There is an unhappy irony that during the week of International Women’s Day (March 8) I have been reflecting (again) on the slightly depressing portrayal of females in the fashion business.
During London Fashion Week I was struck by the lack of diversity or imagination among the choice of models. While I accept even a modest catwalk show should be seen as a spectacle and a performance, and therefore there is no need for very “ordinary” models, there seemed to me an important disconnect between the show ponies on the runway and the end-consumers of the collections.
Our coverage of LFW reveals the predictable parade of skinny young women, mainly white, and virtually none looking over the age of 23. As the father of two daughters aged 17 and 23, I have long been concerned that too often the fashion industry seems obsessed with portraying thin creatures, as though it wishes to deny that evolution has given women breasts, hips and buttocks. But leaving that familiar debate aside, I was surprised that so few designers showed their clothes on the sort of women who might actually buy them - successful, confident, individual “older” females.
Most of the good shows among the strong line-up seen at LFW involve brands that are undeniably at the luxury level or, at the very least, high premium. Leaving aside the lucky rich daddy’s girls with a generous allowance, I suspect very many of the collections are bought by more mature women (in all senses of the phrase).
Notable exceptions to the modelling norm that I recall from my visits to LFW were Jacquetta Wheeler and Sophie Dahl at the Temperley show. The former, one of the most successful British models of recent times, is 33 years old. She presumably is a mate of designer Alice Temperley, which explains why she was tempted out of near-retirement for a trip down the catwalk.
Also parading Temperley’s autumn 15 collection - well one outfit, at least - was Dahl, a 37-year-old mother of two kids with jazz pianist Jamie Cullum (who was in attendance, but sadly did not tinkle any ivories). While, disappointingly, Mrs Cullum is no longer the curvaceous specimen she was when she first broke into modelling nearly 20 years ago, she (and the athletically proportioned Wheeler) did look different to the rest of the Temperley crew.
To make a sweeping generalisation, at least London offers slightly more variation than the catwalks of Milan and Paris, where the young/thin obsession seems even more pronounced. It is not absent from New York, either, but at least some designers there stick with the athletically statuesque look of Cindy Crawford of blessed memory. I did like Dolce & Gabbana’s pregnant model this season. But generally I wonder who selects the models - the designer, his or her show stylist, or the marketing department? For an industry built around creativity, it is largely an unimaginative selection.
And while talking of the older consumer, what about the older creator? It is good to see my venerable friend George Davies back on our front page this week with his latest venture, FG4. The womenswear and kidswear concept seems remarkably similar to the Pippa Dee party plan operation he worked for before launching Next in February 1982. The wily old 73-year-old is fashion through and through and, despite the odd flight of strategic fancy, always keeps the end-consumer in mind. Younger talents could learn a lot from George, who was the first recipient of our Drapers Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.