Making case for svelte models

February 06, 2008|By KEVIN COWHERD

A recent article in Newsweek said the new trend in the fashion industry is using real people to sell clothes, instead of the usual thin, gorgeous models who look like they'd kill you for a slice of pizza.

In a moment, we'll get into why this will never work.

But if this seems like a trend you've heard before, that's only because you have, lots of times.

It seems like every few years, people say they're tired of skinny, pouty women and incredibly buff, handsome guys in fashion ads - and they want to see models who look like real people.

But the reason it'll never work - and never worked in the past - is simple: Real people are ugly.

Well, at least 50 percent of them are, which is narrowing down the potential model pool considerably.

And even if the rest of the real people aren't out-and-out ugly, let's face it, most of them are plain-looking with all sorts of imperfections that would kill their modeling potential.

Maybe they have cellulite, or they're doughy-looking, or they have a nose that juts off to one side as if they caught an elbow at some point.

When was the last time you saw someone with a nose that juts off to one side and thought: Well, she's not much to look at. But that's a terrific-looking dress she's wearing.

The truth is, we really don't want to see anyone with imperfections modeling clothes.

We want to see dazzling, beautiful people modeling them. Because that way we can continue to delude ourselves.

If you're a dope like me, for instance, you see a chiseled, handsome guy in a fashion ad and think: Boy, if I could only find that shirt he's wearing, I could look just like that guy.

Yes, it's totally ridiculous thinking.

In fact, it borders on the psychotic.

But lots of people think that way.

That's why I say if you start filling the fashion magazines with real-looking people, the industry will grind to a halt. Because you'll be killing people's dreams.

Calvin Klein actually used real-looking people in his fashion ads back in the late '90s, you may remember.

In fact, they were a certain subset of real-looking people called fat people.

But that lasted about five minutes.

In the first place, no one wanted to see fat people modeling clothes.

But the other thing was that as soon as the ads rolled out, people accused Calvin Klein of exploiting fat people, and making fun of them.

So that was the end of that ad campaign.

Here Calvin Klein was giving people what they said they wanted: real-looking people. People with weight problems, which is about as real as you can get when at least half the people in this country are obese or overweight.

These were people who looked like they knew their way around a McDonald's or Burger King.

People who went to restaurants, and as the waiter was saying "Please help yourself to our buffet ..." were already halfway to the pork loin and mashed potatoes.

And the response from the clothes-buying public was: Um, Cal, that might be a little too much realism, OK? Let's lighten up on the fat models.

In fact, the only real person I can think of who's been a successful "model" of sorts is Bill Belichick, the rumpled-looking coach of the New England Patriots.

Let's face it, Belichick has done more for the gray hooded sweatshirt than any man in history, which isn't saying much since it's one of the most drab articles of clothing ever made.

Belichick, as you know, is no dazzler to look at anyway.

He's stubby, pear-shaped, graying and wears this perpetually pinched expression that suggests a continuing problem with stomach gas.

Now you put all that in an old gray hoodie with cut-off sleeves and Gatorade stains.

And when you do, Belichick looks like a homeless guy who somehow wandered onto the sidelines of an NFL game and they felt sorry for him, so they gave him a set of headphones.

But since he started wearing that ugly gray hoodie during games, sales of Pats gray hoodies have gone up all over New England.

In other words, there are people out there who want to look like Bill Belichick.

Amazing. Bill Belichick: fashion trendsetter.

It can't get more real than that.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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