Broad-minded tokenism and fried French models

Drunk and ugly fashion hits the runway and it suits us fine.

Published March 5, 2001 8:19PM (EST)

The "quirky" model makes a comeback every few years, usually to much industry fanfare ("See? We use real people too!"). So perhaps the Neiman Marcus spring portfolio in W is a bellwether of her return: How else to explain N.M.'s use of three strikingly unusual models, including a beak-nosed vixen, a surly-looking tomboy and, well, Alek Wek. This can mean only one thing: We can expect a slew of self-congratulatory editorials in the major fashion magazines about this "new" trend toward beauty that is "interesting" and "real." (Anticipatory denials of tokenism will abound.) Anna Wintour is surely scribbling as I speak (or, at least, adjusting her shades while dictating sensitive profundities to a slavish assistant).

Perhaps the buzz about ugly (er, interesting) has something to do with Jalouse, the recently launched American version of the popular French avant-garde magazine. The oh-so-continental Jalouse isn't much concerned about Cover Girl beauté either: Its pages feature models who look like gawky mutants as well as passionate tributes to the idiosyncratic attractions of Belinda Carlisle and prepubescent drum majorettes. Is this the end of Brazilian amazons and the impossibly perfect Giselle, in favor of the flawlessly flawed French? We'll take coffee and cigarettes over a Brazilian bikini wax any day, though that impossibly emaciated French waif look poses its own challenges. If you're going to look good in your Eres lingerie, you better skip the mille-feuilles and go for the nonfat madeleine. At least that coffee will murder your appetite.

Fortunately, the continental fashion world is more interesting than that sickeningly wholesome Brazilian one. Just witness the shenanigans currently going on in Italy: According to Fashion Wire Daily, the Milan press is in an uproar about a model who walked the Ines Valentinitsch show with a joint hanging from her lips (sadly, it was unlit). "Wasted and out of their heads!" screamed the headlines over stories revealing that models in the show were drinking beer and holding cigarettes. FWD also reported that London Fashion Week's biggest trend was "Booze." It's the only explanation for the complete lack of any real coverage of the clothes on the runways: Everyone was too loaded to notice, thanks to the free liquor that was flowing (and blunts that were blowing) before the shows.

At last a brand of fashion that is more our speed: drunk and ugly. Forget Carnaval; book your ticket now to Uzbekistan via Manchester. All hail the new realism!

By Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

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