Saturday, August 30, 2008

Carla Zampatti: "I'm not a global brand - but I have global customers"

Coupla interviews that I did after Wednesday night's Myer show. First up, Oz fashion industry veteran Carla Zampatti, upon whom the Australian Fashion Laureate was bestowed a fortnight ago. With the laureate's eligibility criteria dictating that a candidate “must have global reach”, I asked at the time: has Zampatti ever exported and do her fashion endeavours have anything remotely approaching a global reach? Here’s Zampatti’s answer.

Congratulations on your award.
Carla Zampatti: My Laureate.

Yes - your Laureate.
Well it was totally unexpected.

But you were nominated last year as well weren’t you?
I was nominated yes, But to win….I mean there is some wonderful talent in Australia. So to win was really quite extraordinary. And I think to be voted by your peers is a great honour because, you know, we’re all working hard to achieve the best results. And to have that approval, is very important.

How many times have you participated in Australian Fashion Week? I only recall seeing you on the runway there once.
Yes only once.

Simply because I like showing in a more intimate way and I think Fashion Week is about a thousand people.

In your acceptance speech you said that you thought the event had put Australia on the map.
Yes it has, I really believe… for brands that are not well-known. Particularly young brands who are trying to make a breakthrough. I think it’s very important for them. It’s one way to showcase what they are doing and allowing the buyers..

So, you didn’t think that you needed to be at Fashion Week then?
No, because I think we are a vertically-integrated organization with our own boutiques, so it’s less important for us.

Have you ever exported?
I used to have a store in New York.

How long ago was that?
A long time ago. Late ‘80s/early ‘90s.

How long was the store there for?
It was there for about 18 months. And in Washington, in one of these centres.

You had two stores?
Yes. For about 18 months, for both of them. But the timing was wrong. New York, late ‘80s/early ‘90s wasn’t a very good time. So we decided that to become really well known in New York, you really had to spend time there and I decided that was going to be too difficult for me and I had noone on the ground here that I could send. So I decided it was best to concentrate on my domestic market and develop my retail.

According to the Laureate’s eligibility criteria, candidates must have “global reach”. Which your brand really doesn’t have, does it?
No it doesn’t have. But I think we have international customers. We have many expats who don’t live in Australia who actually buy from us. By email.

But it’s not really a global brand.
No, it’s not a global brand.

You could have been a global brand.
I could have been, but I chose not to. I decided I’d rather… I wanted to concentrate in Australia. Also I think the difficulty… unless you’re making transseasonal product, which most people are doing today, it’s really hard to grow a global brand from Australia because of the opposite seasons. The main market is the northern hemisphere. So you almost have to run two collections and I also found that quite difficult.

If the Laureate is supposed to go to a brand with global reach, are you saying that you do qualify by virtue of the fact that you have international customers?
Yes – but also I did export at that point. And then set up two stores.

Is it too late now to export?
Well I mean my next generation…. I have my two daughters working in my business and they may do it. And I think Australia is much more on the fashion map than it has been in the past. So I think it’s much more possible. I think there’s an awareness about Australian fashion that probably when I started, there was not. Also in the ‘80s, I don’t think that awareness was strong either.

Might we see Carla Zampatti at New York Fashion Week?
[Laughs] No… well... I mean, under somebody else’s guidance, yes it could possibly be. Because I think it is a brand that will continue on beyond my stewardship. And I think I would leave that to the next generation.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Gladiators of the high-low shoe biz, Myer salutes you!

givenchy backstage, paris, 03/10/07

I thought something looked awfully familiar about the fetish footwear on Myer's runway on Wednesday night. And look, yes I know, every man and his dog has been doing some sort of gladiator shoe or boot of late. It's definitely a trend with, er, legs. One that's been running in fact for several years now.

But something really resonated with me vis-a-vis that specific gladiator shoe boot which appeared in several early sections of the show. Including the opener, Jennifer Hawkins' pretty new Cozi swimwear collection: brewer

According to the show program (and confirmed by one of the show's stylists) the shoe in question was made by Sachi, the budget Australian shoe brand.

The reason why it looked so familiar was not just because of the omnipresent gladiator trend. There were some quite specific design features.

The heavy ankle cuff with a chunky ankle strap.

The oversized buckle.

The intricate, interwoven straps covering the front of the foot.

The cone heel.

Then I had an epiphany. It started with the letter G.

The Sachi shoe bore an uncanny resemblance to a gladiator shoe boot presented last October in Paris by French luxury brand Givenchy for Spring/Summer 2008:

I had eyeballed the Givenchy shoe, alongside numerous other gladiator boots, at close range backstage during the show.

I photographed the shoes and then blogged a post on Givenchy's gladiator-inspired footwear.

As for the Sachi shoe, you can just see the details in Charlie Brewer's Myer runway pic above. However I managed to find a close-up of what I believe could be the shoe in question on the blog of Oz shoe guru Imelda, who previewed Sachi's SS0809 collection:


Givenchy’s gladiatorial SS08 shoe collection has proven a celeb hit over the northern summer, snapped on everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Charlize Theron and Rihanna.

Outside Australia, Barneys and Shopbop were selling Givenchy's gladiator shoe boot for US$995-1000. According to Imelda, nothing in the Sachi collection is over A$219.95.

Sachi's prices are of course a far cry from those of the European luxury brands which Myer also offers its customers. A case in point Givenchy. Which, funnily enough, Myer also sells.

Even funnier are the following Myer program credits which accompanied other segments of Wednesday's show.

The dresses in the Nevenka and Arabella Ramsay sections were teamed with a "Givenchy demi wedge".

Accompanying Wayne Cooper's white tuxedo suit was a, wait for it:

"Givenchy gladiator flat"

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Front-of-house Myer

While David Jones looks to be hoping for a trapeze-led recovery for spring/summer 0809, Myer is banking on maxi dresses, marigolds and Maximus. As in Gladiator (sandals). Oh, and a bit of feng shui. Centre stage at last night's show was a giant, revolving "sun disc", as Myer dubbed it. It reminded frockwriter of a gargantuan gold coin - and the Chinese penchant for taping good luck coins to cash registers. With Australian consumer confidence recently dropping to a 16 year-low, hell, you can't blame Myer for trying every trick in the book, can you?

I liked Myer's last spring/summer show, with its state-of-the-art staircase backdrop. Of the two department store presentations that season, Myer's earned my vote for best show.

But in my personal opinion, for what it's worth, the staging of this Myer show was daft. And the lack of good quality photos of the show seems to be testament to that.

A giant, revolving disc covered in metallic strips which reflect spotlights back into camera lenses as the disc turns, obviously seemed like a brilliant idea to someone for a show backdrop [Alistair Thomson and Amanda Henderson, according to the show credits - from memory, the same team responsible for the SS0708 show].

The worst aspect was however the choreography.

Instead of walking down a traditional runway, or a version thereof [even Versace is using a circular runway these days], models were constantly battling Myer's spinning sun disc for runway visibility.

There was no clear "end" of runway in front of the photographer's pit - just a patch facing the pit, on which models seemed to be left to their own posing devices.

The pros - like Alexandra Agoston - knew exactly what they were doing. The others, did as best as they could.

Sometimes the models stopped, but more often than not they just kept on walking. Kate Sylvester and Yeojin Bae are two of the labels whose clothes were almost impossible to photograph for this reason.

And it wasn't just amateur photographers such as yours truly who were complaining.

"Don't get me started" fumed the photo editor of one of Australia's biggest media outlets immediately after the show.

"It was like trying to shoot an Olympic event" lamented another snapper.

As for the clothes, the dress still reigns supreme. Some of the prettiest were from Rosemary Masic's folkloric-nosed Nevenka label:

There were a lot of maxidresses, the best from Mad Cortes, Yeojin Bae, Charlie Brown and Leona Edmiston, the latter two labels bursting with vivid colour and florals, another big SS0809 trend.

Whether the maxi dress trend completely maxed out last summer remains to be seen. Maxi dresses were all over the streets of Australian cities over summer, offered at highend boutiques right down to Supre, which had scores of cheap floral jersey versions.

Myer also had some smock and trapeze dresses, although not nearly as many as David Jones (at least on the runway). Karen Walker is still apparently offering them, both in her signature line and the Hi There diffusion line she is doing with Myer. Wayne Cooper had some pretty versions.

Some of the eveningwear looked drab, which is bizarre given the calibre of the designers, three cases in point Nicola Finetti, Maticevski and Jayson Brunsdon. I can't help thinking that this had more to do with the Tony Bartuccio staging (and styling - sunglasses with eveningwear?), than the clothes themselves.


Hugo Boss did look good however. As did Carla Zampatti:

Notable first-timers to Myer's show included Armani Jeans ("As of today it's in Myer - tell me what you think after the show" noted Giorgio Armani Australia general manager Mary Chiew, en route into the venue).

Also, Little Joe by Gail Elliott - who has just migrated from what Elliott described to me last night as a nondescript "rack" of her clothes at David Jones, to a Little Joe by Gail Elliott concept boutique within Myer.

Not to mention Melbourne It girl Arabella Ramsay. It was great to see Ramsay's collection on Myer's runway last night:

Ramsay is one of my favourite new Australian labels and I was disappointed to see her miss Australian Fashion Week's SS0809 season earlier this year.

Ramsay's summer offerings include sweet floral shorts, blouses and dresses, worked back with sultry leather vests and gilets.

Kate Moss would probably love this label if she knew about it.

Backstage @ Myer

Long time no post.... Apologies, I've been tied up with deadlines. But I did pop into the second 'store wars' salvo of the Australian SS0809 season launch: last night's Myer show. No Miranda Kerr of course, but in her place Jennifer 'Hawko' Hawkins. Also, top Oz catwalkers Alexandra Agoston, who we saw at David Jones three weeks ago and Tallulah Morton (^) - who we saw at DJs' AW08 show in February, but not the spring/summer show because, in the interim, under-18s were given their marching orders by DJs.

As this blog has been pointing out for the past month, Morton has much bigger fashion fish to fry than David Jones.

Such as Jean Paul Gaultier, the Cobrasnake, the NY model hype machine, not to mention the spring/summer 2009 runway shows, which kick off Friday week in New York.

Indeed judging by her "PARI$" T-shirt last night, Morton seems to know only too well where the big fashion money lies.

Here are a few shots I managed to snap in between sneaking in backstage before the show started - and being ushered out the back door.

More to come.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bush outfit: Kidman’s off-screen RM Williams ode

Forget the Ferragamos. Nicole Kidman might wear the Italian luxury shoe brand in the upcoming epic Australia, but she looked to have been rocking iconic Australian cobbler RM Williams today in Sydney.

Photographed (^) shopping at the Herringbone store in the Sydney suburb of Woollahra with hubbie Keith Urban, Kidman teamed her leather bomber jacket, skinny tobacco trousers with tuxedo stripe and luxury tote with what frockwriter reckons could be RM Williams’ Durack style.

Retailing for A$359.95 on the RM Williams e-boutique, the Durack boot is made from one piece of leather and boasts a brass screwed sole, full leather stacked flat heel and chisel toe.

The style is named after, one assumes, Australian writer and historian Dame Mary Durack, whose famous 1959 book Kings In Grass Castles charted the story of the pioneering Durack family, who settled in Western Australia’s Kimberley region.

The latter provided one of the shoot locations for Baz Lurhmann’s new film Australia, which stars Kidman as an English aristocract who inherits a remote Oz cattle station the size of Belgium.

RM Williams is a popular brand with many Australians - and Australian celebrities.

Coincidentally, Fox senior VP international marketing Kieran Breen told Variety in May that the Australian bush outfitter was one of several Australian brands which had inked promotional tie-in deals with the studio to coincide with the film’s release.

The others include Telstra, Westfield and Qantas.

One hopes the latter’s spate of technical problems have been resolved by the film’s slated November 13th Australian release.

Alice McCall on SHOWstudio

alice mccall via SHOWstudio

Three weeks after Oz module Abbey Lee Kershaw negotiated a 16.3 hand, geodesic armour-plated Friesian stallion for a Dazed & Confused shoot via Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio, Alice McCall gets her video turn.

McCall features in Knight’s new Future Tense video project, which has been produced in collaboration with Hywel Davies and was inspired by Davies’ new book 100 New Fashion Designers.

For the project, Knight says that he approached:
“a wide variety of designers including Pierre Hardy, Rodarte, Peter Jensen, Lutz, Todd Lynn and Henrik Vibskov, to create films of between 30 seconds and three minutes”.

alice mccall via SHOWstudio

McCall’s work, ‘Untitled’, features stop-motion film of a model changing into and out of McCall garments, cut to music by Brisbane band The Grates.

The piece draws on McCall’s rock chick heritage.

Prior to launching her label at Australian Fashion Week in May 2004 (and stints working for Buddhist Punk and sass & bide), McCall spent 10 years in London working as a stylist with stars such as Natalie Imbruglia, Kelis, Blondie, Marianne Faithful and Destiny’s Child.

Broadcast online on SHOWstudio from 18th August through 18th September, according to the films will also be shown at Diesel's Bond Street store during London Fashion Week, which runs 14-19 September.

The week prior to that, as frockwriter reported previously, McCall is due to make her New York Fashion Week debut: off-schedule on September 5 at

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Pack Rats: sass & bide’s new rodent hero product running out the door

Yesterday British newspaper The Independent reported that one London boutique has a rather long waitlist for sass & bide’s new Black Rats leggings – and the paper included the garment on its must-have list for the Fall/Winter 0809 season.

Sandwiched in between entries on The Independent's "A-Z of the season" list, which includes “Anglomania”, “British style genius”, “Comme des Garçons for H&M”, “First Lady Chic”, “manbags”, “Gareth Pugh”, “lace”, “jackets” and “YSL”, is the following, curious, listing under “W” for “wrinkle”:
“Sass & Bide's ruched and crinkled ‘rat’ leggings already have a waiting list of over 100 people at Browns Focus. Despite the unfortunate name”.

heidi middleton & sarah-jane clarke at the DJs show, august 5

Indeed the Browns Focus experience is not unusual in the UK according to the sass & bide HQ, which reports that the Selfridges, Harveys Nichols and Harrods department stores and net-a-porter-com have all reordered Black Rats (and several times, in more than one case).

The Black Rats success should not come as that much of a surprise, given the strength of the leggings trend, notably Latex-look leggings and skinny leather pants – and sass & bide’s brand equity in the skinny jeans business.

Black Rats in fact hit the ground running at the New York FW0809 shows. Backstage after sass & bide’s May 1st show in Sydney, co-designer Heidi Middleton told me that the product was their “new jean” and had already scored what she described as a record order for the business.

Middleton told me:

“We’ve just done our first order of 3000. They’re all pre-sold. Globally, that’s the first order. It’s a very big indication that it’s going to be a hero product for us. Because normally we might do 1500 in our first order for a really strong product”.

Bryanboy also gave Black Rats a blog boost when he wore (to death) a pair which sass & bide gifted him during Australian Fashion Week.

Black Rats fans will be interested to hear that a new hot-off-the-press version is due to hit the domestic Australian market this week (a little later overseas).

Frockwriter can reveal that, whereas the original Black Rats were a latex-look legging in ruched, high-shine Lycra acetate (A$175), the new version is shinier still, made from a PVC Lycra ($A220) - as sported by sass & bide PR gal Nicci Hunter at the David Jones show in Sydney two weeks ago (above).

As we reported, sass & bide are sitting out the SS09 New York season.

The duo is focussing on September’s seven-style sass & bide TopShop jeans launch at TopShop UK, TopShop's new US division and also TopShop online.

Also in September, Middleton and Clarke are due to unveil a new Aesop concept store within their Fortitude Valley, Brisbane boutique – their first collaboration with the cult Australian beauty brand.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Tavi to a T: Style Rookie profiled (finally) by NYT, outed by AP

style rookie

Long time, no Tavi update. After already doing three posts on the 12 year-old fashion blogger behind Style Rookie, frockwriter thought we’d give it a rest for a mo. But events dictate an update: a case in point, the much-touted New York Times T magazine feature on tween bloggers which was published yesterday.

Here’s the link to Elizabath Spiridakis’ feature ‘Post adolescents: Tween bloggers’ which profiles Tavi, alongside three other teen bloggers - and alludes to an additional two blogs.

It's unclear if Tavi is the only blogger younger than 15.

Beyond a fleeting mention of these young bloggers not being bothered by anonymous haters, it’s an upbeat, uncritical story.

But then, T is a fashion publication and as Spiridakis herself pointed out in her comment on frockwriter, she is employed at The New York Times as an art director, and not apparently as a journalist.

This is in spite of the fact that Spiridakis writes a sub-blog for’s The Moment blog (in addition to her own independent blog, White Lightning).

The T story had been in the pipeline for months. However as frockwriter pointed out in our third, and last, post on Tavi – and as Spiridakis herself concedes in the above-linked comment - New York magazine scooped T when it ran a profile on Tavi on July 22nd.

Last week the Associated Press went one better with a story written by Amanda Kwan called ‘Girls who blog: Innocent fun or potential danger?’ which has since been widely published in the US.

The August 12th AP story discusses the potential dangers for child bloggers – in the same breath, outing Tavi’s real identity and location.

Tavi’s real name is evidently Tavi Gevinson and her family lives in xxx, xxx.

This will presumably make it much easier for kiddie fiddlers to find them.

The story also notes of Tavi:

“To some wary adults, she's in a world where she doesn't belong”.

And introduces Parry Aftab, an internet privacy/security-specialist lawyer who is the executive director of, who notes:

"Parents have no idea what their kids are doing online. Most parents have no idea what a blog is."

This certainly appears to apply to Tavi’s father, Steve Gevinson, who reveals that he was not “fully aware” that his daughter was blogging until she sought permission to appear in The New York Times magazine story.

Steve Gevinson also reveals that, following the New York magazine blog post on Tavi – which prompted, as we reported, a blogging backlash again New York mag journalist Jessica Coen, who questioned Tavi’s age and savvy – Tavi was upset by some of the snarky comments by readers who agreed with Coen.

One assumes that Tavi might not have been so upset by the attention per se – because in information that has emerged elsewhere, Tavi is also part of a children’s theatre group and played the lead role in a recent production,

Tavi is no shrinking violet, in other words.

Gevinson told AP:

"She slept in the bed with us that night to get back to sleep. [The next night] She woke up, and again woke us up, and said - and this is really heartbreaking - 'I just woke up crying and I don't even know why I'm crying."'

The rep believes that haters/anonymous cyber bullies are one good reason why children should not be blogging.

The story also provides tips for parents who suspect that their kids might be blogging. These include:

- Encouraging children to write posts with another person (read adult), in the room.
- Ensuring that photos don’t have any personally identifiable information.
- Educating yourself about the net.

The childrens’ theatre connection may partially explain why some of Tavi’s images are so entertaining. Blogging, at its best, is part confessional, part standup comedy and Tavi appears to be a natural performer.

If Steve Gevinson is, as reported, an English teacher, then that may also help to explain why Tavi is so articulate for her age.

One thing about which I am still unclear however is the quality of Tavi’s photos. This is one of the chief reasons why I initially found it hard to believe her story.

With the exception of the series which appear with Tavi's first post following the NY mag brouhaha - in which she poses against a backdrop of newspaper clippings, with a type headline which reads, 'Between the lines' and even takes a bow in one shot (above) - most of the images that Tavi has since published look like those taken by your typical amateur photographer.

Some of the original shots, which I reproduced for the purposes of news and review – including the original Style Rookie masthead, which showed a shot of Tavi with some artfully-arranged type (but which has since been changed) – looked almost professionally art directed.

Call it beginner’s luck.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

In (American) Vogue: Michael Angel

us vogue via michael angel

One day he’s opening New York Fashion Week, the next Michael Angel lands a feature in one of the world's most high profile fashion glossies.

In a post overnight on his blog, the New York-based Oz expat designer presented readers with a scan of a feature that has just been published on him in the September 2008 edition of US Vogue.

Sadly Angel does not appear to have scanned a highres version of the editorial, so it’s impossible to make much out beyond the headline:

And the intro:
“An Aussie artist’s canvasses are his bold, colour-rich dresses”

Together with a shot of the designer accompanied by three models wearing looks from his Fall/Winter 0809 collection.

Here is one of the dresses just shot by US Vogue, which previously featured on the website:

Understandably, Angel is over the moon about the feature.

He tells readers, in no uncertain terms:

“OK so today was landmark- not just landmark - but fucking landmark!”

He adds:
“i grew up with this magazine, it constantly inspired and motivated me. And now I'm in there! To not sound too corny - this is really what i dreamed of and it's becoming a reality....The US Vogue team have been so supportive and responsive to what I'm doing from the beginning- i couldn't ask for more and it doesn't get any better then this".

Angel does not mention anything about dreaming of an appearance in Australian Vogue and nor is it clear from his other blog posts what, if any, editorial may have been done on him in the local edition.

A list of international Vogue sites are rattled off on Angel's blogroll, but does not appear to be one of them.

An Angel at their schedule: Oz fashion's dark horse Michael Angel to open New York Fashion Week

the age

Not even frockwriter can keep up with the permutations of the NYFW calendar. After reporting that there were only two Australians left standing at NY Fashion Week, whose spring/summer 2009 season officially kicks off on September 5 - at least, that's when IMG’s Bryant Park schedule commences - IMG has just released said schedule and lo and behold, Australian expat Michael Angel (^) has opening honours.

[Another Melbourne native, Toni Maticevski, it should also be noted, appears to be tentatively pencilled in for 12.00pm on September 6].

An erstwhile Melbourne stylist, Angel worked for SABA for eight years from the age of 16, then the Melbourne Fashion Festival, the Search For A Supermodel tv series and US streetwear brand Oakley, before decamping to New York in 2004.

Angel's signature collection bowed in New York for the spring/summer 2008 season.

According to the designer's website, for the past five years Angel has:

“devoted himself to the creation of both digital and manual artwork”.

Angel's striking artwork provides one of the most distinctive elements of his debut collections, which feature simple, fluid shapes in the form of leggings, kaftans and simple T-shirt dresses and shifts in slick silks, as well as Australian merino.

As it emerges, Angel's Fall/Winter 0809 collection garnered quite some US media coverage, on such sites/publications as WWD, and [above, below].

Angel is a savvy marketer, who has his own blog. Not letting sass & bide's Black Rats leggings get all the Bryanboy love moreover, Angel recently sent a pair of his own leggings to the Filippino fashion blogger, who duly blogged shots of himself in the garment:


Just prior to heading to NY in 2004, Angel told The Melbourne Age:
"I've always been more global than I have Australian. For lots of Australian artists you have to leave Australia to know you're any good."

What can we expect to see on September 5? A touch of Mercury, according to Angel, who told his blog readers on August 10:

“i've been feeling Freddie for this collection!”

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ray of light: Costarella gets his IMG dues (after paying his IMG fees)

anna: poet

You won’t read this on Chic Report Chicettes! Frockwriter recently mentioned that online zine The Daily (which, like Chic Report, is owned by IMG) recently made a booboo with its announcement that, in the wake of sass & bide’s pullout from the IMG-operated Mercedes Benz Fashion Week component of New York Fashion Week's spring/summer 2009 season, Alice McCall was the only Australian left on the IMG schedule. As we pointed out, McCall isn’t on the IMG schedule at all – but Perth’s Aurelio “Ray” Costarella is. And had paid his deposit for the privilege. Overnight The Daily attempted to rectify this slipup.

Noted The Daily’s Nola Weinstein yesterday:

“Although Sass and Bide won't grace the Tents this season, Bryant Park won't be devoid of Australian influence. Come September, Perth's own Aurelio Costarella will unveil his confections at the Salon in Bryant Park. Although he has shown in New York before, both at Bumble and bumble and the Prince George Ballroom, this marks his inaugural appearance at Bryant Park. Rihanna, Dita Von Teese, Sharon Stone, Eva Mendes, Parker Posey and Leelee Sobieski count themselves as fans--so perhaps a star sighting is on the horizon?”

That’s as distinct from The Daily’s entry on August 1st, also by Weinstein:

“Sass and Bide's absence leaves Alice McCall, who is showing for the first time in New York, as the only Australian designer at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week”.

Although we reported on July 24th that Costarella would be showing on September 11 at 9.00am, it emerges that he is in fact showing on September 11 at 9.00pm – the slot immediately following Zac Posen, as vacated by another Australian, Jayson Brunsdon.

Like sass & bide - and, it appears, also Willow - Brunsdon is sitting this NY season out.

Ford’s Gary Dakin on diversity in modelling: Naomi’s a hypocrite, fat bashers have too much time on their hands

the uk telegraph

Gary Dakin shares his name with one of Britain’s best-known psychics. Which is amusing really, given that Dakin, the vice president client services of New York’s Ford Models, has been pushing the plus-size modelling agenda for a decade – long before the arrival of Crystal Renn to the Ford Plus division, which reps models who are US size 10-20 [AUS 12-22]. Unknown when she was a 16 year-old model with an eating disorder [pictured above in the right-hand image] the now 22 year-old Renn [left] is a plus size modelling superstar who has worked for Jean Paul Gaultier, Italian Vogue, Dolce e Gabbana, Saks Fifth Avenue and Mango.

Dakin was in town this week for the first model search competition organised by Sydney plus size retailer City Chic – which was won last night by Veronika Cvak from Melbourne [pictured below, centre, with fellow finalists Blaise McCann, left and Courtney Maxwell]. Cvak’s prizes include a two-year contract with City Chic, $1000 worth of City Chic apparel and a potential contract with BGM models Australia.

I had a chat with Dakin yesterday about plus size models, skinny models, black models and the apparently changing fashion tide – which is delivering more work than ever before to plus size girls.

Curiously the City Chic event was the second fashion-related event in Sydney yesterday - after Australian Wool Innovation’s campaign launch - that was not on the Rosemount Sydney Fashion Festival program. It seems like a bit of a lost opportunity.

Ford Models has been at the vanguard of the plus size modelling movement in the US.
Gary Dakin: I’ve been there about 10 years. We’ve been in business in New York for about 26 years. We redefined it [plus size modelling] about 10 years ago and showed the women could be sexy and didn’t have to be these middle-aged housewives that they were being portrayed as.

There’s a lot happening in this area isn’t there? A plus size model recently won America’s Next Top Model and traditional fashion labels are starting to look at plus size clothing for the first time.
It’s funny, we redefined it by showing that these women could be fashionable and they could wear fashion and they could carry off fashion. As opposed to the old school things that they were wearing and showing before. Crystal Renn, who’s the big star in the US, seven issues of Vogue, the Dolce e Gabbana campaign with Steven Meisel, closing the Gaultier show in Paris… It just shows that these women were beautiful and sexy and they could be anything they wanted to be. And it also showed that the market was changing and it was getting younger. They talk about obesity. But you know, I know women who are size 24-26 who run marathons. So I think you can be healthy at so many different sizes, it’s where your natural body size lies. It may be a 2, it may be an 18, as long as you’re healthy at that size.

Velvet d’Amour recently told me that she horrified the plus size industry - because she was considered too big for it.
It’s not ‘horrified’…it’s just that we’re given sample sizes by the client and we have to be in the guidelines of the samples sizes. So we’re kind of dictated to by samples.

Fashion people seem to be starting to address this issue. Mango recently upsized and Australian designer Leona Edmiston recently doubled the size range in her online store to 24.
It’s great that the rest of the industry is starting to embrace it. We have so far to go.

So why is it happening now?
I think it’s now because women are saying, ‘We have this income and we want to spend it and in the retail economy that we’re in right now, how dare we exclude any type of size range or height range’. I think it’s a great opportunity for retailers right now to say, ‘Wow, 42percent of this country is a size 12 or higher – why am I missing 42percent of my market’?

Why do you think they have ignored this in the past?
I mean I don’t know, I can’t speak for the designers. I just think it was image and the idea that it looks better on this or not. And I think women have challenged that and people like Crystal Renn are challenging it because they’re saying, ‘Well this really looks great on me because, guess what? I have boobs and a butt and I fill out a dress beautifully’. So I think the girls are challenging it, I think the industry is challenging itself. But the market is speaking up for itself and wanting to be heard, first and foremost.

By the same token however the girls on the high fashion runway do seem to be getting smaller. There was the whole Ali Michael saga recently – she was kicked out of the Paris shows after gaining 5 lbs. Coca Rocha has also been talking about the pressure to be thin.
And it’s great that they are. But I think that it can be a witch hunt in the other direction as well. These girls, some of them are naturally thin.

Some are naturally thin. Others however are excessively dieting and taking appetite suppressants, fat burners, diuretics etc… to keep weight down. Ali Michael spoke about not having a period for a year – and that the models she knew were all reporting the same thing.
Crystal Renn had the exact same thing. She had anorexia, she lost her period and her hair broke off and was brittle. Those women aren’t meant to be like that. So I feel like those women need to be strong and stand up for who they are and what their body is, then maybe we can change that. But if the girls who are naturally thin, the Flavia di Oliveras, they shoudn’t be penalised because other girls take it to an extreme. You have to be healthy at whatever size you are. When we talk about obesity, or we talk about the other side, each person is different and we should embrace all of them, as long as they’re happy and healthy.

Well I would love to know what percentage of runway models are in fact naturally thin. I’d hazard a guess that a large number diet and take drugs or other substances in order to keep weight down. They all seem to chain smoke as well.
I don’t know, I don’t work with that side. I’m focussing on plus sizes and what we’re doing there and the breakthroughs we’ve made there. The other side, that’s not my heart, that’s not my baby.

Let’s talk commercial reality then. You mentioned that you booked Crystal Renn for that Mango job last year – is there in fact more work now for larger models?
Absolutely. And the level of work is higher. And the editorial has gotten better. Crystal is coming out in Italian ELLE and she’s got the cover of Russian Harpers.

What size is Crystal?
She is a US 12/14 [AUS 14-16]. And she has a contract with a UK-based retailer [Evans] and she has a book that’s coming out, she’s done Oprah. She’s really changed it from the days of Emme, when we had one little breakout. She’s actually turned it into being a supermodel and doing the things that only the Coca Rochas in the world have done in the past.

Some larger women have talked about going into boutiques and feeling that people are sneering at them and looking down at them. Do plus size models ever experience the same thing?
In the beginning of the industry, it was that way. I heard from some of the women that were the pioneers. They talked about going to a job and the regular models would look down their nose at them. Not any more. It’s become such an accepted and embraced and celebrated part of the industry. Because there are boundaries to break. Crystal is really close with a lot of the “straight”-sized girls and they all embrace her and she has done shoots with them, and Allegra Doherty is on the cover of Italian GQ with a straight-sized girl and a guy. The barriers are going away, more and more.

Sure, but although we might see Crystal Renn and Velvet d’Amour in the occasional Gaultier show, it’s not like Lanvin and Prada are jumping over themselves to have plus size models for half their runway show casts.
Gucci in the past has used a girl in a campaign…When Sophie Dahl was plus she was the face of the fragrance [Opium] that Tom Ford did.

Sophie Dahl has since lost weight.
Yes well Sophie just wanted to be a celebrity. It worked well for her.

A frequent comment heard in discussions about the hyper skinny, androgynous fashion model ideal is that the fashion business is run by gay men who just want models to look like adolescent boys. I’ve heard it a million times. What do you think about that?
I think that’s insane. I think that’s just absurd. You look at the top agencies… John Caplan, a straight man, runs Ford. Anna Wintour – come on. The people who are really running the industry…. It’s a cross section of everything. Noone wants anything but to have their product look the best.

But why do they all use the same look? Anna Wintour might make a song and dance about her ‘Shape’ issue, but the rest of the time she’s using hyper skinny girls.
Last season, Hilary Rhoda and Crystal Renn both did an issue in US Vogue and it was a story of doubles. It wasn’t a plus story and it wasn’t a Shape issue. It was just a beautiful story. So when the girl is right and the story is right, they’ll do what they need to do. And they’re getting there and they’re doing it more and more. Who would have thought that Mango would have used a Crystal Renn? But when it’s appropriate and when it’s time and when it’s somebody who has a vision and it makes sense for the product, for the story, for the magazine, for whatever, they will use it. And I think that’s great. I don’t think we should shove anything down their throat. I think they should embrace it when they embrace it, when it’s right for them.

Is it correct that there is no longer a dedicated plus size fashion magazine anywhere?
There is no longer one, no. But a lot of the magazines are using the girls more and more in the stories. I know Self is, I know Glamour is. They’re using the girls in the stories. They’re not referencing plus. They’re just showing them as beautiful girls. People are looking at them as models more and more, and dropping the word plus hopefully.

So it’s about inclusion.
It’s about inclusion and not about ‘Let’s use them just because’.

If there is no dedicated plus size fashion magazine, doesn’t that tell you something about the market? Either there was insufficient advertising support – or insufficient consumer support.
I also don’t think there’s a magazine for plus size men.

Oh come on - the womens’ fashion industry is a lot bigger than the mens’ fashion industry.
Yes but women of all sizes want to follow the current trends and they want to know what’s going on and not necessarily just something that’s speaking specifically to them.

Could it be that they also want to see images of thin women?
I think they want to see what’s on trend and what’s on market. And I think that with magazines showing them, more and more, different sizes that are in there, they’re saying, ‘Oh OK, I can be recognised. That could be me’. They’re seeing that women of all shapes, sizes and colours are now in all magazines. Magazines like Glamour and even Vogue, have made that possible.

But surely it’s not true that women of colour are in all magazines – otherwise we wouldn’t have had the intense media focus of the past 12 months on the so-called racism in fashion issue. Culminating in a series of editorials and of course last month’s all-black issue of Italian Vogue. You could make the same point here about black models, as plus size models - that it should be about including more black women in regular fashion editorial, rather than lumping them together in the one issue?
We represent Chanel Iman in New York and Chanel Iman does The Gap and she’s the most beautiful young African American model and she has done features in Teen Vogue and so many different editorials and she just did a Vogue Beauty editorial. I think sometimes the media screams about something to scream about something. I think that the industry is getting beaten up left and right.

Many people have spoken out on this subject recently. Photographer Nick Knight recently did a short film starring Naomi Campbell about how dreadful the whole situation is. There seems to be no shortage of black models saying the same thing.
How can Naomi Campbell say that the industry’s racist? She’s one of the biggest stars – EVER. I don’t want to say anything but… that’s very hypocritical.

She also made a comment recently about never once appearing on the cover of UK Vogue – when in reality she had appeared on it on no less than eight occasions.
I mean we can bounce the names off: Iman, Beverley Peel, Tyra for goodness sake. Look at what Tyra has done. Naomi. Alek Wek. I can name as many black supermodels as I can regular supermodels right now.

So do you think there’s any chance of seeing an all-plus size issue of Italian Vogue at some stage?
I don’t think it’s necessary. I’d rather see something that just includes them regularly. When Steven Meisel included Crystal Renn in an issue of Italian Vogue and made no issue about size, I thought that was brilliant. I think we need to get rid of the actual discussion and talk about fashion again. That’s what we’re talking about – being healthy and being the right size for your natural body. Enough with the word ‘plus’. Let’s just treat these women like beautiful women. We’re objectifying them by talking about them even more, just because of their size. Size shouldn’t be an issue. The beauty - that should be the issue.

Every time I have discussed either the fashion industry upsizing or the promotion of plus size models, some say it’s a bad thing because it is “normalising” obesity. What are you thoughts on this?
I think those people need to get something better to do with their time. If we keep finger-pointing at the women who want fashion, who can wear it with confidence, regardless of size, what is a size 2 or 4 matter? Why do they have to have an opinion on that? I really think that there’s enough things that need to be discussed that are a little bit more important than a dress being cut up to a size 18.

But is their position so hard to understand when we are constantly being bombarded with messages from the medical establishment about the obesity epidemic?
Do you think fashion has anything to do with that really? I mean I think the epidemic has nothing to do with fashion. We need to teach people how to be comfortable in their body size. I know size 24s who run marathons. You can be happy and healthy at any size. Some people are built differently. I think we should talk more about taking certain sugars and certain additives out of the foods, as opposed to talking about what we are dressing them in. I think that’s the more important discussion.

Is it not possible that one reason why there is more work for plus size models now is because people are getting bigger?
The numbers definitely say that people are getting larger, but people are getting larger and have been for a long time, height-wise, everything-wise. It’s people saying ‘I want what I want and I want to be able to be marketed to and I want to be treated like an equal’. And whether they are a size 2 or a size 16 or a size 22, they’re still people. If they have health issues, those are their issues. And that’s something that they need to talk about with their healthcare professionals. But I know these women who are size 22-24 who are super healthy, who could out-exercise any size 4 or 6. I think we need to stop fingerpointing and say, ‘You know what? There is a point, there is a line and everybody should be healthy and everybody should be active’. That’s not always the case, but that’s what we should be promoting. Crystal Renn – her body should be a size 12. That’s what it was intended to be. People say that’s obese – no, absolutely not. She’s one of the most beautiful and recognisable women in the world and because of her curves and because of her shape, not in spite of them. So I think we need to recognise and embrace that side of it as opposed to bashing it.

A slim, fit 26 year-old man died from a heart attack last weekend in Sydney after the City-to-Surf race.
This person was clearly not obese but guess what, he had a heart attack for running a few ks. And I know a size 24 woman who ran 26.2 miles. It’s about the individual and it’s about the health and it’s about treating them like individuals and not just grouping a bunch of people together just because they happen to wear a different dress size.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Michelle Jank helps reimage Oz wool


Sydney is certainly a fashion hub this week – and the inaugural Rosemount Sydney Fashion Festival doesn’t even officially kick off until tomorrow. After yesterday’s Fashion Laureate announcement, this morning Australian Wool Innovation relaunched its new corporate identity and brand stable – together with a spectacular A$120million campaign styled by Paris-based Australian fashion and jewellery designer Michelle Jank.

Couldn’t get to this presentation either (I’m flat out with other work - thanks for hanging in there on the blog) but I do have a story about the launch in today’s WWD.

I thought I would share some of the images not used in the story.

The new relaunch includes three new brands: Australian Merino, Superior Merino and Superior Merino Blend.

The new marketing push aims to relaunch Australian merino wool into the global market as a clean, green - read sustainable and biodegradable - luxury fibre.

Images 1, 2 and 3 are from the Superior Merino campaign, styled by Jank and shot by David Mandelberg.

Images 4 and 5 are from the Australian Merino campaign – once again styled (and designed) by Jank. John Macarthur also provided knit garments for this shoot, which took place in the Kimberleys in WA. The photographer is Georges Antoni.

The ideas of “clean” wool and corporate social responsibility vis-à-vis the Australian wool industry probably won’t go down well with the animal rights lobby.

The latter regards the industry as barbaric and has been on its back over the past four years over the mulesing issue - and even with the industry commitment to a 2010 mulesing phaseout, still does not appear to be satisfied.

PETA would presumably like nothing better than for Australia’s 55,000 woolgrowers to shift to hemp production and for Australia’s 80 million sheep to be released into the wild - where they would irrefutably die agonising deaths from, take your pick, predators, flystrike, parasitic infestation or heat exhaustion.

Or perhaps PETA could rescue them and then simply put them all down en masse? As with the 10,000 animals it reportedly euthanised from 1998 to 2003.

While PETA has been busy trying to win over retailers to its anti-wool cause, apparently you can’t keep designers away from wool.

Over the past eight months the rollcall of designers putting their hands up to become involved with various AWI initiatives, from the Protégé Project to the Woolmark Prize, has included Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace, Paul Smith, Francisco Costa and Sonia Rykiel.

At today’s presentation that designer rollcall also included the winner of the 2008 Woolmark Prize Qui Hao from China, Jank and Sydney-based Jayson Brunsdon and Ben Pollitt.

Merino suits from Herringbone were modelled by Wallabies players.

Blog Archive