I watched my first ever episode of America's Top Model earlier this week. I found it MESMERIZING.
So as IC, WC, KC and I sat at our first fashion show ever during NY's fashion week, I found myself studying the models as they strutted down the catwalk, and wondering about their internal monologues. Were they trying to remember how to do that walk - the model walk in which you lead with your pelvis and the rest of your body follows? Telling themselves not to bounce? Reminding themselves to look fierce, to OWN the catwalk? Or the poor girl who had to wear that big fuzzy hat - was she pissed off that SHE had to wear it and not the girl with the big nose?
There was an older, very polished looking man sitting in the front row across the catwalk from us and he applauded certain items. His first row seat signaled to me that he was a fashion "somebody" (we were seated in the fifth row). I found myself staring at him intently to see which outfits won his approval. I tried to discern some sort of pattern. Did he like the sleek stuff? The edgier pieces that no woman in her right mind would wear in public? Apparently, there is a reason I am not a "fashion somebody" because I couldn't make heads or tails of it. There were a few pieces that I thought were breathtakingly lovely - and I glanced at him to see if he agreed. He never did.
I never really spent much time thinking about fashion. In Asia, I had a few tailors I liked who could work magic with a sewing machine, and a couple young designers who rather liked my vision of "communist chic" as I called it and made me some edgy pieces which I am not sure I have the courage to wear outside of Asia. But the world of high fashion has always been foreign to me.
So I spent some time this afternoon at the show considering fashion as an art form. There are certain artists who wield almost total control and independence: writers, photographers, painters... Of course, there is a post-creation "dialogue" between the finished work and the audience vis-a-vis the latter's response to the former, but the control sits squarely with artist in terms of the presentation of their work.
And then there are those artists who require human tools to interpret and give life to their work, in order for it to be "consumed" at all: composers, film-makers, script writers... and fashion designers.
(At this point I considered the chasm between the "skill set" of a model and that of a musician, for example. But I decided to change tack because America's Top Model taught me that modeling is VERY difficult. And besides, I have great respect for beauty. Even if it is a genetic accident - that particular genetic accident that results in a creature that is all legs and cheekbones and absurdly low body fat is possibly just as rare as that which results in the naturally gifted musician/actor. So proceeding on the assumption that models are equal to musicians/actors and so forth... I continued my musings.)
In those artistic pursuits that require teams of skilled people to fully realize a vision - whose voice and vision is then communicated? Is that the wrong question to ask? Is collaboration the entire point?
I took a film class once in college. I can't remember the director's name - but his philosophy was that the actors were merely props - no more and no less important than a piece of furniture, or light, or shadow.
I remember thinking at the time that his philosophy seemed well... WRONG. Because the movies I loved the best would have been very different had less capable actors been given the task of interpretation.
However, after we watched a few of his movies in class - I didn't exactly change my mind - but I could understand it a bit better. His movies told very different kinds of stories. Stories which illustrated an interior world not through emotional and evocative performances - but through spare, almost stilted, exchanges and movement. The primary "actor" in his movies was the camera, and he controlled the camera.
In the early/mid 80s when Paulina Porizkova became the new break out super model, JN and I were flipping through a fashion magazine and she made me study pictures of Paulina and told me that Paulina was so beautiful, had so forceful a personality, that she was almost a bad model, because she threatened to overwhelm the clothes, and in that way, detracted, rather than added, to that presentation.
Perhaps JN shared an aesthetic similar to that film director whose name I can't remember. And, having majored in film in college, maybe she will know who he is.
My guilty fascination with reality TV shows aside, it would be a relief to watch something where an emotion or a story isn't related through tearful confessions, but through something more restrained - the deliberate placement of light and shadow on a face, the juxtaposition of the banal with the beautiful, a simple gesture.
Or even a beautifully faceless woman walking in unwearable clothes.
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