On Thin Ice

It certainly goes without saying that unnatural or unhealthy thinness or skinniness should not only be avoided, but should not be celebrated, fostered, or encouraged.

But it also goes without saying that (like being tall) possessing a thin, lithe frame (which by definition is going to be thinner than the average or ‘norm’) will always be considered an ‘ideal’ within many circles, not the least of which is fashion. Particularly for those who seek out a career in fashion modeling (be it fit, runway, or print). Clothes simply look (and hang) better on those who are statuesque and sleek. This is not a matter of opinion or subjective but a widely held aesthetic, a statement of fact.

Given the highly publicized death of a Brazilian model last month due to complications stemming from anorexia, (not to mention the constant sightings of so many unhealthily skinny actresses, celebrities, and models), it is understandable that there would be a reaction (to wit, all the articles being written on the subject such as Eric Wilson’s in yesterday’s The New York Times) and an outcry for some sort of guidelines and regulations. But let’s be real. How can this possibly be enforced? It is all very personal, subjective and can be invasive and intrusive.

Yes, there are cases where models are obviously putting their health in jeopardy. But there are other cases which are highly subjective and simply beg the question. Other than the ‘Man Upstairs’, who is really in a position to decide who is too thin, who is naturally thin, and who is literally starving themselves?

And like it or not, thin will always be in where the fashion industry is concerned. Coincidentally (or not), many of the most iconic fashion figures past and present conceivably could be poster girls for unnatural skinniness, and could be considered too thin. I can’t tell you personally how these women keep their figures, but let’s just say that it is highly possible some may (or may have) bordered on anorexia at some time in their lives. The list of fashion heavyweights (pardon the pun) includes Anna Wintour (I think she looks great mind you, but she has been the topic of much scrutiny in terms of her weight), Audrey Hepburn (who was about 5’7” and weighed much less than 110 pounds), Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and the late, great, Best Dressed Hall of Fame-r, Nan Kempner, who was 5’9” in her stocking feet and that proverbial “long drink of water” if ever there was one. In fact, Mrs. Kempner was so impossibly thin, the phrase ‘Social X-Ray” was coined to describe her.

And as it happens, her personal style is the subject of a highly anticipated exhibit which opens next week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute (www.metmuseum.org), “Nan Kempner American Chic”.

By the way, Mrs. Kempner was a Contributing Editor at Harper’s Bazaar when I started as an assistant fashion editor. I can personally attest to the fact that being thin can undeniably be considered as an advantage especially if one wants to pursue a career in fashion. Before you get your noses out of joint, I don’t mean to imply that ALL one needs to get ahead is a small frame. It simply opens the door and gets people to take notice. There has to be talent to back up ‘The Look’. And yes, there are many highly influential fashion figures that are not thin (Suzy Menkes, Lynn Yaeger, Kim Hastreiter, and Glenda Bailey among them). But in a superficial world like fashion, which puts a premium in certain physical attributes, looking the part doesn’t hurt.

Remember when The New York Times’s Cathy Horyn became suddenly svelte and went on record with the many ways it changed her life and how she was perceived?)

When I was a fashion assistant at Harper’s Bazaar in the early 70’s, I probably weighed 105 pounds and was 5’6”. Carrie Donovan, the Senior Fashion Editor at the time, routinely used me as a ‘model’ to try samples on. And when ‘us’ editors made group pilgrimages to designer showrooms, it was the tall, thin editors who were always selected by the likes of Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Michael Kors, to do the trying on ‘honors’.

-Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

1 Comment
  1. Wow. As a woman who aspires to enter fashion journalism – and who certainly does not fit the “in” look you described – I wish I’d read your column before paying the US$59 subscriber fee.

    I must disagree with you. Quite a few styles I’ve seen on this side of the pond look absolutely horrible on stick-thin women. Designers who design *only* for thin women do so due to elitism, laziness and a lack of ability to think outside the box.

    What would happen if some of them actually studied classic patternmaking and fashion design history? Yikes, they may actually learn to design “against the grain” (excuse the pun). And who would want to do that?

    So much for independent fashion journalism. Lookonline.com seems to be toeing the party line just like the rest.

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