3rd Global Conference
Thursday 22nd September – Sunday 25th September 2011
Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom
What I Learned from Marilyn’s Measurements
School of Visual Arts, New York City, USA
In June 2011, Marilyn Monroe’s famous white halter dress from The Seven Year Itch sold at auction for $5.66 million. It was one of three Monroe costumes in a huge sale of Hollywood costumes collected by Debbie Reynolds. The auction’s large number of garments offered an unusual opportunity to collect data on the measurements of the actresses of the past and, in so doing, to offer perspective on the folk wisdom that actresses in general and Monroe in particular were not as thin as their contemporary counterparts and in fact represented a body type more typical of “normal” American women. At my request, the auction house’s Hollywood consultant, who dressed and undressed the mannequins, took waist measurements from 41 costumes representing 16 actresses over 30 years. I will discuss these results and the reactions I received when I wrote about Monroe’s measurements for Bloomberg View, speculating on why so many people feel invested in the idea that Monroe was not thin.
Picturing Twiggy in 1967: The New Icon
Sid Richardson Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, USA
This paper seeks to understand what a “new icon” is and how fashion photographs of Twiggy transform her into an icon. I begin to define what a new icon is by deconstructing how the social background of 1960s Britain, the evolution of traditional, religious icons, and the presence of mass-media popular culture (particularly fashion photography) helped in facilitating the emergence of a new icon, and Twiggy in particular.
To start with, for icons to be able to transition into the 20th century they had to become relevant to the current times and represent the lives and world around the people who lived in it. Looking for images that represented what was important to them, people turned to popular mass media culture, especially the people in the pages of magazines such as Vogue. A “new society” was created in Britain with the breakdown of traditional cultural authority and the emergence of a rich variety of identity choices in the late 1950s and early 1960s, feeding directly into the rise and importance of fashion photography. The extent to which someone can be recognizable by a set of gestures, props, and external attributes aids in determining someone’s status as an icon. The ways in which Twiggy can be repeatedly identified in photographs, for example, by her short haircut, heavily made-up eyes, very slim figure, and fashionable dress fit into this idea. These points are compared and contrasted with older, traditional icons and a shift from the actual object to the person visually represented.
Using photographs of Twiggy by photographers Ronald Traeger, David Bailey, Richard Avedon, and others I examine these ideas along with picture theory discussed and developed by authors such as W.J.T Mitchell and John McHale. They examine the powerful responses toward the images and pictures we see and how these concrete, representational objects transform their subjects into icons.
Is there room on the runway for plus-sized models? When they are on the catwalk, are these women examples of the carnivalesque? Ideas of carnival and spectacle are present within western society, and overwhelmingly within the fashion industry. According to Guy Debord’s (1967) “Society of the Spectacle”, modern society has dismissed authenticity for commodified forms of authenticity, whereby the subject (and in this case, fashion models) are objectified and used to reify private and public social relationships. Thus, Debord’s views of carnival and spectacle reinforce and enact existing social hierarchies, sustaining a body narrative that privileges thinness. Mikhail Bakhtin (1968), extends Debord’s critique by including a discussion of grotesque realism as “not only parody in its narrower sense but all the other forms of grotesque realism degrade, bring down to earth, [and] turn their subject into flesh.” Our central thesis for this paper enables us to critique the fashion industry as an organization where the actor/spectator relationship is complicated through competing notions of beauty and ugliness. Further, bodies act as sites and spaces of spectacle and grotesque realism where the high fashion industry reinforces the dichotomous messages mapped onto the everyday female body about her identity. Specifically we will be tracing the carnivalesque through a critical analysis of “plus-sizedness,” and fat fashion as manifested in the high fashion industry, expressly in the work of designers Mark Fast (London Fashion Week, 2009) and Jean-Paul Gaultier (Paris Fashion Week, 2010) who recently included plus-sized models in their shows.