Once again, the fashion world is abuzz with talk about real women reclaiming the catwalk, and recent shows certainly seem to bear up speculation that the era of the waif is really over.
Return of the glamazons
The fashion industry is controlled by a handful of puppeteers. Karl Lagerfeld being one. This story begins in July 2009 when a model impressed the Chanel creative director so much he decided to resurrect the finale bridal stunt rarely seen on contemporary catwalks. Lara Stone made just one runway entrance. Stepping out of a glass-fronted lift - which appeared from nowhere - wearing a messy beehive hairdo and short, tight, 1950s tulle prom dress, she looked like a tearaway who had taken the wrong turn at the Las Vegas Little White Wedding Chapel.
Compared with the rest of the Eastern European models, she also looked as if she had eaten a few too many burgers on the way. "I wanted to put Lara out there," said Lagerfeld post-show. In fact the curvy, pouty half-Dutch, half-English 22-year-old was by this time already the muse of another major puppeteer, Carine Roitfeld, the editor of French Vogue. Cut to London Fashion Week seven months later. Hakaan, a less well known but well-connected Turkish designer, is making his debut and has pulled in a stellar front including Roitfeld, the photographers Mert & Marcus and Kate Moss - and a dream team backstage, too.
Edward Enninful, who has been responsible for creating most of the influential designer campaign images for the past decade (Armani, Gap, Jil Sander, H&M, Levi's) along with being the contributing fashion editor of Italian and American Vogue, styled the show. Russell Marsh, the legendary casting and show producer responsible for discovering Gemma Ward, Daria Werbowy, Sasha Pivarova, Natalia Vodianova and the influx of ethereal Eastern European beauties currently dominating the catwalks, hand-picked the models.
The production was by Gainsbury & Whiting, who do all the A-list international shows. And the star? You know what's coming next? Lara Stone, whose hourglass figure was further enhanced by the designer's semi-sheer net, close-fitting pelmet dresses. This time, however, Stone's figure didn't make her stand out at all. A few days earlier, Naomi Campbell had taken to the catwalk, starring in her own Fashion for Relief runway show to benefit earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti.
When pictures of Campbell were splashed over newspapers, the original glamazon exemplified a trend going on in fashion magazines and now, evidently, fashion shows. "We've possibly gone to the tipping point of unrealistic fashion and beauty looks," believes Karen Diamond, the director of Europe's leading model agency, the London-based Models 1, which represents many top international stars such as Linda Evangelista and Agyness Deyn.
"In the past the fashion industry was split in two so you got print and show girls. The latter were very tall, very thin mannequins. Then Versace put print girls on the catwalk with Naomi and Christy and Linda etc in the 1980s and the result was supermodels who became celebrities." "Then there was a backlash because models began to take over from clothes and designers, so designers have wanted uniformity and girls who were great clothes hangers. So there's been a move back to skinny girls.
"More recently Russian show girls, like Natasha Poly and Sasha Pivovarova in particular, began picking up the campaigns and Gisele and any model with a bust had to retire from the catwalk at the grand old age of 22." (Diamond points out that Gisele remains, of course, hugely successful and still ranks No 1 in the modelling super league). "However, because of the global downturn, fashion has had to get real. Real women look at Natasha Poly and think she's too thin. Also, designers are waking up to the fact that women aged 40 or older are the buying public. They aren't interested in seeing or buying clothes fit only for skinny child-women who are barely 15."
But now big changes are afoot. "Suddenly our top print girls are being booked for high-fashion shows," says Diamond. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (one of the hottest editorial girls on the planet), whose womanly figure has won her a Victoria's Secret contract at 22 years old, is currently on option for the Prada show in Milan. This is unprecedented. Prada is a trendsetter, so this could have a huge impact.
It will also come as a relief to many people in and out of the fashion industry, particularly the model, Erin O'Connor and British Vogue's editor, Alexandra Shulman, who recently complained of having to retouch images of models, adding rather than slicing flesh off them in photos because they were too thin. "We are definitely seeing a change in the line in shows," says the renowned style and beauty journalist and Vogue contributing editor, Anna-Marie Solowij.
"Girls with Amazonian figures, womanly hips and a waist are being cast by top producers like Russell Marsh. These girls are less waiflike and seem taller - in general - although this could be the shoes, which are really high and clumpy, and they look better-fed! I've noted there seems to be a lot of food backstage and the girls have been tucking into sandwiches and cupcakes. "Lara Stone may look younger but is, in fact, 25, as many models in the top 10 are. Being 25, not 15, makes a difference to a woman's figure," points out Diamond.
The transition from skinny mannequin to more realistic womanly shape does not always run smoothly, as the Mark Fast show last week in London proves. He sent size-14 models down his runway but hadn't thought to alter the usual size 6 sample or get underwear that fitted. He now faces a backlash from the industry, even being accused of being a misogynist. "Models will still be very tall and very slim. That is what you have to be to be a fashion model," explains Diamond, "just as a runner has to be super-fit to win a race in the Olympics.
"I do believe designers have listened and seen the reaction to what four years of skinny clones has done to fashion. It's simply not good for business. Interestingly enough, out of all the models during that time the one who grabbed the attention of general public was Agyness Deyn because she stood out." "There is definitely a move away from the very, very slim waifs we were seeing two seasons ago," says the leading casting director, Rosie Vogel, a former bookings editor of British Vogue, who cast models for many leading shows in London including those of Meadham Kirchoff, Louise Gray, House of Holland, Louise Gray and Michael Van Der Ham.
"There's also a bit of diversity creeping in with girls like Lara and Daisy Lowe, but I would say, by and large, slim. For shows, you still need girls who can literally fit every look. It's just a question of practicality. There's a move to get girls who are seen to have a bit more character than the Russian models seemed to. "I'm casting some really amazing Asian girls at the moment. My favourites are Shu Pei (at Next Models) and Ming (at Elite). One of my favourite models is Lakshmi Melon, who used to but now doesn't even need to do the rounds of shows because she is so successful.
"I'm very conscious of using girls who appear too slim. I don't feel it's attractive to have jutting collarbones. I prefer them to have womanly figures. I also don't like girls looking too young." The size of fashion models will ultimately be dictated by fashion. Trends coming out of London were very much about contoured tailoring - although not quite the cling of bodycon, which required glamazon physiques, such as those of Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell.
It was refreshing to note at Richard Nicoll's show that models wearing corseted bodices under half a suit jacket actually had shapes. At Julien Macdonald, black lace bras were worked into tops and cocktail dresses, as they were at Antonio Berardi's show, which championed the return of the restrained hourglass silhouette. Another trend that surfaced, was a new long, but fitted floor-length style and plenty of layering.
"For the past few seasons models were required to have shoulders but not a lot else," believes Diamond. "I think since the Celine show last season there has been a clean utilitarian look to everything. There's also a lot of layering which might swamp anyone too thin," says the American designer wear buyer for Selfridges, London, Laura Larbalestier. Trends aside, will Milan and Paris continue to deliver the new model army?