Tag Archives: fashion industry

Return of the Stick Aliens in Pretty Dresses!

Fashion is, in its shiny haute couture forms, about art.  Designers often go for the bizarre in order to startle and dazzle with thought provoking and often controversial  images rather than wearable clothes. So when designers and their photographers go in for having stick aliens as that image, it’s not the same thing as when advertisers and the magazines working with them use stick aliens images to sell products like purses, perfume, or even casual wear that would not seem to benefit from a stick alien image. It’s a game of strange expressionism that does actually keep people interested in fashion and what it might produce and thus, has a more clear rationale. However, sometimes the stick alien image of high fashion is so apropos about stick alien mentality in general that the bizarre image becomes a different sort of social art — an art that invites us to comment on the back-handed nastiness towards women that seems to run through the fashion and advertising industries. Such an image is the current cover picture for the Italian edition of Vogue Magazine, Vogue Italia. The cover, with the headline Avant- Garde, is apparently a tribute to a woman named Ethel Granger who loved to cinch herself up in corsets and have facial piercings and held the Guiness Book of Records record for tiniest waist. Why this would require a tribute is anybody’s guess.

The image isn’t actually photo-shopped, at least not much. Instead, famous photographer Steven Meisel cinched British model Stella Tennant into a special corset to make her waist 13 inches (and probably do permanent damage to her insides.) They turned her into a literal, real life stick alien. The image is meant to be daring, shocking and stir up lots of chatter and magazine sales,  and it’s done all that. It’s art. It’s art that shows the hatred and control fashion has towards the women they use as a tool of art, and does it by invoking both a time period in which women were restricted and lacking power and Edward Scissorhands. It’s a big middle finger from fashion and Vogue towards all the criticism of their stick alien photoshopping and anorexic model servitude of the last few years, criticism that has forced them to make changes they don’t like. It’s an image that says, “We can do whatever we want.”

And of course, they can. And we can blast that image all over for them while pointing out the hatred that they are showing for the women to whom they are supposedly selling clothes and fashion art. We can talk about it, we can talk about it to young women, even if they don’t want to hear it and don’t care right now. And that talking has had an effect, slow but steady. And in the end, the stick alien is not really any better at selling haute couture and fashion magazines than it is at selling perfume, purses and casual wear. (Well, unless you’re Lady Gaga playing around in a music video.) All of the sales rates and the ad rates for all of the fashion magazines are falling and digital sales are underwhelming and still highly disadvantaged for picture heavy mags like fashion. Fashion sales are falling as well, thanks to the economy. If they keep up with the misogyny as their favorite advertising technique, that’s unlikely to change.

So here it is, an actual stick alien, Sid Vicious/American Gothic style:

Edward Scissorhands would be sad.

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Stick Aliens in Pretty Dresses Persist

I haven’t had to do an aliens in pretty dresses post in awhile, for which I’ve been very glad. But I guess spring is likely to bring the stick aliens out in full force as clothing advertisers continue to use a skeletal starvation victim approach in selling their wares. The latest controversy occurred in Britain, when the Prada division Miu Miu did a handbag ad with model Kasia Struss, a 5′ 10″ very slim, pale model seen sitting in a mirror:

Complaints were made about the model’s diseased appearance, and the British Advertising Standards Authority reviewed the ad re the new rules there about anorexic models. The Authority ruled that lighting, the dress and make-up made the model look overly skinny and so the ad was okay.  If you think okay is using a model who resembles a concentration camp victim with elongated limbs to sell a handbag. It does make you look at the ad, but does it really make you want to get the handbag? Or worry that she will not be able to lift it? I’m hoping that they are right and it is just airbrusing, photoshopping, special effects and 1980’s lipstick that give the model her stick alien appearance. But lighting, clothes and make-up did not give her that collarbone and shoulders that scream anorexia, so I’ve really got my fingers crossed for photoshop.

This new controversy seems to have brought up again an infamous older stick alien controversy from two years ago, involving Ralph Lauren and model Countess Filippa Hamilton. A regular model for Ralph Lauren ads, Hamilton looked like this:

At 5′ 11″ and a Size 4 U.S., there’s not a lot of meat on her, but she’s purty and clearly human. In a Ralph Lauren ad that was over photoshopped, however, she looked like this:

(Yes, her pelvis is smaller than her head.) The stick alien ad appeared, mistakenly, in advertising for a Japanese department store carrying Lauren’s line of clothing before being pulled. Apparently, the Japanese didn’t notice anything was wrong with it.  But of course in the age of the Net, the photo spread round the globe, causing Ralph Lauren to throw a brief and useless legal tantrum, and to announce that no one was supposed to see the messed up photo. Towards the end of that year, however, Ralph Lauren dumped Hamilton as one of their models. Hamilton claims this is because Ralph Lauren saw her as too fat for their clothes.

What’s disturbing about this on top of the usual disturbing  is that Ralph Lauren, two years ago, at least understood that their stick alien picture went too far and was unattractive — even if they decided that somewhere between stick alien Hamilton and human Hamilton was where they wanted to be — whereas Miu Miu thinks their ad of a model who looks as if she needs to be hospitalized is a-okay, so much so that they are willing to defend it to British regulatory agencies.  This seems to indicate that the stick alien approach is becoming more prevalent, not less as hoped.

What also seems to come out of this in my puzzlement over the logic of advertising is that it shows it’s not the advertising companies driving it and conning the companies into it or the magazines, but the companies themselves. Clearly companies like Ralph Lauren and Miu Miu think that this look is a stylish lure for their clothing ads. They presumably have demographic research on this, which would be interesting to see, as my anecdotal reaction to such images is “oh wow, that’s totally gross.” I might not mind quite as much if they didn’t have the stick alien arms all the time. Those give me the willies.

In any case, please join me in sending good wishes for Ms. Struss to survive into middle age. Isabell Caro, the model who developed anorexia and became a prominent activist about this issue in the fashion world, did not. She died this last December at the age of 28.

Even if the laws she worked for are passed in countries to prevent companies from exploiting anorexic models and exacerbating their condition, there will still be the issue of this desire to photoshop alter models and actresses into stick aliens for ads. Which is why I didn’t put a Warning: disturbing image before Ms. Caro’s picture. Because according to companies like Miu Miu/Prada, Caro’s image isn’t disturbing at all.

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I Should Probably Be Offended By This

But mostly I’m amused. I haven’t been able to do much with my blog for the last few months because of life stuff. Consequently, view counts of my blog have varied depending on the day, if I’ve posted other places on the Net, etc. (Spambots do not find your blog unless you post new entries, you see.) 🙂 But they’ve still been in the average range for my little fledgling blog. Today, however, I discovered that the number of views of my blog had increased 5 times over. Why?

Well, awhile back, talking about the disturbing trend of having photos of women in fashion advertising appearing like stick aliens, including bizarre photoshopping airbrushing,  mostly in terms of puzzling about what exactly is the advertising philosophy behind it, I put up, among other things, a photo of a Victoria’s Secrets model (as an example of the type of modelling today that is still not stick alienish yet.) And Victoria’s Secrets had a “fashion show” infomercial special on U.S. network t.v. last night. And apparently, in the wake of that, there are a lot of people searching for photos of Victoria’s Secret models. And so my blog came up in searches (I can’t imagine it’s very high on the search lists,) and some of the searches — probably mostly spambots programmed for the term Victoria’s Secret — came to my blog. And the ironic thing is that the particular, one Victoria’s Secret model photograph I had put up has been removed from the upload or virused and doesn’t even open on my blog anymore. You can’t actually see it if you come to my blog. It will not successfully gather for Google or whatever it is that is being done. (I did, however, get it originally from Google, so you can just go to Google and get some.)

But it is a very popular search term, apparently. So just for kicks, I’m going to try a little experiment. Here is a Victoria’s Secret model photograph from the 2010 fashion show:


I like this one because I like peacock feathers. Also, she has actual thighs. Let’s see if I can get 8 times more views than my usual average! I’ll keep you posted.



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Stick Aliens in Pretty Dresses Return!

I thought I was kind of done with this topic. After all, there was a rush of plus size models, multi-body size ad campaigns, etc. I didn’t think the stick aliens were gone exactly, but it did seem like there’s been a general turning away in the past few months from making women look inhuman in an attempt to sell clothes. But this just shows I don’t understand fashion. Proenza Schouler, which is apparently a fashion company, had an ad image for their new catalog campaign which has been photoshopped to present a model who has had all the flesh removed from around her spine.

The first ad I mused about was with actress Audrey Tautou in a Channel ad, whose perfectly normal if skinny waist had been shrunk and elongated into non-human proportions that made her look like an alien imitating a human in a long black dress. My question was, how does this sell a romantic, elegant image if the first response of most people is to go, “Eww, what did they do to her waist? That looks gross!” But that little airbrush trick was utterly nothing to the alien proportions Proenza Schouler decided to go with. These people are trying to sell clothes and having this picture will certainly make people look at it for shock value. But they aren’t going to be looking at the clothes or remembering the name of the company. They are looking at a woman who looks inhuman and going, “Eww, gross!” Is “eww, gross” really the image you want associated with your clothes? Maybe it is in the realm of haute couture, I don’t know. What, seriously, goes through the minds of the people in this company who put together, photoshopped and prepared this photo for the campaign? Is it just a desire to be edgy? Aren’t there other ways to be edgy that don’t involve revulsion? Are marketing consultants really claiming that revulsion is an excellent way to develop your brand? Or are they just hoping the Lady GaGa young folk will laugh and say, “They’re so weird and cool, I’ll buy their clothes”? Was it just a way of getting media attention, and if so, what’s the strategy? One day I certainly hope to sit down with a fashion marketing person and find out. Because truly, what’s your first reaction to this:

Mine was to try not to vomit.

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A Puzzlement of Advertising

Certain kinds of spam advertising perplex me. I received this one, for instance, from Louis Vuitton himself, but then he was trying to send me to some site that maybe sells his bags, and his name had changed to Tammy:

“Hi, I enjoy Louis Vuitton or anything fashion for that matter! I was browsing the web for some new louis vuitton luxury items and I found this site. This is a cool site and I wanted to post a comment to let you know, good job! Thanks Tammy”

Now, for all I know, if you try to go to the site offered or respond to the email address, it actually allows viruses to enter your computer and try to get information in order to clean out your bank account. But let’s go with the idea that this is legit and that Louis Vuitton’s company or the site selling his purses actually hired a spam advertising firm. First off, it was not, as you might have expected to occur, attached to any of my posts that had to do with fashion and advertising (Aliens in Pretty Dresses.) It was instead attached to my blog entry: “Haruki Murakami Has New Release.” I had been unaware of the deep link between author Haruki Murakami and Louis Vuitton before, but thankfully Tammy let me know that his wild SFF makes her think of high end fashion.

Second, obviously my blog was selected at random as part of a massive software program hitting thousands of blogs. My blog, if you actually look at it,  is clearly not a place where Louis Vuitton customers are going to hang out. And of actual Louis Vuitton customers, Tammy’s missive is written to appeal only to girls aged 12-16. Now, there is a small crowd of girls that age whose parents are rich and they might actually check out the purses, but again, they don’t read my blog. The Gossip Girls blog, sure, but mine, no.

Further, active blog writers check their comments and will delete the thing as spam, usually before it even gets on the blog, thanks to spam catcher programs. Inactive blog writers might not, but inactive blogs don’t have any readers. So basically, the odds of this ad actually inducing anyone to go to the site and buy a Louis Vuitton purse by placing cheery, clearly spam missives in thousands of random blogs attached to random posts are about the same as me being elected queen of Mars. But if these aren’t viral crooks running a scam, then Vuitton or the website paid somebody to do this spam advertising. Sure, it probably costs a lot less than direct mail stuff, since the company does it in bulk for thousands of clients, but direct mail might actually be effective. So are targeted ads, email lists, and many other Web methods. But generating un-targeted spam on the Web, especially for a luxury product? It does nothing. It has no effect certainly worth the cost. Yet this company is running an effective scam with commerce.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the companies that pay for these things actually took the money for it and gave it instead as an additional donation to charity? We’d have less spam, the good works would have more support in these troubled times, and the companies would have even more good will advertising for doing it. I may actually go petition Louis Vuitton on this. On the other hand, Tammy was amusing.

*Update: Apparently luxurygiftsbags.com is a real site, specializing in Louis Vuitton gear. I just thought I’d throw that in, in case any of you are dying for a Vuitton clutch.


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Interesting News for a Tuesday

1) The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books racked in 130,000 attendees this last weekend, which is really excellent news. The event included a scavenger hunt with an iPad prize. Among the attendees was bestselling thriller author Mary Higgins Clark, in her 80’s, who is old enough to recall when paperbacks were predicted to destroy the publishing business and so she’s not too worried about ebooks. The London Book Festival, however, unfortunately saw a large downtick in attendance, thanks to the volcanic ash cloud.  (Once again, Volcanic Ash Cloud — great name for a rock band. Also, Feral Miami Chickens.)

2) HarperCollins has teamed up with fashion retailer Asos.com to launch microsites featuring six titles for women and teen girls, starting with Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City prequel The Carrie Diaries. The sites will contain reading excerpts, author videos, etc., and contests for Asos vouchers. This is part of publisher efforts to branch out further into the wholesale market once again and it is also a great development that any fashion company gives a crap enough to be willing to try it out.  (Of course Bushnell is a t.v./film brand but the others aren’t.) The deal is a sign of books’ increased status lately due to the ebook market getting lots of press. If you want to try out the first one (Bushnell is a fun interview,) the link is: http://www.asos.com/Women/Women-Landing-Pages/20100322Hhotreadsw/Cat/pgehtml.aspx?cid=10447

And if you think this is a sign of the apocalypse, grow up. Anything that makes books desirable or simply visible next to other products is a good thing. And no, it will not kill off literary novels. They have their own special marketing and promotion channels, quite sturdy ones, which is why we have literary bestsellers. And they are going to be doing this sort of thing where they can for those too. And the deal with the fashion house will make ripples through the whole fiction market, not just for “cootie” titles.  The big development here is that other companies want to work with the book publishers, something that has not been easy to get before but is becoming more common, and will allow publishers to further exploit the Web with industries that have much deeper promotional pockets than they do.

3) Hulu, which lets folks in the U.S. watch t.v. shows and other programs on their computer, is not pulling in enough money through advertising. This is not a big surprise as this is a rampant problem throughout the Web. Having lured in many customers with the freebies for several years of parent companies covering the losses, Hulu is now trying to move to a more profitable model. So recent episodes of shows will still be free, but if you want more than that, Hulu will have a subscription service where you can get access to all the videos for US$9.95 a month.  There is going to be a lot more of this one part free, the rest you pay for set-ups for entertainment sites, but certainly Hulu is the biggest for right now.


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Aliens in Pretty Dresses, Sort of Part 4

So there’s buzz about body size and fashion once again, only it’s kind of an interesting angle. Lane Bryant, who among other types of clothes sells plus size garments, decided to do a t.v. ad campaign for their plus size lingerie line. The key first ad (below) is pretty much shot for shot like a Victoria Secret’s ad without the wings, but with serious curves. (It actually kind of reminds me of the Charlize Theron perfume t.v. ad where she strips.) Lane Bryant claims that when they wanted to run the ad on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars and Fox’s American Idol, that the networks gave them lots of flak, wanted lots of changes, and would only run a version of the ad in the last ten minutes of the shows, near ten o’clock, even though Idol showed a Victoria Secret’s ad a half hour before. So Lane Bryant is calling foul and running an Internet campaign about how the networks are big meanies who can’t deal with sexy larger women.

Now, the part that interests me is not this battle, where it is rather unclear how much actual fighting did occur over the ad and its over-sexiness. Bryant may be taking advantage to a degree for publicity’s sake, or the networks were perhaps not so much appalled at the ad’s standard of beauty as uncertain that those random and often hypocritical network censors wouldn’t hit them with a fine for having a more buxom model in underwear in a prime time commercial in the post-Nipplegate age.

What’s more interesting is that my original blog entry on this subject was about a photo ad featuring actress Audrey Tautou selling Chanel perfume in which the issue was not that her image had been photoshopped and airbrushed, but that it had been done in such a way that part of her looked inhuman, like a stick alien, and decidedly unappealing. My question was, does this really work with the ad campaigns these companies are trying to do — why are they so intent on making models look strange, inhuman, out of proportion and extreme in their skeletalness, when it does not seem to fit with trying to sell flowery dresses or romantic perfume, nor even creates fantastic art images that would draw anything more than a “ew, gross” response from both men or women on average. (Men tend to prefer the Victoria’s Secret curves at the least.) It seemed like a sabatoging approach to advertising that was becoming more and more bizarre, not to mention putting fashion increasingly on the defensive about their models.

But in counter to that now, we have Lane Bryant not only selling a plus size rack of lingerie, but aggressively doing so with t.v. ads and industry complaints, going after Victoria Secret’s share of attention even if Victoria’s Secret doesn’t sell plus size garments. Bryant is clearly taking a page from Dove’s self esteem playbook for cosmetics and toiletries, a campaign that Dove has sometimes been hypocritical about, but also found useful to sell products by complaining about fashion and advertisers and offering alternate body images. Bryant may well have photoshopped and airbrushed their model for their ad, but the woman has not been turned into a parody of humaness. Will fashion advertising shift to chase after the gains Bryant and Dove are and will be making? Or will there be a continued counter-reaction of making women even more like stick aliens? What demographic research are these people actually getting from their marketing consultants? Are we going to see continued pressure on women that they have to choose between the va-voom frame of Christina Hendricks and the near death experience of Nicole Ritchie, or will it even out? Does the lure of photoshopping toys mean we’ll continue to see even buxom models in impossible stances and proportions that don’t match reality? Will it spill over on to male models, besides giving them distorted abs?

Or — and this is interesting — as we move into an environmental green craze that speaks more to Earth Mothers than concentration camps, will heroin chic disappear except for a few edgy products? WalMart has a t.v. ad running about its green products in which the handsome guy is hanging laundry on a clothesline while his admittedly svelte but Earth Mothery wife appears looking really, really pregnant. Sure, WalMart, not exactly high fashion, but decidedly influential on what masses of women buy. That’s the sort of effect that will bleed upwards to socially conscious affluent buyers too. So maybe the stick aliens won’t further invade. Or maybe they will and we’ll have to have an even more extensive talk with our daughters about reality and special effects.


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Fashionable Books

Seems fashion and lifestyle empirist Marc Jacobs is opening up a sixth store on Bleecker St.  in Manhattan and this one’s going to be a bookstore. So books are apparently the new hot accessory (along with colorful e-readers presumably.) We’re in, baby! We’re in! (No, seriously, this is a good thing.) The bookstore is going to be called Books Marc, natch. But no website or further information has been released.

The former tenant of the space was the long-standing Biography Bookstore, which closed last year, renamed itself bookbook and moved to another locale on Bleecker St. They don’t have a website either, it looks like.

If this keeps up, then I may not be able to make the argument that no one cares what George Clooney and Sarah Jessica Parker are reading in fiction for much longer.  Which would actually be a highly enjoyable development.

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Aliens in Pretty Dresses, Part 3

I would have been perfectly happy not to do another blog entry under the heading above, but then a friend sent me a preview spread of J. Crew’s Spring 2010 catalog that is causing some distress in the blogosphere:


Of course, the J. Crew crew are not particularly unusual now. They are models who are either perhaps 14 with make-up or who have used starvation, arresting hormones and other tools to make themselves continue to have the body shape of a 14-year-old girl, giving them that distinct stick alien look. All I can hope is that these women have indeed been airbrushed, that some art director or photographer decided that it would help if their legs looked like that, rather than that their legs actually look like that, in which case I certainly hope that they had I.V. drips at the photo shoots on stand-by.

Perhaps what we are actually witnessing is a type of model war in the fashion world. Underwear and swimsuit modeling continues to be a very big deal, seeing how it has a soft porn appeal for guys, and those models, while still quite skinny and tall, have to have more curves in the hips and breasts. So we have two groups — the ones who do Victoria’s Secret ads and the ones who do the clothes as concentration camp refugees. In the past eras of supermodels, the supermodels were the swimsuit ones, and even a model like Iman, with her bone-thin, lanky Somalian heritage, had actual thighs. And these supermodels also did the fashion and the womens’ magazine covers. But now, seriously, it’s gone beyond even Kate Moss’ heroine chic, and certainly beyond Twiggy’s leggy willowyness. We are down to the aliens and bikini bottoms.

So in the past, we had this:

And this:

And this:

And now, we have this:

And this:

But we also still have some of this:

Which is a tad better on the human side, if not exactly on a women are not just sex objects side. It’s at least visually appealing — hey, I’ll admit that. So why has it been put largely off to the side, for lingerie and Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit fest? Maybe it really is a matter of aliens.


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Aliens in Pretty Dresses, Part 2

Actress Gabourey Sidibe wowed people during the awards season, including at the Oscars, but in typical fashion, the media has decided to treat her as another kind of alien in a pretty dress. First came shockjock Howard Stern blasting that Sidibe would never get another acting role after Precious because of her size. That Sidibe has already done another movie and has a major role in a television series was of course easily discoverable to anyone on the Internet, but Stern has made his living for decades making controversial, misogynic comments for press coverage, currently to prop up his ailing sattelite radio network. Whether he’s right or not has always been irrelevant.

Then came some rinky-dink diet company hacking acacia pills offering to make Sidibe their spokesperson and help her lose that horrid weight, which the media relayed with gleeful delight. A couple weeks later, we have rumors all over the media of insiders at Vogue Magazine saying that Sidibe will never set foot into the domain of Anna Wintour, the lady who has done more to have stick aliens in pretty dresses than perhaps anyone. Apparently they were under the impression that Sidibe had any interest in appearing in Vogue at all.

Hollywood needs and has always needed heavier actors for a variety of roles, or just because that actor is damn good in the part, but the collective culture now seems to freak out whenever someone who isn’t a size 6 takes a lead role and is actually rewarded for it. Heavier male actors have it slightly better, especially if they are comic ones like the late John Candy and Kevin James, but plus size women tend to be regarded as some kind of strange fluke when they’re the ones in the spotlight. Roseanne changing the landscape of television, Camryn Manheim winning an Emmy, Jennifer Hudson an Oscar, Queen Latifah building a multi-media empire and hawking cosmetics with her skinny colleagues — these things are often greeted in the media as if they were visitations from Mars that must be puzzled over and analyzed for the hidden conspiracy. That Sidibe works on her health and weight, but regards herself as beautiful, ambitious, and strong upends the world of Botox and bulimia that is somehow supposed to be women’s chief aspiration.

As was evident in the ads in magazines, the problem has only gotten worse with young actresses finding it lucrative publicity to hook up with the fashion world, get paid to do events, market their own rags, and destroy the muscles in their arms. The culture is turning these women into aliens, while claiming women like Sidibe are the unusual outsiders. Explain that the average size for women is size 14 and the media will dutifully report it while wondering if Sidibe shouldn’t go on a liquid diet and get her stomach stapled so that she can look like poor Heidi Montag.

Long may actresses like Gabourey Sidibe continue to confound them with their alien visitations. Perhaps one day she will be joined by her slimmer colleagues who finally stand up to movie studios, fashion designers, advertisers,  and the media to say that no, they aren’t going to starve themselves anymore so that they can look like they’re dying — and ten years later, if they make it, announce that yes, they did actually have the eating disorders they always denied, like the stars on Ally McBeal. Sidibe may horrify the Howard Sterns of the world, who make their money off of pretending to be horrified, but to millions of us on the planet, she is not the one who doesn’t belong.

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