In the world of high fashion, the models wearing the newest creations receive instant recognition: their look is copied by women around the world and they are celebrated as queens of glamor and sophistication. But as model after model appeared in Paris fashion shows earlier this month, it was clear that this year’s ideal of beauty took many observers by surprise. Instead of the confident, curvaceous and spectacularly beautiful women who dominated fashion over the past decade, this year’s hottest models are small-boned, flat-chested and girlish-looking. Shalom Harlow, a 19-year-old from Oshawa, Ont., is a current favorite with such trendsetting designers as Karl Lagerfeld and Valentino. Although she is rail thin,
Valentino chose her to appear in his recent Paris show wearing a pink fitted bustier that seemed too large for her boyish figure. Afterwards, wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt, Harlow said that the new look is a positive, approachable view of fashion. “Perfection is boring—you can find that in a Barbie doll,” said Harlow. “This look is much more down to earth.”
With their waif-like figures and less than perfect features, the new models epitomize one of the strongest trends in fashion—a style that is inspired by the thrift-shop street clothing of the 1960s and 1970s. Designers as diverse as Milan’s Gianni Versace and Paris’s Lagerfeld and Yves St. Laurent have filled their 1993 collections with ruffled shirts, lace-up granny boots and wide-legged pants. Others, New York City’s Calvin Klein for one, feature long, layered clothing, including softly draped ankle-length skirts, romantic dresses, transparent blouses over tight T-shirts and loose sweaters with little shape. To complete the nostalgic look, designers are turning to models with boyish figures and faces that are dreamy and childlike, a look popularized during the 1960s by the legendary English model Twiggy. Said Elmer Olsen, a Toronto-based model scout and agent: ‘With their midriffs showing in these tiny little T-shirts, it can look sloppy on a girl with curves. They need to be very fragile and small-boned to wear these clothes.”
For many models, identification with a major designer has catapulted them to stardom. Kate Moss, a cherub-faced, 20-yearold Briton, recently signed an estimated $ 1.2-million contract to model exclusively for Calvin Klein. A designer whose
appeal gives him the power to move fashion almost single-handedly, Klein has pushed the five-foot, eight-inch Moss from obscurity only a year ago, to the ranks of the supermodels. American Kristen McMenamy, another model who has moved to the front row on the basis of her skeletal figure and unusual looks, has become the muse of Lagerfeld, the prolific, pony-tailed designer for Chanel, Chloé, Fendi and his namesake line, Karl Lagerfeld. For her part, the Paris-based McMenamy, 28, has been modelling since 1983, but only became a star last year when a makeup artist plucked her eyebrows almost to oblivion. The result—a quirky, androgynous look that emphasizes her slightly bulging eyes and oversized mouth—transformed her career.
Hard times and a critical rethinking of the excesses of the 1980s have also been at least partly responsible for the shift to smaller, less dramatically beautiful models. Said Dali Sanschagrin, a Paris-based fashion writer for the monthly fashion magazine Elle Quebec. “Luxurious fabrics and intricate embroidering have become too costly, so designers have taken their inspiration from the street, creating an anti-fashion. And anti-fashion looks ridiculous on opulently beautiful models.” While less expensive, such street-inspired dressing can also be reassuring in times of economic stress, says Nancy Jane Hastings, style director for Toronto-based Flare magazine. “It’s comfort on the cheap,” she added. Some in the fashion business acknowledge that the new look could set a dangerous example for women who already worry that they are overweight, creating more social pressure to diet. But Shalom, for one, cautioned that no one should try to emulate her figuretype. “I’m not thin on purpose,” she said. “I eat well—it’s just the way I am. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone becoming anorexic.” Other fashion experts add that the trend towards smaller, thinner models is merely evidence that the arbiters of taste are showing acceptance of different figure types. Said Olsen: “It’s a message that you should be happy with what you are, whether it’s voluptuous or slender.” And besides, he added, nothing in fashion stays the same for long. Women who do not like what they see on the runways this year should not panic. Said Olsen: “It’s fashion, it’s fickle— and it won’t last long.”
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