Day three of Paris Fashion Week and the skinny model debate had been raging for a fortnight. Ever since in fact the publicity-challenged Madrid Fashion Week decided to tap into one of the mainstream media's fave fashion subjects - underweight models - by banning anyone with a BMI below X. Conveniently of course, the Top Ten runway stars always seem to skip Madrid.
What a delight then to meet Velvet d'Amour, Jean Paul Gaultier's US-born, Paris-based, larger-than-life runway star (who made one exit).
And while she's not going to be putting Daria, Gemma, Snejana, Irina and co out of business any time soon, the Gaultier show was nevertheless d'Amour's second major Paris runway appearance in twelve months. Upon fleeing the backstage media scrum, I encountered d'Amour near the front door exit and couldn't resist stopping to have a chat.
ARE YOU A MODEL OR ACTRESS?
I push size acceptance along and kind of help the diversity of beauty. That's my main goal in life.
DO YOU LIVE IN PARIS?
I do. I just did a film called Avida, that was produced by Mathieu Kassovitz and it was Benoit Delepine and Gustave de Kervern [directing] and Claude Chabrol was in it. It's quite a surreal kind of Bunuel-type film, black and white, very profound.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED IN PARIS?
Eleven years now.
AND YOU MODEL?
You know, I do everything basically. I've modelled in two shows, I've been acting... It was actually contemporary dance that initially took me in.
MAY I ASK WHAT SIZE YOU ARE?
Sure you can definitely ask what size I am. I'm damned proud of my size. I'm a 3X/4X in American. Which is probably, I mean I weigh probably 290 pounds, I'm 5'8".
IN USING A LARGER MODEL SUCH AS YOURSELF DO YOU FEEL THAT GAULTIER IS GENUINELY ADDRESSING THE SIZE ISSUE OR DO YOU THINK IT COULD BE JUST A TOKEN THING?
Well no, what's important to me is the fact that in Spain they had this thing about the models being too thin. If you tell me somebody's too thin, if you tell me somebody's too fat, you're still being prejudiced. The point is, is diversity. Realistically there is much more thin women than fat women in the modelling industry.
LAST WEEK DOLCE E GABBANA SENT OUT MODELS WITH PADDED CORSETS TO GIVE THEM "J-LO" ASSES. BY THE SAME TOKEN THEY COULD SIMPLY HAVE USED LARGER-SIZED MODELS, NOT JUST PADDED SKINNY ONES. DO YOU WORRY THAT YOU'RE BEING USED AS A PUBLICITY GIMMICK BY FASHION DESIGNERS?
No not at all. The reason that I don't feel that is because regardless of even if they were to be using me as a gimmick factor, there are women who will be touched by what I did and I mean, the film [Avida) actually went to Cannes. So I had a dress and I was on the red carpet at Cannes and there were blogs for BBWS [Big Beautiful Women] that were saying, "Oh my gosh, Velvet was on the red carpet and she was showing her arms". Which is something I don't ever think about but it takes you back to the time when there are a lot of women who won't show their arms. So the fact that something as simple as that can be so meaningful to people who... if you're genuinely obese, like genuinely obese people, and there are more and more obese people in the world, some of them are afraid to go outside because they are so harrassed.
THE REST OF GAULTIER'S SHOW SEEMED TO BE ABOUT SPORT. IT OPENED WITH A TABLEAU OF FITNESS EQUIPMENT AND A SOUNDTRACK TALKING ABOUT AEROBICS AND WORKING OUT. IT DOESN'T QUITE GEL WITH THE CONCEPT OF OBESITY.
Yes but I think the reality is that if you're big, you're not sporty. I happen to swim 120 laps three times a week.
THE AVERAGE DOCTOR WOULD HOWEVER SAY THAT OBESITY IS NOT HEALTHY PERIOD, FOR YOUR HEART, BLOOD PRESSURE ETC..
Certainly and the average doctor would be the average doctor in doing that. Because I have no high blood pressure, I have no high cholesterol. And the reality is there's going to be fat people... like there always have been fat people, there always will be fat people.
THERE JUST SEEM TO BE A LOT MORE OF THEM NOWADAYS.
Certainly and you do see more of them these days and that's probably a part of the reason that they're maybe incorporating me, I don't know. I mean I think he's probably incorporating me because I have an amazing personality and I'm very fun and I'm a diva at heart. I think it is actually more about that than my size.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT TV PROGRAMS SUCH AS THE BIGGEST LOSER? DO YOU THINK THAT THEY'RE A GOOD IDEA IN ENCOURAGING PEOPLE TO LOSE WEIGHT?
If you track the people who lose weight on those programs, they all gain it back. And so I think statistically the amount of people who actually genuinely lose weight and don't gain it back, is very rare. And I think what you should be working towards in my personal opinion, is not necessarily being fat or being thin but being healthy. And if someone feels badly enough, if you say, "You're so fat"... Have you ever been a fat person going to a gym? It's ridiculous. You go in and you are totally scoffed at. And humiliated. Because the people who are in the gyms, if you live in the city, Manhattan or wherever, they're very look conscious so it takes a very strong person to be able to go and to exercise. Most people my size primarily should be swimming because it's too much weight for your bones and that. So when you go swimming... I mean a fat person in a swimsuit... come with me swimming some time and you'll see that people will obviously laugh out loud when you walk right by. I can take it because I am very happy in my own body but there are so many women who can't which, if you add that to the fact that they're not going to feel comfortable exercising, then they're not going to be healthy.
BUT DO YOU THINK THAT LARGER PEOPLE... AND THERE ARE OF COURSE MUCH LARGER PEOPLE THAN YOU...
You can say fat people, that's OK.
...WHO CAN'T WALK BECAUSE THEY ARE SO LARGE, WHO CAN'T GET ON A PLANE BECAUSE THE SEAT ISN'T BIG ENOUGH TO TAKE THEM... DO YOU THINK THEY SHOULD BE ENCOURAGED TO CELEBRATE WHATEVER SIZE THEY ARE - OR BE ENCOURAGED TO LOOK AFTER THEIR HEALTH BY LOSING WEIGHT?
I think that they shouldn't be judged that's what I think. I think that's there's always going to be people who for whatever reason are going to be very different and that certainly is one of those, you know, extreme situations. I think what makes me very upset is seeing the programs that are based on these people where they have them naked and they're photographing them with video cameras. And we're made to be... made fun of. That makes me very upset.
BUT OBESITY IS IN FACT KILLING A LOT OF PEOPLE.
No I think if you look at what kills you as an obese person, it's really yoyo dieting that kills you. Because it changes your electrolytes and that's the factor that comes into play where you have heart attacks. If you stay relatively fat and you work out and you're healthy, then there's less chance of you having a heart attack. What gives you a heart attack is constant yoyo dieting, losing massive amounts of weight, gaining massive amounts of weight. For me, I went on Fen-Phen at one point in my life. They told me, "It's just going to be like you have a blood pressure drug, everyone has high blood pressure, you happen to have obesity, you're going to take it for the rest of your life, that's going to be that". And I went on it, and it was only after I lost 80 pounds in a matter of months, that thereafter everyone was like, "Well you know... it's causing holes in people's hearts". So the fact that it was the fastest-approved drug in American history only because they wanted to you know, address, quote unquote, obesity, they didn't make any research in it. So they're killing obese people because of that? That's ridiculous. And for me, what it is, it's the judgment. Because you can look at me and say "OK, you're fat, you're obese, therefore you're unhealthy". How many people here [at the Gaultier show] snort cocaine? How many people here drink? How many people here smoke? I mean it's ridiculous. So it's this health judgment based on initial appearance that I find so condescending. Because noone really has any idea what my health is versus anyone else's health.
HOW DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU ARE IN FASHION SHOWS AND YOU'RE SURROUNDED BY SKINNY MODELS?
Oh it's great, I love it.
THEY MIGHT NOT NECESSARILY BE ANOREXIC - BUT MOST ARE NEVERTHELESS SKIN AND BONE.
You know, I think that a lot of them are just naturally thin. And I've got no problem with that.
SOME AVERAGE-SIZED WOMEN WHO ARE A LITTLE BIT LARGER THAN THE NORM FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE AROUND THIN WOMEN.
Oh I don't, I love it. Well see I started out photographing models and that's actually where my size acceptance came into play. Because I was shooting models and I was not feeling good about my body and I was shooting women who were the ideal of beauty. And I was thinking, "They're not happy with themselves". And that's what was amazing to me, that was a huge revelation in fact. That here I was with these ideals of feminine beauty and they hated their bodies. Now if these women who are the ideals of feminine beauty of our society hate their bodies, then what exactly is going on?
THEY ARE IN FACT UNDER PRESSURE TO SAY THIN. MODELS ARE OFTEN TOLD BY THEIR AGENTS TO LOSE WEIGHT, SOME ARE EVEN TOLD TO HAVE LIPOSUCTION.
Oh yeah. I know of some models who are supermodels who have had liposuction, for a fact. And it's sad really because for me, it's a question of the more women you know, [who] don't like their body, the less energy they're going to spend on really using their genuine creativity and not wasting it on their looks at all times. Certainly looks are important but there are so many women who obsess, who speak constantly of dieting, constantly of losing weight, and their perception is, if they are a certain size, they will be happy. Much in the same way, that in some societies, if you're rich you will be happy. But that's not the essence of happiness.
PRESUMABLY GAULTIER HAD TO MAKE SOMETHING SPECIFICALLY FOR YOU. DO YOU GET TO KEEP IT?
Yes he did have to make something special for me. I'm sure I probably will. Initially I wasn't meant to keep [John] Galliano's because the historian wanted to keep it and my corset was underneath it, however John being who he is ended up giving it to me which is very kind of him.
DO YOU FEEL THAT DESIGNERS CATER ENOUGH TO LARGER SIZES?
I feel that the sexuality of bigger women is what is sort of sad. Because I feel that sexuality is power in some sense in women, whether we like to agree with that or not, I think it's true. And I think that either women who are fat.... If you put "fat" in the website you'll see porn, porn, porn, porn... So either total porn or they're totally asexual in muumuu's. And if they're on a television show they tend to be the third wheel, they tend to be not really addressed as sexual beings. So I think for me that's kind of the fine line that I'm trying to get in. And that's what I think he [Gaultier] saw in my portfolio because I'm an artist at heart. What I've done is... basically why I'm even here... I mean I'm 39. So in my book I've done like a swimsuit shoot with me and sort of taking the piss. Like trying to do Sports Illustrated with my body. Because I'm blessed with a quote, unquote, pretty face where people would accept it, it's an easy way for me too...
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE RECENT SKINNY MODEL DEBATE?
I think what's interesting about it is you can't say anyone's too skinny or too fat. I think you saw when I came out, the reaction [applause] and I think that people just want diversity, you know.
SURE, HOWEVER VOGUE PROBABLY ISN'T RUSHING TO USE LARGE WOMEN ON ITS COVER.
I think American Vogue probably wouldn't but French Vogue... I was in the February issue. Based on the Galliano show, [fashion photographer] Nick Knight took some of us and we actually wrote our dreams. So if you go to www.showstudio.com, go into the archives and there is a piece called Editing Fashion and you can listen to my dream.
YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU HAVE SOME AUSTRALIAN FRIENDS.
Well... I just want to say that Australian men are fucking hot. And I'm very sorry actually because I loved Steve Irwin, as a typical American, and I thought he was an amazing person. And actually it's funny, you're going to think this is very silly but I was talking to [fellow Gaultier catwalker] Gemma Ward and I said that I dedicated my runway to Steve Irwin.
THERE WAS SOME INDUSTRY GOSSIP THAT SHE HAD SKIPPED THE MILAN SHOWS BECAUSE SHE HAD PUT ON WEIGHT.
Oh no way. Gemma is not a fatty let me tell you right now.
HOW DID YOU DEDICATE YOUR SHOW TO STEVE IRWIN?
Well no, I was just talking to some people and I said that he was just such an amazing person and I felt like he lived his life so fully. And I felt like that's how I live too and so I just thought I'm going to dedicate this show to Steve Irwin. In my heart, when I go out there I'm going to have his spirit and I did damn it.
JUST WATCH OUT FOR THE STINGRAYS.
That was tragic and I'd never even considered stingrays are anything to be scared of. It wasn't his fault. We can't blame him. He's teetered over fucking Great Whites and nothing's happened to him. I think you can't blame somebody for their death. What was meant to be was meant to be. He thought he was going to die young, he lived a great life...
Did you see Dita [Von Teese, in the audience]? Dita does great porn, I have one of her videos.
DO YOU DO PORN?
No I don't do porn. Why, do you want to do one with me?
I THINK YOU MIGHT SQUASH ME.
I think you might like it.
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