Crystal Renn, Still Hungry?

Since reading her autobiography, Hungry, I’ve become a bit fanatical about the (so-called) ‘plus sized’ model Crystal Renn, so I’m rather embarrassed to admit that her shoot for Vogue Paris’ October issue passed me by. Luckily it was brought to my attention by Fernando of L’ Art Noir blog and, boy, am I grateful. Why? Because there’s a lot going on in there. The food for thought is just as excessive and messy as the spaghetti lustily piled on Renn’s plate.

First off, the shoot is immediately arresting because it’s so at odds with the usual high fashion imagery we have become accustomed to; There’s no whimsical flights of fancy here, this editorial is coarse, garish and downright dirty. But that’s to be expected when you get enfant terrible Terry Richardson on board as your photographer – it doesn’t matter whether he’s working for Vice or Vogue, Richardson is still going to serve up a salacious slice of TerryWorld. So, this is quite a brave move on the part of French Vogue, allowing luxury items (in this case, jewellery) to be promoted in such a left-field manner.

So, let’s talk about sex. Because, this being a Terry Richardson shoot, of course it’s about sex. Here’s Renn wetting two fingers in her mouth… now she’s letting slimy squid tentacles slide down her throat… and now she’s stabbing a juicy cutlet of meat held between her thighs… and here she is sucking hungrily on a bone (arf) whilst locking eyes with the viewer. It’s all pretty hot stuff, but it’s gross too – there’s something a bit ‘2 Girls 1 Cup’ about it in that we are presented with a woman putting yucky stuff in her mouth for the sexual gratification of the viewer. Although Renn looks like she’s rather enjoying herself, and she talks a lot in Hungry about her love of food, this editorial doesn’t feel quite right as a depiction of a woman finding pleasure in eating. Perhaps if it was dribbling cheesy slices of pizza on her plate, or bushels of apples, rather than raw sea creatures it would be different – but, as it is, that particular message seems a little hard to swallow.

To my mind, this editorial is, at heart, a comment on excess. The copious cocktail rings that are being featured are piled on to Renn’s fingers, she wears chunky bangles, over-sized earrings, weighty necklaces (sometimes two at a time)… and what’s more, she wears them all at once. Of course, this is the norm for jewellery features, but here Richardson ridicules this excess by presenting the woman in his story as an all-round greedy pig, gorging on food in a most unashamed and grotesque fashion. But, obviously, this isn’t just any ‘woman’, this is Crystal Renn… and that’s where the whole thing gets interesting.

As Renn’s agency, Ford, themselves say; “She doesn’t so much acknowledge the elephant in the room as she devours it.” Whilst everyone is getting excited about the ‘plus-size’ revolution, in reality, Crystal Renn is pretty much our only large sized super-model. As such, she is the poster girl for curves, the go-to gal for larger than life shoots… which is all well and good, but it has hardly opened up the modelling landscape to a whole variety of ages, sizes and races like some would have hoped it might. Instead, we have the same base group of waif-like, young, mostly white models… and the token Crystal Renn.

And so, on top of all this, the way in which the plus-sized Renn is being presented here is a worry. The whole thing smacks of the creators gleefully shouting ‘Look! The only model who can eat as much as she likes is eating! For your entertainment!’ I doubt very much that Richardson would have gone down this gluttonous route if he had been working with any other model. It comes across as a bit of a freak show and, sadly, it feels like Renn could be alienating herself (and any other hopeful plus-size models) from main-stream editorials as a result.

That being said, Hungry proved Renn to be a fantastically intelligent, grounded, and driven individual who is very much aware of what she is doing with her career. Her attitude towards modelling is overtly artistic and she is enthusiastic about working with focussed creatives in order to realise their visions to their full potential. With this in mind, you can be sure that Renn must have put a lot of thought into this shoot and concluded that, rather than reducing her into ‘the model who eats’, she would get some great shots, break a few taboos and, ultimately, further her influence. Personally, I think she was right on the ‘great shots’ part – these images are aesthetically fabulous – let’s just hope she’s right about the rest.

See the entire editorial here and, if you fancy seeing a further commentary on eating, excess and consumerism, take a little look at the Ace Norton directed video for ‘Hustler’ by Simian Mobile Disco.

(Images from Ford Models Blog. Credits: Photographer, Terry Richardson; Fashion editor, Carine Roitfeld. Image source, Noir Façade.)

By: Sarah Barnes, 18.10.2010 | Comments (3)
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Big Demand… but who will supply to it?

One of my day-jobs right now includes working in a clothes shop with a ridiculous sizing policy – Size 14 is the largest women’s size they stock and, to add insult to injury, it is classed as an ‘XL’. Explaining this sizing policy to customers is always tricky (especially when I’m not totally on board with it) but one recent customer took the news particularly badly; ‘That’s not fair!’ she exclaimed, before sighing ‘Oh well, just have to lose some weight I suppose…’ It was heart breaking to see her leave the shop, her self image called into question by the silly sizing policy of one shop.

That a woman over a size 14 feels abnormal and isn’t catered for by British high-street fashion stores is ridiculous – Especially in light of the recent news that over a quarter of women in the UK are a size 18 or larger, whilst the average dress size is 14.

Denying larger ladies stylish clothes in their size is not just bad for women, but it’s bad for business too; As Mintel fashion analyst Tamara Sender has said of the findings ‘Given the numbers of not just plus-size women, but also men, these consumers can no longer be considered a minority or niche sector and retailers need to wake up to the potential of this market.’

Plus sized fashion retailer Evans has, naturally, always been aware that a pretty penny can be made by satisfying the needs and desires of women sized 14 and above – but the store has just announced an exciting new development: Evans are set to launch the first online store dedicated to catering for the teenage market.

This is great news for bigger teens hankering after the on-trend looks that are often only available in smaller sizes. As Gabi Gregg of Young, Fat and Fabulous has said “I think people underestimate how difficult it is to stay current, because the options are very limited.”

Here’s hoping that Evan’s new commercial venture will open up others retailer’s eyes to this fashion savvy market…  giving big women more choice, more style and, most importantly, a feeling that fashion is for them too.

(Image from Evans)

By: Sarah Barnes, 15.08.2010 | Comments (2)
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Britain’s Next Top Model: The Elephant In The Room

So, the new series of Britain’s Next Top Model starts tonight on Living TV and, whilst newly appointed queen-bee Elle Macpherson has been getting all the glory promo-wise,  it’s new judge Julien Macdonald who has been stealing the headlines. Back in June the designer-cum-cutting critic told The Wales on Sunday:

You can’t have a plus-size girl winning – it makes it a joke. It’s not fair on them – you’re setting them up for a fall. They are looked down on, they’re frowned upon. A catwalk model is a size six to eight. If you’re a size 14 in a room full of size eights, you’re in the wrong room.

Apparently, out of the final 25 hopeful finalists that will grace our screens tonight, not one is a ‘plus’ size model – something which really surprised and disappointed me after all the talk of a new appreciation for fuller-figured women in the fashion industry; Take French Elle’s Special Rondes, V Magazine’s Size Issue, Crystal Renn’s amazing autobiography Hungry, and all the great work that the All Walks Beyond The Catwalk organisation is doing… to name but a few!

It makes you wonder what’s up with us here in the UK when America’s Next Top Model has already had a plus size winner, Whitney Thompson (an American size 12/British size 16), back in 2008. It’s sad to say, but it seems BNTM series 6 will be a wasted opportunity to show that larger girls can become top models too.

More to read:

Laurie Penny calls the show a cultural car-crash in The New Statesman

Polly Vernon on how Thin is increasingly ‘In’ for Men too over at The Guardian.

By: Sarah Barnes, 05.07.2010 | Comments (0)
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Feminists in good Company

When I’m in dire need of a magazine fix, I currently find myself consistently drawn to Company Magazine. In a world without Borders (No Bust! No Bitch! No Nylon!), Company is one of the few mainstream mags out there that gives me food for thought rather than just pictures of shoes. So, between picking up the latest issue and actually reading it, I was interested to read Holly Combe’s take on the magazine, and its blossoming interest in feminism, over on the F Word.

Okay, so the image of a burning bra doesn’t exactly add credibility to the feminism piece (can we get over this myth, please?!) but I was still absolutely ecstatic to read an article in a women’s glossy that was putting forward the point that feminism is still relevant to women’s lives today. It was great to see Catherine Redfern (F Word founder) interviewed, as well as Jess McCabe (F Word editor) and Anna van Heeswijk (of Object) being profiled as women to watch.

Not only that, but we also got mini interviews with Spare Rib co-founder Marsha Rowe and Pamflet co-creator Anna-Marie Fitzgerald. AND  there was a distinctly sisterly initiative from Company themselves; a campaign called Pay It Forward that encouraged women to compliment their friends in order to boost body confidence.

Speaking of body confidence, this month’s issue of Company just happens to be the annual Model-Free issue (which I have written about previously) where all photo-shoots feature Company readers rather than professional models. The women all looked fantastic, and the variety of women chosen was fabulously diverse (something I’d been keeping my fingers crossed for!).

All in all, I was really happy to see such positive promotion of feminist thoughts in Company this month. Of course, Feminism is never going to be perfectly portrayed in any media… but, surely, that’s because Feminism means all things to all people. We can only express our own truth as we see it. Despite the clumsy ‘they’re not all man-haters’ lines, this issue of Company provided an easy and accessible insight into the UK Feminist movement today… and I really hope some young women will be motivated to discover more about feminism because of it.

By: Sarah Barnes, 27.04.2010 | Comments (1)
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eveRy body counts!

Okay, so you lot may not be quite as excited to see this as I was… but, nevertheless, I thought I’d show you the snapshot taken of me at London Fashion Week by the people at All Walks Beyond The Catwalk. I wrote about the campaign, which seeks to diversify the shapes, sizes, ages and races of models in the fashion industry, here soon after I had my picture taken – but the pics have only just been published, which gives me a great excuse to bring up the work of All Walks once more!

Posing the question “Does current fashion imagery reflect individuality?”, the All Walks team set up a make-shift studio in Freemason’s Hall to capture a true collection of stylish individuals. The result is a lovely set of expressive and fun images that delivers a pretty clear answer of, ‘No, this is individuality’ – as well as showing just how many people support the idea of diversifying the modelling industry. See the images here and here.

This blog post is brought to you by the letter ‘R’!

By: Sarah Barnes, 13.04.2010 | Comments (0)
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French Elle’s ‘Spécial Rondes’

Following on from V Magazine’s foray into plus-size appreciation, April’s issue of French Elle, released today, is a ’spécial rondes’ or…erm…round special. Yes, that’s right, the plus-size championing charge has made the difficult jump from edgy style mag (who can push these kind of concepts before others, since breaking boundaries is their currency) to mainstream fashion publication. The issue features models Tara Lynn (the cover star, above, who also featured in V mag) and Johanna Dray. It’s quite a first, and a very exciting new development for the representation of women in mainstream women’s press.

A couple of comments have highlighted both sides of the coin on the issue of plus-size specials. First, from InfamousKai on the V ‘Curves Ahead’ shoot;

I just realized something: The way I find these girls incredibly sexy is probably comparable to the way people that I’ve been with have found me sexy. I really thought it was my personality and cute ass smile, but you know what? I can looks as good as these gals, and I HAVE. Thanks to V for showing the world, thanks to Jenna and Jezebel for showing ME just how hot I am.

Can’t argue with that, really! But then, secondly, here’s a comment from Emiloo on the FrenchElle April Issue;

I’m always excited to see plus size girls in magazines (I am one!) but why can’t they just be integrated into regular spreads like, I don’t know, *normal* people? BUST Magazine has been doing this for quite some time and I hardly notice now. Why do the fatties have to be separated into their own “plus size” or “shape” issues? It always seems like the editors want us to notice how inclusive they’re being by giving plus girls their own issue– but it’s not really inclusive at all. This will frustrate me to no end.

It’s a valid and important point and, I guess, one that will only sort itself out in time as plus-size becomes less extra-ordinary and more, well, ordinary. Here’s hoping it’s sooner rather than later!

More on Uplift about diversifying the modelling landscape;

All Walks Beyond The Catwalk at London Fashion Week

Speaking of Diversity in Modelling

V Magazine Gets Big

…and, also, this post I wrote on the Company blog about the subject.

By: Sarah Barnes, 26.03.2010 | Comments (0)
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All Walks Beyond The Catwalk at London Fashion Week

Running around London Fashion Week last week there were plenty of fantastic collections to write up (something I’ve been doing here)… but very little in the way of feminist happenings to report on. That was until I bumped into the All Walks Beyond the Catwalk campaign in the Vauxhall Fashion Scout venue at the opulent (and slightly creepy) Freemason’s Hall. In a little make-shift photography studio the All Walks team were snapping away at willing participants, each holding a letter that would later spell out ‘Every Body Counts’. (more…)

By: Sarah Barnes, 01.03.2010 | Comments (1)
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V magazine gets big

V Magazine January’s issue is the latest fashion magazine to embrace larger sized models entitled, rather obviously, the Shape Issue, it features models all sorts of shapes and sizes. “Big, little, pint-size, plus-size —every body is beautiful. And this issue is out to prove it,” says V editor Stephen Gan. Erm, I think we may already know that Stephen. But you’re right, a few stragglers in the back may still be berating themselves for eating that extra mince pie, slice of Christmas cake, bowl of trifle or Christmas pudding.

In a somewhat refreshing take on the plus size issue, V’s Size Issue has opted to celebrate the female form in two of the shapes that mother nature bestowed on us. So, we have not only women with rolls and curves, but also women with small boobs and bones. In one editorial entitled One Size Fits All (shown below), Crystal Renn (the former category) and Jacqulyn Jablonski (the latter category) are pictured in identical outfits on adjacent pages. Not only does this simple technique highlight how unattainable certain Karl Lagerfield-esque ideas of the figure  are, but also allows the viewer to decide what counts as a healthy figure. The other editorial that has been released, called Curves Ahead, features 4 plus sized models photographed in a various stages of dress, further beautifully proving V’s point. (more…)

By: Dearbhaile Kitt, 12.01.2010 | Comments (1)
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