Fashion still hates "fat"

You can never be too rich, too thin or too plastic for haute couture

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published October 13, 2009 7:14PM (EDT)

Trends come and go, but within the realm of haute couture, one thing remains a constant: designers and their abhorrence of fat. And by “fat,” we mean “reality.”

In response to the German magazine Brigitte’s recent promise to abandon professional models in favor of real women, Karl Lagerfeld this weekend complained to Focus magazine that “No one wants to see curvy women."  (The original German word he used was “runde.”)  Metaphoric black leather gloves off, the major domo of Chanel and Fendi went on to dis “fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly.”

Shoe designer Christian Louboutin, meanwhile, has of late been grappling with the nightmare of creating something special for perennial fashionista Barbie. A spokesman for Louboutin told WWD yesterday that when designing for the doll, whose ankles measure under a quarter of an inch, “He found her ankles were too fat.”  Chips! Cankles! Le horreur!

If Lagerfeld and Louboutin’s comments feel particularly jarring, it may be because they arrive at a moment when the fashion industry has begun embracing  a wider standard of beauty. Glamour magazine won raves for featuring Lizzie Miller’s nude and untaut belly in the August issue, while Ralph Lauren was mocked for Photoshopping a model’s hips into near oblivion in a recent ad.

Louboutin, working as he does in the medium of shoes, has rarely before had the opportunity to put his own feet in his mouth regarding weight. But Lagerfeld, the man who himself lost 90 pounds in a year and wrote an internationally best-selling diet guide, is famed for his steadfast intolerance toward the non-ectomorphic.

Herewith a few with of his greatest hits:

On creating a line for H&M: “What I designed was fashion for slender and slim people. That was the original idea."

On reading: "If not being able to wear new, trendy small-sized clothes does not cause you any regret, this book is not for you."

On his 2006 spring show models: “The girls are skinny. They have skinny bones.”

On obesity: “There are nearly 30 per cent of young people who are too fat. So let's take care of the zillions of the too fat before we talk about the percentage that's left. “

And when Katy Perry interviewed him for just last week, he assessed her approvingly as a “size 2.” 

To hear it straight from the horse’s asses, one would conclude that Lagerfeld and Louboutin are content to plant themselves in the tradition of hoity toity designers who love fashion but sure seem to hate women. But wait a minute.

Among the celebs who wobble happily on Louboutin’s sky-high heels are Nicole Kidman (size 9) and Angelina Jolie (size 8 1/2). And Karl Lagerfeld chose the non-emaciated Lily Allen to represent his collection last spring and has designed for the unmistakably “runde” Beth Ditto.  Could there be, under those impossibly metallic veneers, egalitarian hearts of true gold? Maybe.

Or is it something to do with the fact that runways are fine, but star power is what really counts in raising a brand’s visibility? Designers rely on celebrities to push their fashions into the public eye -- and create demand. Ordinary, chips-eating moms, with their big feet and their fat bones, may still repulse them. But if a woman's got a famous face to attach to their wares, Lagerfeld and Louboutin are more than willing to forgive her for the size of her ass – or her ankles.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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