Sunday, September 17, 2006

"Fashion model" is the US term and in the UK that person is often called a "mannequin."Which is confusing and interesting from a US point of view, since mannequin here means the clothes dummy in a store window that shows off the clothes.

The meaning is so near and yet so far. Models are supposed to have a uniform look, a uniform expression, which is actually easier for an inanimate object to achieve.

High end models in expense clothes are supposed to look a very particular way that isn't friendly. I hadn't thought of exactly what that odd expression is until it was explained by Ruth Gershon as she wrote of growing up in a family where the father owned a London factory that made women's outerwear.

Ruth Gershon knows the ins and outs of clothes. She knows what that expensive clothes expression is about--aristocracy.

She writes of "the haughty disdain affected by mannequins at the very top of the trade: women who had to be, literally, models for the aristocracy, to impersonate them on catwalks, in

showrooms and in glossy magazine images, without betraying the reality of changing in cramped back rooms in Great Titchfield Street, and submitting to the touch and scrutiny of designers, manufacturers, customers. With stern, abstracted faces, chins and noses in the air, they pretended to own themselves and the clothes they stood in."

The clothes Ruth Gershon lived in were always from her father's factory or those of his friends. As she reached adolescence, her father said she was "model size" which wasn't true. She wore high quality clothes that didn't fit. Often, even if they had fit, the color or fabric wouldn't be right for her.

As an adult, Gershon is great at making clothes work, which she likes, making the unlikely combination be a great outfit. She doesn't like that she is always internally critiquing the clothes of every one she sees, or at least every woman she sees. "Nice skirt, shame about the shoes."

She writes of the way it was when she grew up, London, 1950s and 1960s: "Everyone got married. It happened by magic, but it happened to everyone."

And then, after it has magically happened to everyone, it's supposed to look like it's great.

Gershon's favorite thing to play with was a high quality paper doll set with many outfits for many occasions.