WORN Cinema Society: Prêt-à-Porter

With Prêt-à-Porter, Robert Altman filmed a self-conscious, grotesque portrait of the fashion industry in an inaccurate, messy, but rather enjoyable manner.

In the first half of the movie, fashion is a playground for men. Olivier de la Fontaine (Jean-Pierre Cassel) runs the Chambre de la Mode. Designer Simone Lowenthal’s son (Rupert Everett) licenses the family brand to a Texan boot maker behind his mother back. Photographer Milo O’Brannigan (Stephen Rea) ascertains his power by blackmailing the holy trinity of fashion editors (ELLE, Vogue, Harper’s).

Women, however, quickly regain control. De la Fontaine dies and his statuesque wife Isabella (Sophia Loren) becomes the focal point of every front row. The editors put their publishing competition aside and team up against the golden boy of photography. Lowenthal shocks the industry by sending naked women down her runway.

(heads up for nudity under the cut)
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Fashioning Reality: A New Generation of Entrepreneurship

I first read about Ben Barry when Teen People named him “one of twenty teens who will change the world.” I felt proud because Barry was a Canadian high school student, just a year older than me. He was on a mission to transform the fashion industry’s narrow standard of beauty by running a modeling agency that represented models of all ages, sizes, and ethnicities.

Reading Barry’s memoir Fashioning Reality, I felt like it had been written for my teenaged self. As he outlines his successes and struggles, Barry offers advice for young would-be entrepreneurs on how they too can use business to create social change. Barry started his agency when he was 14 to represent a friend who had been told by a magazine editor that she was “too big” to model. At first he was motivated by a concern that images of unhealthy models were detrimental to the health and self-worth of his friends, but he soon realized that using “real” models was also a successful business model, since companies that used his models almost always saw increased profits as a result.

Like we do at WORN, Barry believes that consumers want and deserve to see a diversity of ages, sizes, and ethnic backgrounds represented in the media. I’m a firm believer that we should never put people down to elevate others, and so I admire that he never criticizes thin women as not being “real,” instead stressing that thin, white, and tall is overdone, and argues that there’s a desperate need for greater diversity.
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Coco’s Blog: Dear New Model…

You are flawed – just like everyone else. You’re never going to be pretty all the time. That’s life. But you’re also a total stunner. By some happy accident of genetics, no matter what you’re wearing or doing, you’re about twelve times prettier (oh, subjective Beauty!) than anyone within a hundred feet of you. You could be three inches shorter or twenty-five pounds heavier and it would still be the case. These are The Facts; accept them and forget them.

The pictures they take aren’t really about you. You are a vehicle for an idea – but it is not your idea, so you don’t get to decide how it plays out. Whoever is directing you has put all kinds of thought into what they want. Take direction, even if you think it will make you Not Pretty (did I already mention this is impossible?). Good fashion is rarely about being attractive in the conventional sense. Editorials are meant to create an aesthetic, convey a mood, and show off some clothes. Again – no matter how impersonal it seems – it’s not about you. Not yet, anyway.

Listen to your photographer and your stylist. They have a lot riding on what comes out of a photo shoot. They probably already have careers and reputations and are even more invested in what goes to print than you are. Besides, the photographer is going to take ten times as many pictures as anyone can ever use, so you have lots of room for error. The reason for all this excess is to capture something unique, enigmatic.

I know you’ve seen a thousand pictures of models with scowls and pouty lips. It may seem counterintuitive, but (and I can’t stress this enough) DON’T MAKE THIS YOUR DEFAULT FACE. It’s not very interesting and, unless you’re really good, it’s going to look amateur and campy. The best thing is to try not to have a Default Face at all. Forget what you see in the mirror, forget your Best Angle. The magic pictures are going to happen in between your “modeling”.

And finally, remember that this is not everything you are. You might be really lucky and make a career out of this, but you probably won’t. Your success or failure here does not define you. You are a living, breathing, three dimensional human who is of infinitely more value than a two dimensional image. Try not to ignore the former: sooner or later it will be your backup plan.
And just please, try to relax.
I promise it’s going to be fine.


Photography by Mario Sorrenti