The Ugly Face of Fashion: Exploitation, Pressure and Breakdowns.
The fashion industry is one of the biggest sectors in the world according to the British Fashion Council worth an incredible £20.9 Billion; as well as employing an estimated 816,000 people. This places the fashion industry in a higher ranking than publishing at approximately £9.9 Billion, car manufacturing at £10.1 Billion in addition to chemical manufacturing industries at £10.6 Billion. The fashion Industry is experiencing year on year growth; only shortly behind real estate worth £26.4 Billion and telecommunications at £28.7 Billion. The UK fashion industry has great historical value and has influenced many other areas, including Film, Music and Literature. There are many factors contributing to the success of the UK fashion industry which make it identifiable, diverse one of the leading centres in global fashion industries. Some major contributory factors include:
The UK high street are leaders in the fashion world as they hold the second most flagship stores behind New York, leaving Milan, Paris and Tokyo in their tracks. When thinking of the fashion industry the majority of consumers immediately think of the high end designers however the reality is that retail is the sector to be in, as this is the forefront of how the majority of consumers choose to identify and express themselves.
UK fashion education is worldly recognised for its excellence and innovative approach to inspiring and creating new designers and fashion creatives. There is a great demand from overseas, as international students aspire to become part of the British culture and city lifestyle. This is a large factor in the growth of the industry; allowing organisations such as Fashion East and New Generation to assist and encourage aspirant students; success stories include Henry Holland, Gareth Pugh and Jonathan Saunders. This is an advantage the UK fashion education system has over other countries, supporting graduates into the industry. These UK companies heavily invest in students offering them generous opportunities to enter and succeed in the fashion industry.
There are many more strengths to the fashion industry however alongside these are some fundamental weaknesses. Every industry has problems and areas they could improve however many of these are not as noticeable to the public and consumers, as is the case in the fashion industry. This industry is constantly in the media and receives generous publicity. This is a big downfall and allows pressure to be applied to all areas whether it’s the fast paced production of garments overseas, or the demand for designers to produce current sellable collections with such a quick turn round.
Although the strengths do not necessarily outweigh the weaknesses, the weaknesses are not always recognised. People in fashion are almost trained to be tough and disguise issues or problems which may be present. The core subject of this essay will be to analyse the ugly side of fashion and how consumers and the general public believe fashion to be the fascinating world in which it is depicted in the media. However the reality is behind the glamourous magazines, television and fashion shows; individuals are collapsing under the pressure and finding out that the fashion industry has become so aspirational, that every day working life becomes somewhat a false sense of reality.
In the fashion industry models and famous celebrities are constantly scrutinised for their body image and continuously battling to be skinnier. This filters through to younger girls in society and demonstrates the unattainable image for everyone to aspire to. It is daunting enough to see this in commercial fashion and gossip magazines, however high fashion designers are explicitly requesting dangerously thin female models, suggesting that this results in more attention to the garment itself.
Some may argue that in order to show the true brilliance of a garment, it has to fit the body to perfection. The sight of an incredibly gaunt and unhealthy model who at times seems to struggle to get down the runway, is not necessarily what consumers want to see. This expectation for models is unexplainable, this is without mentioning the horrifying effects on the health of these models and the drastic measures they will take to maintain a certain weight.
That being said these models going through these specific pressures have somewhat facilitated this world of distorted body image. There is seemingly no help for the younger generation of girls and women who see them as roles models, and are taught by magazines and the fashion industry that this is the ideal size and the way women should look. A study last year was taken to prove the effect of this on younger girls and teenagers. 42% of girls in years 1-3 say they would like to be thinner, a massive 78% of 17 years old girls are extremely unhappy with their bodies and 30% of high school girls and 16% of boys are dealing with some type of eating or mental disorder related to body image. The same students questioned said they were more worried about their body size and image than they were of being diagnosed with cancer, losing their parent or a nuclear war. These statistics scarily illustrate the thinking and mind set of teenagers, and even children in modern times. This is an age whereby children should be enjoying life without the worry of body image, especially so when considering the fact that teenagers are not fully developed until their mid – 20’s. Many people will look entirely different at this age.
So why is this depicted as an “ideal” body image? This causes so much damage to young girls and some boys, triggering such problems as mental illness and eating disorders. This may be down to the designers and their teams, as ultimately it is their decisions and policies which are being passed down to celebrities who are buying into the products, and therefore affirming those decisions to use such unrealistic body types. This in turn, eventually affects the general public and children, trickling down through the media and impacting individuals’ thinking and behaviour.
From experience of browsing social media and specific celebrities web pages, it is clear that technical programmes used in fashion such a as Photoshop play a huge part in changing people’s body image to an unrealistic state and deceiving viewers.
There is constant speculation as to whether famous celebrities use such programmes. These have included the likes of Kylie Jenner, Beyonce, Nikki Minaj, Kim Kardashian and Khloe Kardashian to name just a few. Despite speculation we will never truly know whether the image we see in the media has been altered, due to the sophistication of these programs. Not only are celebrities using these programs, these techniques are utilised by nearly every major magazine company, and acts as one of the biggest factors in changing our views on body image and a main contributor to mental illness and eating disorders in young women.
There is a constant battle to try and introduce healthier looking models into the fashion industry, if these models finally get through to runway modelling they will automatically be put in to the category of “plus size” models. However the reality is that they are a healthy size for a fully grown women. By labelling these women as plus size, there is a view that they are automatically being degraded due to their size. In New York Fashion week 2015, healthier plus looking models seemingly made a breakthrough, as this was the first time a plus size model and designer had shown a collection. This amazing young women was Ashley Graham who showed her designer lingerie collection as part of the brand Elle which was made specifically to fit curvier women. Ashley Graham was not alone in New York Fashion Week this year as she was accompanied by fellow plus size model and well-known rock star Beth Ditto who modelled for the renowned designer Marc Jacobs. She wowed audiences as she proudly displayed her meticulously made designer gowns, hugging her curvaceous figure. Beth Ditto was no stranger to walking a catwalk as she had previously modelled for Jean Paul Gaultier in Paris Fashion Week in 2010. In an article for New York’s Magazine the Cut Jean Paul Gaultier expressed that he cared not for such restrictions. “What counts is personality, there is not just the one form of stereotyped beauty. This collection’s pleats can be worn by any size and adapt to different body shapes,” (New York Magazine, ‘The Cut’, Amy O’Dell, 4th October 2010).
Beth Ditto and Ashley Graham’s experiences illustrate that there has been a shift in the thinking from designers towards that of a healthier body and size. However despite this, there are still significant developments which need to take place if there is ever to be a completely fair and realistic depiction of women and ideal body images.
With the fashion industry working at an ever quickening pace, the modelling industry is growing at an equally fast speed, and so goes for the increase in the use of underage models. The average age of models today is 26 years old but the shocking truth is the majority of these began work at the age of 16 or under. It is common knowledge that body image is completely distorted and especially when considering younger girls. By using younger models in fashion industry these young, under age models are open to exploitation to a whole new level.
There are two main factors contributing to the exploitation of underage models. These are weight & appearance and financial & competition pressures. These issues are among the most worrying and visible issues surrounding underage models.
Young models are heavily scrutinised and ridiculed for their weight during casting processes, as agencies demand the model to look as flat, plain and almost childlike as they can. The model is considered to be a complete blank canvas. Not only do they have to get to a certain weight before being cast or even recognised, they then have the trouble of maintaining this extreme weight. Doing this alongside the pressure of modelling and walking in relentless shows during events such as fashion week is the target for girls as young as 14 to adhere to. In 2012 famous Russian model Kira Dikhtyar was interview by Fox News where she accounted details of the drastic measures her and other working models would take to maintain the industry’s ideal weight. She talked of “packs of cigarettes, daily clonics, Laxatives, Phentermine diet pills, Adderal, prescription drug that suppress the appetite… I’ve heard stories that some modelling agents encourage girls to do speed and cocaine in order to speed up metabolism and eat less. And, all kinds of injections are becoming more and more popular, from HCG injections that go with a 500- calorie day diet plan to T3 thyroid injections that healthy models inject in attempt to speed up their thyroid function. Which results in a faster metabolism.”(Kira Dikhtyar interview with Fox News, 2012). Weight is one of the biggest areas of exploitation but ultimately it all comes down to whether they look suitable for the job; models are often rejected for matters such as small as blemishes on their skin, despite the fact this is extremely common with young people.
European countries including Russia, one the biggest are home to many well-known models we see walking in all fashion shows and modelling throughout the biggest brands right now. Many of these spend their whole childhood dreaming of travelling across the world as a model and achieving their career, typically this would be to send money home to their struggling families. This is a clear breach of boundaries when it comes to using children as means of income. Some of this responsibility lies with the parents but without the modelling agencies employing them this wouldn’t be possible. So the fault may lie within the multimillion pound modelling agencies employing underage teenage girls in poverty; desperate to provide for their family. This is a very relevant example of exploitation but is something that is unlikely to change within the industry, as there will always be a demand for models from designers. Moreover there will always be models willing to take such extreme lengths to achieve their goals. One of the greatest examples of this is new model Sofia Mechetner who recently this summer walked for Dior in their A/W 2016 show in Paris, sporting a completely sheer white gown showing her bare slender body and breast. Sofia originated from a high rise estate in Tel Aviv Israel where she has now switched her life of washing, cooking and cleaning for the luxury of modelling and meeting the most important and influential people in fashion. Sofia Mechetner is currently only 14 years old and set to be the face of the Christian Dior brand after meeting the creative director Raf Simmons, who described her as captivating and couldn’t get her look out of his mind. She later went on to sign a contract, making her exclusive to the Dior brand.
However at times these situations leave children vulnerable to child abuse rather than just exploitation. Young models see the fashion industry as the outcome to all of their childhood dreams and they have the potential to do anything they need to in order to get the job that pays the most. Succumbing to the ways of powerful and important men in the fashion means young models believe this behaviour is normal within the fashion industry. This can be hard for some underage girls to resist when they realise the importance of gaining the most prestigious jobs. This is an extremely disturbing aspect of the industry in modern times; due to the sensitive nature of this area, it is probable that policies will soon be introduced to ensure this is completely eliminated from the industry.
When considering the negative impacts within the fashion industry, it is necessary to consider the pressures on the designers themselves. As New York joins Paris and London in showcasing menswear alongside their already hectic women’s fashion week; the fashion schedule continues to mount as do the expectations of designers to produce vast and unique collections, this leaves the question as to whether or not they can cope with the pressure. As designers crumble underneath the pressure of being a market leader, is this the future for fashion creatives and aspiring new designers? Designers themselves are now noticing the struggle and commenting on it. Michael Kors once said “No question . . . I mean, I forget what season I’m in sometimes. I think every designer in today’s world, I don’t care whether you’re a designer who makes clothes that are phantasmagorical or very pragmatic, you have to figure out something that can ground you and bring you back. Whatever it is, if you go to the gym too much or you travel too much, you’ve got to have time to escape.” (POPSUGAR Fashion News 3/09/11). Also the amazing and influential creative director of Chanel Karl Lagerfeld commented on the stresses of running such a business “I see designing, running a company, like a high-level athletic activity. I don’t want to hear anything about the fragility or any of those things. If an athlete is too fragile to run, he cannot run. And this is exactly the same. You don’t accept this kind of business if you’re too much of an artist. I believe in discipline, so I’m not the right person to cry about weakness and things like this, but maybe I’m not human.”(ibid). Designers can been seen in all magazines and online articles, so every inch of what’s going on in their lives and careers are always on public view.
The downfall of designers is ever present at the moment as innovative creative director of womenswear, at the almost 100 year old French brand Christian Dior, Raf Simons has recently stepped down. Reactions were immense as he had only been designing for them since July 2012 and was a risk to employ as his style of designing was very specific, yet the prestigious fashion house made the decision to employ him. He wowed audiences with his first collection for Dior where he used an old French building and completely covered the house in fresh flowers, creating an atmosphere for the audience like no other. He made his mark finally on fashion and people were noticing him for innovating and changing parts of the Christian Dior brand but also staying true to its original style everyone knows and recognises. His success has only grown from season to season so questions were raised when he took the decision to step down. Raf released a statement to the public describing the reason for his departure being caused by the need to create on his own instead of being under a brand and working for someone else’s name. He put this down to personal reasons however the reality may be that the stress and pressure of working under a designer brand was too much to handle. This may leave the future of reputable fashion brands uncertain and almost in jeopardy.
Dana Thomas author of the book Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano once said we have “killed the soul in creative industries to churn out profits” (Fashionista, Mikelle Street, 11th February 2015) this summarises up many points raised during this exploration of watching designers disintegrate under the pressure. Alexander McQueen’s death by suicide in 2010 was one the most shocking moments in the fashion industry and opened up this issue for deeper discussion. He himself had a fair share of his demons which were always scrutinised publically, whether this was the rumour of a HIV infection or mental effects from being abused by his father as child. Despite all this his creative genius shone through as he created magnificent, artistic and evolutionary collections for womenswear’s fashion for many years. Critics say there will never be a great like him in fashion ever again and this loss is down the fashion industry itself. McQueen was under immense pressure as he was designing at an unprecedented standard; each season was an opportunity to offer fashion on a completely different scale to what he a done before. His brand wasn’t one set style like most, he challenged fashion and showed a dark, psychological way of working that drew audiences in from all over the world. McQueen was potentially the biggest and most influential example of pressure causing fashion to fail. When McQueen first started designing in 1996 he was creating two collections a year and by the year he died he was overseeing 32 collections a year. The pressure mounted more than he would have ever of imagined possible and led to his downfall as a fashion designer.
To conclude, there are many factors contributing to the downfall of fashion and many of them are still yet to be talked about publicly, but the issues raised in this essay are ones which are worth consideration and discussion, in the hope it may lead to change in the future. Consumers actively take part in each one of these areas of concerns, whether this is done indirectly is irrelevant, as in some way the public continue to support designers irrespective of whether those designers has acted inappropriately in the process of producing their products.
When investigating the modelling industry and its effect on younger girls, there are deeper areas for concern. The issue isn’t only spread across the modelling industry but also throughout design, marketing and promotion. This issue is becoming more extensive as new advances in technology allows us to change images and alter all appearance to achieve the look we all aspire to. These technological advances will continue to grow, as will the unrealistic expectations on personal image. In order to solve this issue support is needed from all industries within fashion to make a considerable impact, enough to change people’s ideology of self-image and body dysmorphia.
Continuing on to the similar concern of the modelling industries effects on the underage models and areas exploitation from modelling industries and designer brands. This problem is not likely to change significantly for the foreseeable future as there will always be young aspiring models that are underage and need work, counteracted by the modelling agencies having to demand the “ideal” type of model. High end designer brands is where the change needs to begin and from there will have a trickledown effect eventually changing the need for these unrealistic and unhealthy type of models. This issue will hopefully change as the future goes on, as some designer brand are slowly realising their influence on these young girls and their vulnerability in this situation. Only a few years ago the British Fashion Council put in some restrictive guidelines recommending catwalk and models of brands to be of the age of 16 and over. Which also led to all 21 international Vogues singing agreements not to use models under the age of 16.
The final and most influential issue effecting the downfall of fashion is the pressure on designers to stay at the top of the market and create collection after collection many more than ever asked of them before. The demand and pressure increases each year, requiring designers to produce unprecedented amounts of collections, putting designers in a compromising position their job has less emphasis on pleasure or profit, but more to prove they can keep up with the fast paced challenging world of fashion. Designers are at the centre of fashion and leading the way for buyers, stylists, merchandisers, PR, pattern cutters and many more. Without them fashion is lost, therefore reducing the pressure and allowing their creative juices to run freely will preserve their passion and genius.
All of these points are something to consider when looking into one of the largest industries in the world. Fashion goes hand in hand with media coverage, meaning all things in this area take great place and influence in the public eye. There are careful considerations that should be made when looking at the effect the industry has on the general public, the models themselves and the designers who are struggling to manage the growing expectations within the fashion industry. It is important to note the rapid growth in this industry and the effects it has caused in a short space of time, and despite the obvious success and developments in this industry it is essential that the ugly face of fashion is not overlooked.
Gods and Kings: The Rise and Fall of Alexander McQueen and John Galliano (Feb 2015)
Runway Memoirs: How I Became An International Male Model In The Fashion Industry (Runway Memoirs, Modelling) by Nicklas Kingo
Complete Guide for Models: Inside Advice from Industry Pros by Eric Bean