it’s a m-f’in’ walk-off

by marjorieingall on December 22, 2009

…to quote one of the great Project Runway lines. OK, so it’s not really a walk-off, more of a pose-off. But still. Here’s Crystal Renn (US size 12) and Jacquelyn Jablonski (size 0) in identical high-fash outfits, styled identically, striking near-identical poses, shot by Terry Richardson for V magazine. The pix are put up side-by-side in the UK’s Daily Mail.

What do you think?

It’s an intriguing exercise. You can see that Crystal ain’t no porker, but her body is utterly different from the other model’s. As much as people bitch that plus models aren’t really plus — and yes, that’s true — you can see how alien Crystal’s shape is compared to what’s usually selling pret-a-porter.
Shall we look at the differences?
In the black one-shoulder top pic, look how much more attitude she has in her shoulder, face, neck and legs. In the ponytail-clutching pic, look at the way she’s pushing out her hip and lifting her heel. She’s a better model! But does the other model show the clothes off better, simply by virtue of taking up less real estate? Does a size 0 model inherently make you more likely to WANT the clothes, simply because she’s a size 0?

I only know of one study that semi-replicates the conditions of this shoot. In 2008, an Aussie grad student created a series of mock ads for beauty products, clothing and accessories, then showed them to over 300 men and women, aged 18-25. The study participants rated how likely they were to buy the products in the ads and how they felt about their own bodies after seeing the ads. Men and women found both sets of ads equally effective, and women felt better about their own bodies after seeing the bigger models. The Richardson shoot isn’t an exact parallel — the size differential between Jacquelyn and Crystal is actually greater than that of the models in the Australian study. But more importantly, advertising isn’t high fashion. Advertising is explicitly about selling; a fashion shoot in a magazine is a more nebulous entity. Yes, it’s about promoting the clothes, but it’s also pitching the magazine, the photographer, the notion of VISION…whatever that is. Fashion eds yammer all the time about how high fashion is aspirational. You aren’t supposed to think that you could look like the girl in the picture. It’s icy, haute, elevated.

To me, Crystal does the job high fashion is supposed to do. She has a stronger look than the other model. Part of why I think she’s a better model may simply be due to experience — Crystal is 23 and Jacquelyn is 17. But I also think Crystal uses her body in a more assertive, eye-catching way. In the book we wrote together, Crystal talks about how she had to change the way she modeled after she recovered from anorexia. She had no choice. Angles are easier to create when you’re skinny, she says, and angles are where the tension and interest in fashion shots lie. Now that her body isn’t one big angle, she’s had to work harder at learning how to pose effectively. (Another source of education: Working with Steven Meisel, who taught her that tiny changes in the way you hold your body make a pose look entirely different.) Also, when Crystal wasn’t starving anymore, she was able to think more clearly about what would make a great shot, and thus work it harder.

It’ll be interesting to see the shoot in the physical magazine, and it’ll be interesting to see the responses. Among fashion types and among actual humans.

Addendum: Just read Jezebel, which took issue with the shoot’s concept; Jezebel’s Jenna thought the notion was to pit women against each other. Well, uh, yes. (And also to get attention. It appears to be working.) The argument for not using plus women is always that people don’t want to see them and/or that the clothes don’t come in their sizes. This shoot puts the lie to that. Here’s a skinny model. Here’s a not-skinny model. They both fit in the clothes. We can debate who looks better, but it’s definitely not a slam-dunk for the skinny.

Yes, Crystal lost the cover we talked about in the book because she couldn’t fit in the dress, as Jenna points out. But that was 2004 (I think — I’m too lazy to go check THE BOOK THAT I WROTE, it’s probably because I’m fat) and Crystal wasn’t yet CRYSTAL. Now, if Vogue decides to put her on the cover, you can be damn sure they’ll find a dress that’ll fit her. Just as fat-hating Karl Lagerfeld will design a dress for Beth Ditto, because she’s Beth Ditto. These are baby steps toward greater diversity. I hope they’re “scaleable,” as my geek husband says. But I’m happy to see the battle waged on many fronts, and one is a picture-by-picture rebuttal of the general arguments against using plus models. (And even if you can’t get a dress whipped up in a larger size, a plus model can usually wear knitwear and stretch fabrics — like swimwear! — and flippy stuff, as in this V shoot. Or hey, A plus model can sell hair and makeup. This shoot helps show that the old arguments are played out.) Fin.

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