Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Walking a ‘thin’ Line

With the latest news that Diane Von Furstenberg, President of the CFDA, has recently met with Anna Wintour, and a group of designers to examine the industry’s responsibility for what appears to be an epidemic of young women who are literally starving themselves, it is obvious that this issue is being taken very seriously. And well it should, the fashion industry’s impact on this growing problem cannot be ignored or underestimated. As she put it, “It is not responsible for members of the industry to ignore the impact fashion has on body image.”

What cannot be denied is that while artistic visionaries may try to promote different visions of beauty, being lean and narrow, especially if it’s stretched out over a long lithe frame, will always be perceived as the ideal form. And it will be worshipped by the fashion industry, particularly fashion designers, whose models and muses unsurprisingly tend to be women with ‘ideal’ bodies (to the extreme). This was exemplified by the long time relationship between Nan Kempner and the designers who dressed, worshipped, and befriended her, like Valentino and Yves St. Laurent.

In fact, this relationship was explored by Cathy Horyn in her front page review of the Nan Kempner exhibit in last Thursday’s Style section, (“A Woman Who Wore Couture Like a Second Skin”). The late Mrs. Kempner’s impossibly tall and skinny frame was as much a part of her entire chic persona as was her amazing wardrobe and there is almost no article that has not made reference to the fact that she was a walking ‘clothes hanger’.

As Ms. Horyn describes it, “While Saint Laurent’s tailoring -- the sharp shoulder line, the slight drape in the front, the natural waist of the pants -- owed much of its rightness to his sense of proportion, it helped that his favorite American client had long legs, a 26 inch waist and narrow, boyish shoulders. When you see the posse of Saint Laurent clad mannequins, you realize as well that Nan played a more vital role in his career than merely wearing his clothes well. In Paris, the equally thin Betty Catroux, the designers’ friend and muse, represented rock n’ roll, decadent Saint Laurent. But Nan- was the Americanized ideal.”

Being fit, lean, athletic, and healthy are all desirable traits. When thinness is unsightly, unhealthy, and life threatening, there is absolutely nothing chic or fashionable about it. But it is impossible to separate fashion from thin or to overstate the connection, and unfortunately, as long as it is held up as an ideal standard (in the same that being tall is perceived as such), it is human nature that some will take it to an unhealthy and even dangerous extreme. “One can never be too rich or too thin” is apparently a mantra which is taken literally by more than a few.

-Marilyn Kirschner

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