October 02, 2007

White models = beautiful

Once Again, White Is the New WhiteAt the Jil Sander show, for example, the models were so homogeneous that they were virtual clones: overwhelmingly tall, thin, pale and with hair ranging from platinum blond to honey blond to the occasional warm brunette. There is such a runway tradition of "white preferred" at this house--going back to when its namesake was at the helm and continuing with current designer Raf Simons--that one wonders whether anyone at Jil Sander has noticed that brown people actually exist.

But sitting along the runway in Europe, surrounded by an international audience, one realizes the power the fashion industry has in shaping our vision of beauty. A single room contains the imagemakers: the designer, magazine editors, photographers and stylists whose job it is to tell you how you'll want to look in six months. They sell fantasy, romance, sex appeal and power through their glossy images. They bombard the public with information about what is mainstream and what is subversive, about what is rarefied and what is dross.

We put beauty on a pedestal as something admirable, desirable and valuable. Beauty--unfairly or not--has its privileges. And by defining which people are beautiful and which people are simply invisible, the fashion industry helps determine how much cultural currency someone has at his or her disposal.

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