The curious case of Filippa Hamilton and Ralph Lauren

By Matt Balasis on October 17, 2009

NEW YORK (Herald de Paris) - A few years ago there was an interesting article in the NY Times about fashion designers called: “In Fashion, Who Really Gets Ahead?”, by Eric Wilson. Without bringing up a whole lot that many of us didn’t already know about the fashion industry, that it is an industry dominated by gay males, the article did manage to draw a thinly veiled indictment against the leaders of this industry, namely that they perpetuate an institutional bias against women and straight men.

The article brought to memory a somewhat comical situation involving a friend who I worked with years back at the Metropolitan Museum in NY. It was a job guarding priceless artifacts for little more than the minimum wage salary that most of us desperately needed as we worked our way through college. We were hired together as there had been something of a purge of the “old guard” because of a rash of complaints against the grizzled and ornery security officers who had long patrolled the stately corridors having made careers out of guarding artwork, and whose social skills (and personal hygiene) had obviously suffered for it.

We were young and broke and full of energy and suddenly plopped into this massive labyrinthian complex filled with the most beautiful artifacts on the planet overrun for 8 to 16 hour intervals by the haughtiest patrons this side of Madison avenue. Individuals who would not even acknowledge you as perhaps something approaching human, who would stop in front of you and without even looking at you simply say “bathroom” and wait for a response. We were put on rotations of 3 guards each with one relief guard and we would rotate through a section of the museum during the course of a day. I was lucky enough to get Impressionist Galleries, a sky lit section full of life and light and sunshine. We were all about the same age and stuck in the same aircraft carrier sized art boat so we became fast friends quickly. One of my first really good friends was an art student I will call “Antonio”. Antonio devised a hilarious response to the “bathroom” people (who seemed to have forgotten the proper grammatical form for a query), he would very enthusiastically begin a game of word association with them. To “bathroom” he would open his eyes wide point and say something like “kitchen” — quite hilarious — granted you had to be there. Sometimes he would very politely offer a definition or brief etymology of the word “bathroom” as if these visitors had simply stopped by to discuss the meaning and nature of “bathroom”. The patrons would usually turn their noses up and walk away in a huff. Sometimes they would simply walk away puzzled.

I liked Antonio right away because he had guts and he was funny. We’d hang out together and go out for smoke breaks in Central Park. Eventually Antonio introduced me to some of his friends (also guards) and one in particular, lets call her “Susan” gained my interest immediately. Unfortunately she didn’t seem to reciprocate my affections and I soon became discouraged feeling she was perhaps out of my league, even though Antonio insisted she appeared to be interested in me. I got up the courage to ask her out and she confronted me with a puzzled look, “I thought you were gay?” I was pretty surprised as I’ve always imagined myself on rather the opposite end of the spectrum so i replied in kind … “What? Why would you think that?”, “well,” she said, “you know … you and Antonio”, to which my jaw dropped. “Antonio?” I said, “Antonio isn’t gay.” I said. “Yes he is.” She said. “No he isn’t.” I said. “Look,” she said. “Why don’t you ask him?” So I agreed to find out and even managed to get a date with Susan. The interesting thing about all this was that Antonio wasn’t gay (he in fact had a girlfriend he kept hidden out in Queens). He was as straight as could be, but he admitted to me that in certain circles he allowed himself to come off as “kinda gay”. I was baffled, “kinda gay? Why?” was my response. “Dude,” he explained, “you almost have to be, I need to sell my paintings, you have to come off a certain way if you want to get in with the right crowd, to get a showing, these galleries down in Soho, they look for a certain kind of artist you know what I mean?” So essentially Susan’s friends, who had perhaps seen a side of Antonio that I hadn’t, had been correct, Antonio would switch codes for lack of a better term. He’d talk the talk and walk the walk, and when in Rome he’d do as the Romans (or at least pretend to). I found the whole thing to be pretty funny, like something you might see in a situation comedy or an episode of Will and Grace, but as I read through the NYT article it occurred to me that this wasn’t all that funny … this was actually discrimination.

My mom used to work for a fashion designer. She toiled for years in the basement of the Ralph Lauren “castle” on Madison avenue sewing button holes for people like Princess Diana and Tom Seaver and Frank Sinatra (who she said actually had a guard specifically watching a set of diamond studded buttons she once had to sew onto one of his jackets). She even told me a story about how Barbara Walters once made a work associate of her’s cry. The money wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. She’d been lured to the castle from Paul Stewart and although the money was better she regretted it because she felt the people weren’t as nice. I visited her once and was immediately accosted in the incredibly ornate showroom by a spiffy fellow in a bright red Polo jacket and a nifty brown pair of loafers with plaid socks who explained to me that i should use the “side entrance” when visiting my mom, looking at me up and down as if to say “what were you thinking coming in here dressed like that???” I pretended I didn’t care all that much, after all I liked my black army jacket and my running shoes and faded jeans, but it was the sort of experience that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, it made me feel the way the “bathroom” people made me feel.

The very same Ralph Lauren who I imagine must now be in his seventies is in the news yet again as his empire is under attack and he is the beneficiary of some nasty litigation by one of his very own models, Filippa Hamilton. The NY Daily News reported that Filippa Hamilton is suing Ralph Lauren for a rather embarrassing photoshopped picture of Filippa which was published in one of Ralph Lauren’s ads after she’d been fired for being too fat. The altered “thinner” Filippa was unfortunately so thin she didn’t really look human, rather more like a Bratz doll that had been run over by an SUV. Filippa, unaltered, is by all accounts a knockout, a stunner, the kind of woman who makes men drool and mumble incoherently. Yet here she was, fired for being fat, at 120 lbs and 5’10” (which incidentally is clinically underweight), and has her picture replaced by her post-alien-autopsy double. It kind of makes me wonder what planet this body they linked to Filippa’s head to came from and how they could possibly consider the eviscerated Filippa to be more attractive than her full figured self (which is actually quite skinny by most standards). I’m baffled, confounded, perplexed beyond any understanding … i just simply don’t get it.

Couple of years back Karl Lagerfeld got into a nasty little tiff himself with Brigitte magazine because the magazine decided to ban thin models and go with “real women” in their pages after a number of people had complained about the unrealistic portrayals of the human female anatomy and its effect on impressionable young women. Lagerfeld was quoted in the news magazine Focus, as saying those who might criticize models for looking bony or anorexic were “fat chip eating jealous mummies” going on to say, “no one wants to see curvy women. You’ve got fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of their televisions and saying that thin models are ugly”. Now as a chip eater myself I take great offense to this, and am left even more baffled as I really fail to see the beauty in the emaciated sunken eyeball “on the verge of starvation” look.

As before, the issue, while perhaps funny on the surface, is really not funny at all when you consider the thousands of young women who die of anorexia every year. At any given time you can perform a search of “anorexia” on YouTube and witness one gut wrenching tribute after another to young women lost to this disease.

I don’t know whether it’s possible to make sense of this trend or whatever it is. You sometimes get the feeling that a lot of these fashion designers don’t really appreciate the female form, or that they perhaps even willfully try to distort it to fit their own perceptions of beauty. You hear a lot of crude talk from crude individuals who accuse the fashion industry of glamorizing the “waif” or the heroin addict or even worse, that they reduce the female figure to what appears to resemble that of a thin pre-adolescent boy. You wonder whether Eric Wilson back in December of 2005 wasn’t onto something when he accused the industry of institutionalized discrimination, mentioning at one point that from 1986 to 2005 the Perry Ellis awards had been given to 8 women and 29 men (20 of them openly gay). You wonder if the problem might not be somewhat more sinister than the flippant tone of most reports commenting on the Filippa Hamilton story.

From that NYT article there is even this astonishing quote by Michael Vollbracht, the current designer of Bill Blass, who said he believed that gay man are demonstrably superior at design, their aesthetic formed by a perception of women as an idealized fantasy:

“I come from a time when gay men dressed women.  We didn’t bed them. Or at least I didn’t. I am someone who is really pro-homosexual. I am an elitist. I am better than straight people. Women are confused about who they want to be. I believe that male designers have the fantasy level that women do not.”

The industry is leaving itself open to all manner of criticism, in essence facilitating the notion that it has become a self perpetuating art form that has moved past its utilitarian roots and is simply its own medium operating under its own specific parameters and its own criteria. That the creative impetus of high fashion is controlled by a select and a closed coterie and that the art form itself can only be accessed and judged within the confines of its own very specific and very distorted referents … all in the spirit of high innovation, the avant-garde. The question may even touch upon freedom of expression, and whether willful distortion of the human figure is a kind of bad video game. Should there be warnings on fashion magazines like you have on rap CD’s: “Warning: content may distort self image and result in the potentially damaging pursuit of unrealistic and unattainable bodily appearance”. I mean it’s obvious to most of us that heterosexual males are more interested in the playboy model than the heroin addicted waif, so the industry is operating within its own self imposed criteria without regard to the masses who wouldn’t know haute couture from a cheese sandwich, employing its very own vernacular and creating an art that only the wildly eccentric and supremely eclectic members of this exclusive club might appreciate or even comprehend. To the ordinary fellow on the street, they see crazy outfits on crazy skinny women wearing crazy make up and walking with that crazy runway walk. Its like some sort of huge private joke.

Only like the “bathroom” people, and the flustered preppy in the Polo jacket who shooed me out of the Ralph Lauren showroom, it isn’t really funny if it is in reality the picture of an industry perpetuating systematically exclusive practices. It is in no uncertain terms, institutionalized bias. It may even be un-American. If we can mandate the hiring of minority teachers to work with predominantly minority student populations, if we can rationalize moving more women into leadership roles, then we might want to think about hiring and promoting a few more women and a few more straight men to work in the fashion industry.


Comments
Jes Alexander October 17, 2009

Here is a very alarming quote from Actress/Model Liv Tyler:

“I’m friends with Helena Christensen and Linda Evangelista, and I remember Linda telling me that when she was a model [in the '90s], a sample size was a 6 or an 8. Now a sample dress size is a 0 or a 2. That’s pretty alarming. There’s a lot of pressure on [the models]. It’s not healthy. I can’t even imagine what that’s like.”

- Jes Alexander, Publisher

Tamara October 17, 2009

I remember the “perfect size 8″ sample size models too. When I worked briefly for a designer a guy flippantly told me that models look they way they do because designers hire girls that look like boys with boobs. No hips or butt just a stick with a small chest to indicate she is in fact female. Made me sick. Fashion is something to look at and oooh and awe over but then go out and buy normal clothes. Fashion is a movie not real at all to me. Too bad that’s all we get in the news and in magazines they are not worth buying anymore.

Matt Balasis October 17, 2009

In response to Tamara,
In fairness I have heard about something called the “clothes hanger rationale”, essentially that many designers want their creations to fall from their models as they would from a “walking clothes hanger”. I’m not sure this is an excuse though, as ultimately you’d think that clothing is meant to be worn right? By humans? As for clothes “not worth buying anymore”, just checking around various blogs and article comment sections there is A LOT of talk about boycotting RL over this … I think RL has some damage control ahead of them.

Rea Bruno October 17, 2009

To think that the perfect size was a 6 or 8 only ten years ago. Even more astonishing, Marilyn Monroe was a size 16, and she was THE ideal woman in her day, and to many men, she still is today. Now, size 16 is considered plus sizes. If I’m not mistaken, PLUS sizes now begin at size 14, which would make Marilyn Monroe what today’s public considers “obese”.

America, as a whole, is getting fatter and fatter, and the “perfect” size is getting more and more unattainable. While the average woman gets bigger, the “ideal” is getting smaller and smaller. It is absolutely impossible to be healthy and look like that. I’m 5’5″ (and a fourth) tall and when I weighed 123 I was hooked up to an EKG in the hospital with my hair falling out, my vision fading in and out like a powerpoint presentation, and my skin dry, scaly and flaking off, with huge, sunken eye sockets. Now, according to the charts at the doctor’s office I was actually a little OVERweight. Did you know that the charts that tell us how much we should weigh and what weight constitutes an eating disorder are actually made by insurance companies? Why do they set the standard weight so low? The answer is simple: so they don’t have to pay for eating disorder treatment! By the time you are actually within the range of what technically qualifies you for anorexia or bulemia, you need to weigh 20% less than what your ideal weight is. You have to be well into the disease in order to even qualify for help. When I received my treatment, although I had all of the symptoms and behaviors of an anorexic patient, they couldn’t label me one because my weight was actually above my “ideal” weight. So, I was considered “eating disorder otherwise specified”.

While these modeling scouts seek women who look as much like a ten-year-old boy as possible without actually being one, our daughters are growing up thinking that they are too fat and ugly. Why is it that an absolutely gorgeous and fit 5’4″ tall 13-year-old girl bursts out crying because she weighs 100 pounds? Since when does a girl need to weigh less than 100 pounds in order to be good enough? The ideals created by this society are slowly killing our young girls and women. How can we bring beauty and “sexy” back to where it is supposed to be?

Jes Alexander October 18, 2009

This is something I wrote last fall, and completely forgot about, but is appropriate to this discussion:

Researchers at Cambridge University in the U.K. have figured out exactly what makes a perfect swivel-hipped walk with “a more angular swaying and bounce to the hips.” The mathematicians got out their slide rules, calculators, blow-up dolls, and binoculars, scientifically determining the perfect ratio of waist to hips. Their results? The closer that ratio is to 0.7 (waist measurement is 70% of the hip measurement), the sexier the swagger.

According to that article, some with perfect or near-perfect hip/wasit ratio are/were: Jessica Alba, Marylin Monroe, and Sophia Loren. I’ve heard elsewhere that Julia Roberts also conforms to the 0.70. Is it all about the walk? not exactly. A hip/waist ratio of 0.7 also suggests the perfect balance between overall physical health and fertility.

And so, the super-skinny trend seems to defy the principle, above. I think i know why – the camera. The camera makes size 0/2 look like size 2/4, so to achieve the ideal hip/waist proportion in print, you have to be skinnier in real life. This is no different than the old expression that, “the camera puts 10 pounds on you.” It does .. sort of. It all has to do with dimension. The subtle curves of the human body are oft-lost because the camera sees in a flatter plane than the human eye(s), which see from the sum of two perspectives. Inadequate lighting more than anything contributes to the dimensional flattening of a film image, as opposed to the naked eye view. Unless you have a camera with two synchronized lenses, you always lose some perspective and depth.

TOO BIG TO MODEL TODAY?

It is interesting to note that recently, Linda Evangelista said that when she and Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Christy Brinkley, et. al. were at the height of the original “supermodel” craze (early 90s), the average sample size for couture dresses was a 4/6. Now, it’s a 0/2. So, what can account in the change in the ideal female form from the early 90s to now? DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY.

I’ve long believed that the digital camera does not represent and interpret light the same way that a traditional film camera does. To me, digital images often lack the depth of their film-based predecessors. A flatter image would, as a matter of course, look wider (see “10 pounds” above). Thus, to look the way the designer intended the clothes to look, print and video photography needs to shoot a proportionally smaller model to achieve the same effect.

That’s my theory and i’m sticking by it until someone proves me wrong.

- Jes Alexander, Publisher

alexa October 18, 2009

For anyone who thinks creating this super thin body image is harmless, watch this, its so sad:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLYbSghCtXg

Inthebiz October 19, 2009

Does the publisher not have any sense of the hypocrisy of this publication worshipping at the altar of Rachel Zoe (who no matter what she says is visibly emaciated , dressing stars who are all incredibly thin and attending fashion shows where they are equally so and doing nothing to change it) while herein feigning horror at the Filippa Hamilton case and all it represents vis a vis fashion today? Come on! This is not new , it’s just been revived because this particular case was so extreme. Remember Kate Moss? Heroin Chic? Do you recall the year The Beauty Myth was written? That would be around 1989/90. Have you not listened to the countless models now in their forties and fiftes talk over the years since they got out of the business about the extent to which they had to starve to keep their jobs? The point is that the SIZES have changed not the models average weight–A size 6 now is what an 8 or 10 was 25 years ago. Do the math for what that makes a 0-2. And your digital film theory is interesting enough but really has nothing to do with the subject–photoshop and the like most certainly however, do. It takes no more than a few clicks to make any image what an editor or designer wants to see and if their gaze is distorted as nearly everyone in the fashion industry’s is…then so will be the ultimate picture the public sees. Every person who buys a woman’s fashion magazine is complicit in this, including myself. But at least i can admit iit:. I want to be thin. Clothes looks better on thin people. I don’t want to look like this fun-house Filippa but extremes are always necessary to bring our attention to what’s really going on.

Jes Alexander October 19, 2009

I respect what you’re saying, “Inthebiz,” though since you mentioned Rachel Zoe, you may recall that this season she also “dressed” Liv Tyler – who is hardly obese, but nobody would ever accuse of being, “incredibly thin.” SHE would not call herself, “incredibly thin,” either. So, too, after our covering of THE RACHEL ZOE PROJECT this past season, I do not believe that as a businesswoman, Rachel Zoe would turn away a client because of her (of his) size. Still, comparing the photoshopped emaciation of an already skinny model to someone who is hired to pick out pretty clothes is hardly a fair comparison. In my opinion, the grossest act in this entire event was the ill-timed firing of the model. As to your contention of hypocrisy on the part of this publication, the other way to look at it is that we are offering fair and balanced reporting – showing both sides of a powder-keg subject, which I am quite proud of. In this case, we have nothing to be sorry for. You chose to voice your opinion, which we encourage and I appreciate. We get a lot of comments, and for me, the ones that that are the most poignant and beneficial are the ones where the reader does not hide behind an anonymous name.
- Respectfully, Jes Alexander, Publisher

Crystal Chambers October 19, 2009

As the writer for the Herald who writes all of the AFTERPARTY articles, including the RZP articles I feel I must answer INTHEBIZ on the accusation of hypocrisy in the Herald.

First I would like to point out that if one reads the AFTERPARTY – reads, not glances- one would notice that I many times have remarked on the waifishness of models. It’s a common snark theme of mine. Having never been pin thin myself, I take responsibility for my weight and my figure in my own hands through good food and exercise despite a schedule that would put many other people in the hospital.

It’s about choices.

It’s about being offered both sides of information from someone close to girls, not just the media. It’s about education.

I can not be held responsible for those who choose to eat poorly or not exercise.

Again, it’s about choices.

I could get into a thesis on how women (and men now) are habitually terrorized by the media to be thinner than is healthy. How we are bombarded with 12-21 year olds in magazine fashion shoots who are made up to look older than they are and a 35 year old mother feels worthless because she isn’t built like a 15 year old pre-pubescent girl with an eating disorder. In fact, I have written said thesis for my psychology degree.

But, I won’t.

I could get into how commercials are timed throughout the day so that the commercials with “homemaker” types are on during the day plugging cookies and diet pills – oxymoron, no?- and that the sexy wives and sexy modeled commercials are on during prime-time when men are watching. Because women will buy (figuratively and literally) what the men are told to want. (double entendre there, stay with me)

But, I won’t.

What I will say is despite the bombardment of media telling us we aren’t good enough, it solves nothing to gripe. Laugh and teach our daughters to feel good about themselves. Get out and move in the world. Then they won’t have to feel bad when they look in the mirror…either for image, or for not making the right choices.

My job is to write on the entertainment, and I do so with a happy heart. I support Rachel Zoe and Brad, and Taylor and the whole crew even when I am completely picking on them. Not because I have to – in fact it’s my job NOT to in a way – but because they are every day people working their asses off for what they believe in. They are making people feel beautiful, no matter what their size is.

How beautiful have you made yourself or someone else feel lately?

Airbrushing photos to make someone look like a prison camp reject is appalling, and the design house and the advertising agency SHOULD be held accountable. No one could ever be that thin whose hair isn’t falling out and skin isn’t paper thin and organs weren’t failing.

Marketing health should be alongside fashion. For when we are truly healthy we are radiant and will look good no matter what we wear.

When women start taking accountability for their own size, their own health of body and mind, then altered images will disappear. Until then, Herald de Paris will report on both sides as any responsible paper would.

Perhaps pin-thin is the fashion answer to the severe obesity in the world. After all, for each and every action there is an exact opposite reaction to counter it for balance. Would you be as upset to see pictures of cottage cheese stomachs and breasts hanging to below the belly button? Is that any healthier? No, it isn’t. Just because people have gotten fat doesn’t make it any more right than supporting an emaciated image either.

Becoming healthy seems like an answer to both, no?

Matt Balasis October 19, 2009

I feel humbled by this intelligent and powerful exchange in the wake of an article on a topic I by no means consider a strength. I would, however,like to add, that while I agree almost point for point with Crystal, when I read,
“Laugh and teach our daughters to feel good about themselves. Get out and move in the world. Then they won’t have to feel bad when they look in the mirror…either for image, or for not making the right choices.”
I felt saddened by the knowledge that there is a prevailing bias against woman in the very industry that creates images that convey a female ideal. Like having a server bring you a spotty glass at a restaurant, no matter how you angle it or what light you choose to peer through it with, the vessel will undoubtedly be returned. Yet the industry flourishes even though it behaves like a vanguard that has lost touch with it’s main body, and for some reason we continue to drink out of this distorted vessel.

Mariano Giambalvo June 19, 2013

It is unknown how many adults and children suffer with other serious, significant eating disorders, including one category of eating disorders called eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS). EDNOS includes eating disorders that do not meet the criteria for anorexia or bulimia nervosa. Binge-eating disorder is a type of eating disorder called EDNOS. ^*’-

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