No­body loses face

Image - - Fashion -

Each one of us wants to see our­self re­flected in the fash­ion in­dus­try, and Ir­ish women are

as ac­tive as any global heavy­hit­ters in ef­fect­ing change, says MARIE KELLY.

Each time I tune into The Guilty Fem­i­nist podcast, I lis­ten to and laugh con­spir­a­to­ri­ally at Deb­o­rah Frances-White’s “I’m a fem­i­nist, but…” confession­s be­fore throw­ing my own into the pot. These in­clude “I’m a fem­i­nist, but… I’m a com­plete techno-phobe and will hap­pily ask a man to change the SIM card in my phone” or “I’m a fem­i­nist, but… it takes me ten ma­noeu­vres to par­al­lel park my car.”

I’m also a fem­i­nist who has worked in fash­ion me­dia for 20 years and watched as one model af­ter another has been air­brushed to make her “cover-wor­thy”. This means elim­i­nat­ing lines and soft­en­ing dark cir­cles, yes, but it has of­ten stretched to thinning out arms, re­shap­ing jaw lines and plump­ing up lips. Women have been car­i­ca­tured and gener­i­cised in mag­a­zines, film and ad­ver­tise­ments for most of my life. I re­mem­ber one par­tic­uar in­ci­dent some 16 years ago, when I was work­ing in mag­a­zines in Lon­don. GQ ran a cover of British ac­tress

Kate Winslet, where her legs had been sig­nif­i­cantly length­ened. The pub­lic was ap­palled; Winslet had al­ways pitched her­self as the girl next door who’d made it in Hol­ly­wood de­spite her re­fusal to con­form to LA’s skinny aes­thetic, and women loved her for that. The back­lash against the cover – the first out­rage of its kind that I can re­mem­ber – was enor­mous and prompted Winslet her­self to re­lease a state­ment say­ing, “The re­touch­ing is ex­ces­sive. I do not look like that, and more im­por­tantly, I don’t de­sire to look like that.”

Al­most two decades on, and the con­ver­sa­tion around ide­alised im­ages of women and real beauty con­tin­ues. Fe­bru­ary’s cover of Red mag­a­zine fea­tured a com­pletely un­re­touched Jameela Jamil, a British TV

pre­sen­ter and ac­tor, who adopts a blan­ket rule against air­brush­ing and is a vo­cal ac­tivist on is­sues sur­round­ing dis­abil­ity and body im­age (she suf­fered from anorexia as a teenager and had to learn to walk again af­ter be­ing in­jured in a se­ri­ous car ac­ci­dent at 17). As a for­mer model, Jamil is blessed with tra­di­tional good looks, but still, on the cover of Red, she had arm hair and bumpy skin, bruis­ing and fine lines – things women have al­ways been told were unattrac­tive or un­fem­i­nine.

There is a change hap­pen­ing in fash­ion, and it’s vis­i­ble among the in­dus­try’s top tier as well as our own peers; women, and men, are re-eval­u­at­ing how women are pre­sented and per­ceived in the me­dia. Vogue edi­tor Ed­ward En­nin­ful is one of the most pow­er­ful cham­pi­ons of this agenda and is us­ing his enor­mous in­flu­ence as edi­tor of what is ar­guably the most pow­er­ful brand in fash­ion to rock the prover­bial boat (he snapped up Ir­ish ac­tivist Sinéad Burke as a con­trib­u­tor af­ter her TED Talk on di­ver­sity and de­sign went vi­ral), but there are plenty of oth­ers who don’t have his plat­form, yet are ef­fect­ing change one small, but im­por­tant, step at a time.

At age 61, for­mer model Mary Dunne (read our in­ter­view with her on page 28) gave up dy­ing her hair blonde and em­braced her nat­u­rally lovely shade of sil­ver be­fore step­ping into the vir­tual un­known of In­sta­gram and us­ing this plat­form as a stage on which to say, it’s okay to go grey; it’s okay to grow older; it’s okay to want to “be seen” be­yond the age of 30. This sen­ti­ment – vis­i­bil­ity in old age – was em­braced by Ir­ish de­sign­ers Richard Malone and Si­mone Rocha on their AW19 cat­walks, as they cast mod­els from ages 20-odd to 70-odd. Two young de­sign­ers cred­ited with bring­ing some of the most ex­cit­ing pieces to Lon­don Fash­ion Week are say­ing quite plainly that di­rec­tional fash­ion doesn’t end for women when they reach mid­dle age.

Nikki Cree­don, owner of Ha­vana, the only stock­ist of Si­mone Rocha in Ire­land, has con­sis­tently de­fied any older woman stereo­typ­ing with her con­cep­tual buy for the Don­ny­brook bou­tique, which has al­ways had a ma­ture clien­tele. She her­self epit­o­mises age­less style and is of­ten seen wear­ing Si­mone Rocha, Haider Ack­er­mann and Rick Owens – not tra­di­tional sar­to­rial ter­ri­tory for the over 50. Per­haps now that Chanel is en­ter­ing a new era un­der the di­rec­tion of Vir­ginie Viard, af­ter the pass­ing of Karl Lager­feld, the French fash­ion house will look at how it presents its col­lec­tions to cus­tomers who are, for the most part, prob­a­bly three decades older than the mod­els who walk its cat­walk (or should I say beach, air­port, for­est…?).

While Sinéad Burke has man­aged to cap­ti­vate some of the most pow­er­ful in­di­vid­u­als in fash­ion with her mes­sage of in­clu­siv­ity (“It’s just about… tak­ing that time to think of oth­ers and con­stantly say­ing, ‘Who is not ac­com­mo­dated for? And how can I use my power and priv­i­lege to bridge the gap?’”), Dublin-based jour­nal­ist Louise Bru­ton is also re­in­forc­ing the mes­sage that it’s no longer suf­fi­cient for fash­ion to con­sider just one body type. The 31-yearold wheel­chair-user and founder of the blog Le­g­less in Dublin has writ­ten pow­er­fully about the need for clothes de­signed to specif­i­cally fit a wheel­chair-user’s body. Last year in an ar­ti­cle for IM­, she ex­plained, “With my chair and my curved spine, clothes just sit dif­fer­ently on me... Shop­ping for dresses and jump­suits that don’t mesh with my wheel­chair has left me feel­ing de­flated and ques­tion­ing what it means to feel fem­i­nine and stylish…”

This is re­ally what’s at the heart of the mat­ter – ev­ery woman’s right to feel fem­i­nine and stylish. See­ing your age, shape, eth­nic­ity or dis­abil­ity re­flected in the fash­ion in­dus­try is just the be­gin­ning be­cause when you see, you can be. And ex­treme air­brushed ver­sions won’t cut it any longer; women want to see skin with tex­ture, lines that de­note char­ac­ter, and fa­cial quirks that de­fine each of us as in­di­vid­u­als. That’s not to say, though, I wouldn’t like my own un­der­eye cir­cles re­moved. As The Guilty Fem­i­nist guest Celia Pac­quola said on one episode, “I’m a fem­i­nist, but… I refuse to be seen with­out con­cealer.” I hear ya.

“Si­mone Rocha cast mod­els from ages 20-odd to 70-odd; di­rec­tional fash­ion

doesn’t end for women when they reach mid­dle age.”

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP Sixty-oneyear-old model Mary Dunne; jour­nal­ist Louise Bru­ton; aca­demic, ac­tivist and Vogue con­trib­u­tor Sinéad Burke; Ha­vana owner and age­less style icon Nikki Cree­don

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