Wednesday, August 13, 2008

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.


Anna said...

Bravo! Patty, GREAT interview. Asking fabulous questions and not backing down. It's what we have come to expect from you as a journalist. Lone wolf looks superb on you, keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Excellent, EXCELLENT interview on the part of the person asking the questions. But boy, the answers were very evasive and disappointing. Basically Dakin is towing the party line. He CAN'T be unaware of the chronic health abuse of straight-size models by saying that's ''not his field'' -- for heaven's sake, he's the V.P. of ford. And big deal that one single agency president is straight -- of COURSE it's gay men who are imposing the underweight aesthetic. The designers are gay, and as Dakin admitted, they're the ones who create the sample sizes, which dictate models' sizes. They've always had issues with curves.

Also, the only reason any plus-size models are getting any more work now is precisely *because* of pressure about ''diversity.'' If you were to get rid of the plus-size label, then that will be the end of plus-size models altogether. Dakin's so-called "revolution" of 10 years ago simply meant lowering the standard size of plus-size models from 16s to 8s & 10s! Ugh. Sure, the industry will use those faux-plus models here and there. If you lower the definition of plus to 4s and 6s, the industry will use them even more (after all, that's the size that straight-size models used to be) -- but that means women size 16 and up are even more invisible than ever! Basically, all that Dakin accomplished is that whereas in the past, a few size 18+ models actually *would* appear in fashion, now they don't, anywhere. Thanks a lot -- or rather, no thanks.

asparaguss59 said...

Boy, do you get the sense that he doesn't even LIKE plus-size models? What an insult to have him dismiss the idea of a plus-size magazine. When then WAS one (MODE), plus-size models appeared in cool fashion editorials every single month. Now that there isn't one, you only have one single model (Crystal Renn) occasionally appearing in any magazine, and usually in obscure publications that no one actually reads.

And this is supposed to be BETTER somehow? One or two designers use plus-size models in the last decade, and he's satisfied with this? Or a single plus-size model gets a single page in Glamour's "Do's and Dont's" section, and this is his idea of progress?

I'd rather have the exact OPPOSITE of what he wants -- give me a great PLUS-SIZE fashion magazine with lots of PLUS-SIZE models. Now that might actually help full-figured women feel better about themselves, and more confident in wearing trendier fashions.

Bottom line: just about the only place you ever seen any plus-size models is in ads for PLUS-SPECIFIC retailers. Eliminate the "plus" category, and it's the end of seeing any models larger than a 12, anywhere.

jodes said...

Thanks for asking the fashion industry the 'hard' questions, Patty, it was a very good interview to read.

Interesting that they think they aren't judging us as fashion consumers, yet the health of the plus sized woman is mentioned again and again. Our health is none of your business, our lack of variety and style choices in plus sizes should be his focus. (If he wants to improve health, how about providing gym clothes and bras etc for anyone over size 18? Its nigh on impossible to get good active wear above that size range.)

Personally, I think the biggest problem (aha ha) is that the designers haven't been trained to make clothing for plus sizes. Patty, could you interview some of the design schools around and ask them about this issue? How are they training students to cut patterns for plus sizes, given the differences in requirements (ie extra arm/thigh space, curves etc) between sizes 6-12, 14-20, 22+? If they aren't specifically training and encouraging plus sized designers, why not? The demand is there from the consumers.

I adore Crystal Renn, I think she is absolutely stunning, and would love to see her do Vogue in Australia. She'd beat the pants off Demelza anyday in a walk off.

Anonymous said...

This interview had a bizarre edit - all of the girls' work is talked about like it was yesterday or about to come out on the newsstands - which is not the case - the Italian GQ nude cover with Allegra was published at least 4 years ago, and that's just one example of many...still, you can't cover the details in such a short interview I guess.

There IS a plus-size magazine on newsstands in the US, it's called "Figure" and features Ford models all the time, and is produced by one of Ford's biggest clients, Charming Shoppes, so I don't know why he doesn't name-check it.

Asparaguss, Gary doesn't dismiss Mode - it folded after Sept 11 so why bring it up 7 years later in a country where it wasn't even available for purchase? Likewise Bella, Grace, and BBW magazines, if you even have heard of them.

Anon at 12:35am:
Assuming Dakin should know the health of all the models on the Ford boards just because he is a VP (there are several) is plain ridiculous. And there is as much self-abuse in plus-size as there is in regular modeling - models are models, after all. Just Google "Natasha Duncan Mode model suicide" and you'll see what I mean. They get told to lose weight, get boob jobs, they chain smoke and drink to excess and are painfully insecure and competitive, just like the rest of them. But agents only know about it when they get told or when the symptoms are obviously harming their work. Size isn't a factor in being at risk - it's clearly an occupational hazard.

Ford does have several size AUS18 models on their books so you all might want to bear in mind that there is only so much selling an agent can do of their girls - the decisions are ultimately made by the clients, which are not only designers but department stores, advertising agencies, PR companies, TV stations, and the like. Sample sizes are a result of traditional dressmaking education, not solely the province of vindictive gay men. In many countries plus-size clothing is often sampled in the equivalent of AUS18 and pinned in on the models. So it's NOT about the designers choosing not to sample in larger sizes, okay? explains the education/sample thing quite clearly. It's only in the context of high fashion that the samples are made in smaller sizes, forcing fashion magazines shooting photos well ahead of the season to use smaller models. Magazines producing more mass-market fashion stories often use in-store stock so the range of model sizes used can be larger than on the catwalks.

And Jodes, he's a modelling agent. Why should he be focused on getting you better bras and gym clothes?? That's not his line of business. Why not make it yours if you are convinced there is money to be made??

And quite honestly there are already Vogue-worthy plus-size models in Australia, they should get first crack at any editorials on offer, although as Vogue hasn't run any of Crystal's existing editorials I guess that won't happen for anyone for a while yet...

Blog Archive