The following words echoed in my mind throughout the holiday weekend:
“The standard Minnie Mouse will not look so good in a Lanvin dress.” – Dennis Freedman, Creative Director of Barneys New York.
This, Mr. Freedman declared to the team at The Walt Disney Co. in the planning stages of Barneys’ upcoming Electric Holiday collaboration. On November 14th, the retailer will debut a short film and gift collection featuring the iconic Disney characters of our youth. The catch? Minnie’s been photo-shopped, if you will, to a height of 5’11”, her waist whittled to a miniscule circumference, so that she’ll look better, by Barneys’ standards, in designer clothes (see photo below). Daisy Duck, Goofy, and many other members of the gang were similarly stretched to order per the Barneys ideal. We can only wonder why Disney agreed.
Needless to say, the pre-release backlash against this collaboration is growing. As Rina Raphael of Today noted in her announcement, another classic childhood character has been wearing designer duds for decades, sans extreme makeover. Imagine Miss Piggy’s horreur if she was ripped apart at the seams and unstuffed by half in order to squeeze into a sample size. Additional Electric Holiday criticisms are calling out Minnie’s new look as “spindly-legged” or just plain “creepy”. (We’ll save commentary on how smarmy folks seem to think Goofy looks in Balmain for another day.)
For my part, I believe my irritation at Mr. Freedman’s comment was due largely to its coupling with another noteworthy news item from last week.
Via the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch, I learned that H&M is now using computer-generated models instead of real women in its online advertising, for a result one pundit calls “airbrushing on steroids.”
Perfected down to the pixel, the virtual cover girls’ hair color, skin tone, and outfits are swapped from picture to picture to give the illusion of diversity (see photo below). Notes author Quentin Fottrell, “These computer-generated realities may be cheaper, more appealing, and more versatile than the genuine articles. But experts say they could distort consumer expectations.”
The operative word, as I see it, is distort.
Upon reading the MarketWatch item, my husband lamented, “So now the fashion industry isn’t just moving farther away from the shapes and sizes of real women, but away from real women, period?”
He’s pretty smart, that Mr. Petty.
Indeed, is it fair to shoppers for a retailer to entice sales through images completely removed from reality? When a dress is presented on a fabricated form, designed to pass for a real person, is this not false advertising? And might not the girl who orders said dress, then puts it on in her own bedroom back home, feel that she was the one who was distorted when it didn’t look the same on her real-life body?
According to MarketWatch, French flash-sale site and American Express partner Vente-Privee uses the same virtual model technology. The company who supplies the software also reports interest from additional brands and a major U.S. department store. In other words, this could be the beginning of a new movement in digital advertising.
Hey, I’m all for technological advances. However, between some cad redrawing one of the most beloved symbols of childhood innocence because her less-than-modelesque physique didn’t suit, and a deceptive revelation regarding one of my favorite stores’ advertising strategies, I see the core issue as this:
Whether manipulating the shape of a childhood icon or a clothing model to suit an idealized image, I propose that just because we can doesn’t mean that we should.
Further, this perpetual fashion/body image conversation will only persist if the fashion world as whole continues taking two steps back following every move forward in the matter. And if you think about it, the moves forward in recent months (preceding these two not-so-forward moves) have been pretty great.
We reported a few weeks ago on Seventeen’s new Body Peace Treaty, in which the magazine has recommitted to featuring healthy girls of all body types and skin tones, with minimal retouching. It’s also worth noting that Vogue’s March 2012 cover featuring Adele was a smash hit. Why? She’s simply real, and there’s something damn fabulous about that. Wish these stories were the lead today.
In closing, I might ask Mr. Freedman, What’s wrong with being a “standard Minnie Mouse” anyway? She’s cute and happy and she looks great in polka dots (incidentally, a major fall trend). She also has a great guy and a ton of fun friends.
All joking aside, though, we standard women are the ones buying the clothes in the first place. According to the CDC, we now reach an average height of about 5’4” tall. How about a few computer-generated models in this range, H&M? And Barneys, too bad you can’t draw me any happier about your buzz kill of an Electric Holiday.
(Photo credits, from top: 1. Wikipedia.com and WWD.com, 2. MarketWatch.com)