerfeld, Gianfranco Ferre, Donna Karan, Narciso Rodriguez, Harper's Bazaar editor Glenda Bailey and former GQ editor Art Cooper are all newly svelte. And nothing evokes awe and admiration within the fashion industry like a flat tummy, visible pelvic bones, and thighs that do not touch.
No matter how slim one already is, in the fashion industry, it always seems that there is room to be thinner. In an industry that defines the cultural standard of beauty, the fight to be slim is more than mere vanity. If an editor or designer is to dictate style, folks believe that she -- and he -- should also exemplify it. They do not need the angular faces of models, but they should be able to wear -- and wear well -- the goods their companies champion. And a spandex jumpsuit is terribly unforgiving of generous thighs.
An industry that manufactures trends is, by nature, particularly susceptible to them. It may be that the fashion industry ranks as the most vehement believer in weight loss gimmicks. Rarely are there discussions of watching one's portion sizes, not skipping breakfast and working out more religiously. Instead, there is a method, a trick, a new assistant added to the payroll. There are nutritionists and trainers and devotees of Pilates. There have been endless meals of grilled chicken and Diet Coke. There are discussions about viscous meal-replacement drinks and helpful pills. There is even the raw-food diet, which suggests that Paleolithic man's discovery of fire is the root cause of potbellies.
But nothing has been as much of a constant as the Atkins plan. It may not be followed to the letter -- caffeine and alcohol are consumed without regret -- but the philosophy of protein over carbs is practically gospel. Like Manolo Blahnik's Carolyne slingbacks, a tweed Chanel jacket or a Burberry trench coat, the Atkins diet is a classic. It defines the way in which the fashion industry eats, helps women glide into Rodriguez's razor-sharp sundresses and ensures that flat-front trousers indeed hang flat.
Those within the fashion industry do not speak inordinately about dieting: One need not discuss what is already known. Protein equals a Balenciaga scuba dress, Hedi Slimane's cigarette-slim menswear, Helmut Lang's lean trousers. Carbs equal fat.
Upon meeting an industry professional for lunch, one typically is given this assurance: The salads here are quite good. (You weren't considering the ricotta ravioli, were you? Of course not.) When the waiter swings by with his wicker basket of bread, he might as well be a hustler pushing crack. Sourdough? Ciabatta? Focaccia? Good Lord, man, no!
No one eats bread. Not even people who want to eat bread. Pasta is a guilty pleasure reserved for fashion shows in Milan. Steaks arrive juicy and pink, but naked without their usual accompaniment: the potato. Delicate mesclun is crushed under the weight of sirloin strips, chunks of lobster or giant grilled shrimp. Fashion deals are done over New York chef Daniel Boulud's famed DB burger -- ground prime rib stuffed with braised short ribs and a nugget of foie gras -- but the Parmesan-crusted bun goes shunned.
Diana Vreeland once said that elegance is refusal, but fitting into a size 4 sample sale dress requires the self-denial inherent in the Atkins plan. No other diet equals it as fashion's favorite tool for crafting a new self or maintaining the current willowy one. A slow and steady plan like Weight Watchers is not going to have one ready for next fall's leggings. Atkins may be unnatural but so is Botox, and the fashion industry is not about to argue the results.
Of course, runway mannequins, as in last fall's Oscar de la Renta show, don't chow down pasta. But even non-models in the industry, such as designer Karl Lagerfeld, right, feel the need to stay svelte.