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Ralph Lauren: Sorry. Karl Lagerfeld: Sorry, No Fatties

October 13, 2009

Last week The Brown Tweed Society weighed in on the controversy surrounding a Ralph Lauren ad featuring either a frighteningly emaciated model, a terribly retouched photo, or both.  The ad garnered enough criticism that a spokesperson for Ralph Lauren offered this apology:

“For over 42 years, we have built a brand based on quality and integrity.  After further investigation, we have learned that we are responsible for the poor imaging and retouching that resulted in a very distorted image of a woman’s body.  We have addressed the problem and going forward will take every precaution to ensure that the calibre of our artwork represents our brand appropriately.”

This mea culpa seems a little disingenuous, and certainly doesn’t address the issues at hand.  First, an investigation revealed that the company itself was at fault, likely meaning they themselves produced the ad, or had final say over finished product if created by an outside ad firm.  In either case, is Ralph Lauren saying that no one in the organization saw the spot before it went to press and said, “whoa, is that for real?”  You can be sure low-level staffer with little incidental involvement has been or will be fired for this.

Second, the apology is for the “poor retouching,” not the retouching itself, a tacit acknowledgement of an industry-wide practice that has come under fire for promoting unrealistic and often impossible body images.  Notice also that the contrition was aimed at the “very distorted image of a woman’s body.” (Emphasis mine.)  Of course it was very distorted—just look at the difference between the model in the doctored photo and a real photo—and intentional unless the ad creator sneezed while photoshopping and failed to double-check his or her work.  In sum, Ralph Lauren is really sorry it got caught doing a purposely absurd photo retouch.  Hardly a heart-felt apology.

Designer Karl Lagerfeld, on the other hand, decided goes to bat for super-thin fashion models.  Upon hearing that German fashion magazine Brigitte will use “real women” instead of professional models (that in itself implies that models aren’t “real women”), Lagerfeld declared, “Enough of zis!  No von vonts to see ze curvy vimmins; now on ze table!”  OK, he did not actually say this.  He said, “No one wants to see curvy women…You’ve got fat mothers with their bags of chips sitting in front of the television and saying that thin models are ugly.”  It’s just that one stupid, offensive, and false generalization deserves another.  Apparently in Karl’s world, there are beautiful women (say, Body Mass Index 16 and under), and there are Cheeto-chomping fatties—this means you, Beyonce!  The fashion world, Lagerfeld explains, is about “dreams and illusions,” so quit your complaining.  Yes, but rarely do the dreams and illusions of an entire industry have such outsize effects by promoting a look that is neither healthy nor safely attainable for 99.99% of women.  Harry Potter spins tales of magic and illusion, but if thousands of young women died or were hospitalized during attempted Potter-based spell-castings, Rowling’s best-sellers would be regulated like cigarettes (fairly or not) in a Washington D.C. minute.

An interesting point in all this is that the photos have to be retouched at all.  The people whose freaking job it is to embody some designer’s notion of physical perfection, or the perfect human clothes hanger at least, still can’t reach the peak without some CPU time.  This certainly won’t be the last word on the subject, especially now that while Lauren applied the brakes, Lagerfeld raced ahead with guns blazing.

  1. October 14, 2009 9:30 am

    I’d say that I’d never buy anything by Karl Lagerfield again, but I’ve never spent a house payment on a pair of shoes, so I’m not really his target audience.

  2. October 14, 2009 4:28 pm

    In a further case of the plot, um, thickening, the model herself said in an interview that Ralph Lauren *fired her* for being too fat in April.

    She is 5’10” and weighs 120 pounds.

    In my book that’s *underweight*.

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