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Bleeding For Beauty

Aug 27, 2014 Fashion

As NZ Fashion Week shows, high fashion makes slaves of us all.

First published in Metro, October 2013. Illustration by Sarah Larnach.

It was a pair of shoes that finally did me in. I’ve written about my dislike of wearing heels often enough before, but I’ve never had a problem with anyone else wearing them. Until the Trelise Cooper show at NZ Fashion Week last month.

The first half was all good: exceptional hair and make-up, a collection where Cooper seemed to reference Vivienne Westwood (punk) and early Marc Jacobs (grunge). It was a big departure for her aesthetic, and I was on board. And then her diffusion line came out accessorised with, more or less literally, killer heels, and I can’t remember anything past the existential crisis they plunged me into.

Silly shoes that models can’t walk in are nothing new. But these towering stilettos had a metal ankle cuff that had actually dug into one model’s ankle, causing her to bleed, and the raised catwalk meant her torture was on full display at eye level for the seated media and assorted celebrities. Even Mike Hosking and Sally Ridge had to watch.

I felt like we were the crowds gathered to watch Jennifer Lawrence in her flaming dress during the Tribute Parade, before participants enter the Hunger Games arena where they have to kill each other as entertainment for the braying crowd. It bummed me out.

On about her second or third outfit, I had the feminist epiphany that ruined my week. The model’s body is not her own.

Anyone who’s watched America’s Next Top Model will have seen Tyra Banks praising the girls who could “push through their pain”. The poor girl in front of me had no right to sit backstage and refuse to go back out: this was her job. We, the audience, were complicit in her pain. She bled for us.

Fashion shows are supposed to be transformative. You are supposed to want to buy into the lifestyle the designer is selling. No one wants to be jolted from their reverie of being young, gorgeous and reckless on Kings Rd in the 70s to have a meltdown about the trafficking of human flesh.

Two days later, I reported for duty at the swimwear show (featuring local label Surface Too Deep and Australian heavyweight Tigerlily). I’m not dissecting model body size because, frankly, I think it’s boring and a non-story. There are many other industries that promote unhealthy body standards but they get ignored because they’re not so glamorous. Ballet dancers, jockeys, sumo wrestlers, body builders…

No, what disturbed me at the swimwear show wasn’t what was on the catwalk but who was in the audience. Mysteriously, a gaggle of men had somehow managed to wangle tickets to this trade event, and weren’t they feeling ever so pleased with themselves.

“My mate’s managed to bag himself a front-row seat,” whinged a sweaty man seated behind me. He also bemoaned the lack of goodie bags in the second row. Perhaps he really wanted a coconut water. His company had supplied services to Fashion Week, apparently.

The stranger sitting next to him had done something similar that also allowed him to get within cooee of real-life models. And so it was that a myriad of men were snapping photos, pxting their friends and updating their Facebook status to whatever little happy face comes up when you type in “feeling horny”.

It was like the swimwear show needed to come with a similar warning as those at public swimming pools forbidding cameras. It’s one thing to be Miranda Kerr and get paid millions for a Victoria’s Secret campaign you know will titillate the imaginations of men (and women) worldwide, it’s another to be on the catwalk in downtown Auckland earning maybe $350 and having sweaty sales reps crowing over the photographic evidence. Again, the illusion was broken.

Thank goodness for Zambesi, is what I say. Flawless execution of a show I could lose myself in. Girls I wanna be, boys I wanna date, music I want on my playlist, and clothes I would beg, borrow and steal for.


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