Thursday, March 16, 2006

What's Haute Couture and What's Just Hot?

I'm not much of a fashionista. I'm a jeans-and-teeshirt girl most of the time, and Carrie Bradshaw's Sex in the City outfits always mystified me. But I do love some occasional reality TV drama, especially when it involves beautiful women, so last night I headed over to Laine's to watch America's Next Top Model.

The model-wannabes were doing a mock cover-shoot where they basically had to be naked and covered in glittery stuff in a warehouse filled with ice. Not an easy situation to look sexy in, right? Well, it turns out that they aren't supposed to look sexy, at least not in the way that we conventionally think of sexy. They're supposed to look dramatic and, as models so often do, a little pissed off. I'm sure there are other sets on which they'd be expeted to look happy (but without really smiling) or sweet (but without being "doll-like," as one of the judges kept calling it), but neither of those looks would have worked with the whole ice princess theme. In any case, the one look that earned the most scorn was sultry.

The photo that was chosen for one of the wannabes was of her leaning against an ice-wall, looking off to the side and giving the camera "the eye". Her photo earned the judges derision; one of them commented that she looked like she belonged in a men's magazine with utter distaste.

Now to me, this was a revelation. In my head a model is a model is a model, and the only difference between the models in FHM and those on the Fendi runway is that the latter gets paid more. And maybe the former is more likely to have done a porn flick at some point in her past, but that's not entirely relevant. It makes sense now that I think about it, seeing as men's magazines are all about curves and fashion models are usually flat-chested and a little androgynous looking. But it's not as though fashion models are expected to be in any way the opposite of sexy. Their expressions are more subtle, but think about Giselle for example -- she's hot. At least I think she is, and I know plenty of people who would agree.

We live in a society in which sex is considered base and overt sexuality is rather low-brow (unless you're Paris Hilton). So it makes sense that Haute Couture (high fashion, or literally elegant sewing) designers would want to distance themselves from it. On the other hand, sex sells. It sells cigarettes and alcohol, it sells houseware products, it sells tires and it sells fast food, and it sells these things equally to both men and women. Why wouldn't designers want to capitalize on that? Their end goal is to sell products, after all.

Here's the trick: if sex is base, and your models look just as sexy as the models selling fast food, why on earth would anyone pay $1700 for a freaking purse? (okay, I'm not sure why they would anyway, but that's beside the point.) Women with that kind of money don't want to look base. They want to look like they can do whatever they damn well please (I generalize, but you understand). So, instead of selling sex, the world of high fashion sells power.

I'm not really sure how I feel about that. On the one hand, it's better than objectifying women sexually. On the other hand, it's only selling power to those who can afford it... so more or less, if you have money you can be powerful and sexy. Not filthy-stinking-rich? You'll have to settle for just sexy.

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