Paris fashion show takes on ultra-thin French ideal

France's waif obsession means its fashion sector snubs many women with bigger body types, but there is no need for a ban on ultra-thin models, said the patron of a plus-size Paris catwalk show that took place over the weekend.

Paris fashion show takes on ultra-thin French ideal
A plus-sized model at the Pulp Fashion Week in Paris. Photo: AFP
"It's a cultural blockage," explained Clementine Desseaux, a 26-year-old French model who lives in New York.
The size-44 brunette gets year-round catalogue and campaign modelling work in the US, where she emigrated four years ago, compared to rare jobs in France as American department stores recognise that most women aren't slim, she says.
"In the United States, it's a market apart. You can make a career as a plus-size model. In France, it's not a career, it's a hobby; there are no clients" Desseaux said.    
But, she added, "it's not for lack of demand: there are a lot of round women here. Parisian women are round, too. You mustn't think they are all small and thin!"    
The data back her up. According to the French Institute for Textile and Clothing, size 40 is the most-sold size in France, and 40 percent of
Frenchwomen wear size 44 or over.

(A plus-sized model at the Pulp Fashion Week in Paris. Photo: AFP)
Third Pulp Fashion Week 
In an effort to rebalance the scales, Desseaux is the star model at the third Pulp Fashion Week, an event held over Saturday and Sunday in Paris that featured larger women on the catwalk.
Twenty-four models walked the podium in some 20 labels to show that fashion is not only for the slimmest of customers.
Such initiatives are also held in the US, Britain and Germany, with greater success.
The organiser of the Paris event, Blanche Kazi, said the refusal by major plus-size fashion labels was the main stumbling block.
"They are the ones who could really shake things up with big sponsor budgets and financial partnerships," she said.
She and the models, though, are determined to instil a sense of pride in plus-size women in France, and to push French clothing stores to cater to larger sizes.

(Desseaux at the Pulp Fashion Week in Paris. Photo: AFP)   
"Here, the image of big-size women is horrible. There's a lot of work to be done," said Desseaux, who is pictured above. "I want to make things change. One day I'd like to return to Paris, but I'm not ready yet."
In France, the model said, "I don't fit into anything. And yet, I'm not huge. In the United States, I fit into size M or L. There are a lot more sizes — nothing stops at size 42 in the US."
Against ban on thin models 
For all her morphological militancy, Desseaux is against France's mooted legislation to ban ultra-thin models who are under a certain body mass index (BMI).
The measure was voted last week by lawmakers in the French parliament's lower house, and could well become law if the upper house backs it.
Desseaux, like other professional models, believes that the natural thinness of many top catwalk models is being wrongly mixed up with the medical condition of anorexia.
"For me, it's just as dumb to say you're too thin as it is too say you're too fat — it's the same thing," she said.

(A plus-sized model at the Pulp Fashion Week in Paris. Photo: AFP)   
"The problem is not a model's BMI," she said, adding that a more concrete issue was the insistence of certain fashion labels to hire only underfed models.
Desseaux said a friend who used to work at one of France's most recognisable top fashion houses told her about a heavy door it had at its
"If a model arrived and was able to open the door by herself, they didn't hire her — that meant that she was too strong."
That belittled strength, however, is exactly what Desseaux and other XL models are now using to open the door for the French fashion world to accept larger frames — and it's a door they intend to open wide.

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Paris exhibition celebrates 100 years of French Vogue

A new exhibition in Paris will tell the story of 100 years of French Vogue - from the post-war 'New Look' of Christian Dior through the sexual liberation of the 1960s to the dangling-cigarette waifs of the 2000s.

French Vogue celebrates 100 years
French Vogue celebrates 100 years. Photo: Thomas Olva/AFP

But as well as celebrating the magazine’s storied history, the exhibit comes at a time of turbulence for the publication.

Just last month, it was confirmed that its editor of 10 years, Emmanuelle Alt, was out and wouldn’t be replaced.

She was not alone.

Looking to cut costs, owner Conde Nast International has axed editors across Europe over the past year, and put international Vogue editions under the direct control of global editorial director, Anna Wintour, in New York.

New York-based Anna Wintour now has overall control of French Vogue. Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Like much of the media industry, Vogue is struggling with tumbling sales and ad revenue in the digital era.

But the latest twist is also part of the endless push and pull between New York and Paris going back to its early days.

“The whole history of French Vogue is one of back-and-forth with Conde Nast in New York – growing more independent for a while, then being reined back in,” said Sylvie Lecallier, curator of the new exhibition, “Vogue Paris 1920-2020″, which opened this weekend after a year’s delay due to the pandemic.

The Paris edition was often the loftier, more bohemian sibling to its more hard-nosed New York version.

But it was also the hotbed in which much of 20th century style and womenhood came to be defined.

“Paris was the place to hunt out talent and content and bring it to New York,” said Lecallier.

The exhibition charts the evolution from art deco drawings of the 1920s through the erotic image-making of photographers like Helmut Newton in the 1960s and 1970s.

Its last peak was under editor Carine Roitfeld in the 2000s, who brought back a provocative Gallic identity by ridding the newsroom of foreign staff and becoming a fashion icon in her own right.

Her successor, Alt, was a quieter presence, though she still oversaw key moments including its first transgender cover star, Brazilian Valentina Sampaio, in 2017.

But internet culture has created “a perfect storm” for Vogue, says media expert Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis.

“The first 80 years of Vogue’s life, it had the market to itself, it was the bible for fashion,” McCabe told AFP.

“But online today, there are so many other ways to get your information. Influencers, Instagram, YouTube — everyone’s a threat.”

In a world where new fashion trends can blow up around the world in seconds, it has become much harder for a monthly magazine to set the pace.

“It’s not that they can’t survive for another 100 years — but they will be differently sized,” McCabe said.

Vogue has tried to branch out into different areas, including events.

“I used to work for a magazine, and today I work for a brand,” Alt said on the eve of French Vogue’s 1,000th issue in 2019.

But the big money was always in print, and Vogue Paris sales are dropping steadily from 98,345 in 2017 to 81,962 to 2020, according to data site ACPM.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the new top job in Paris, redefined as “head of editorial content”, went to Eugenie Trochu, who was key to building the magazine’s online presence.

She declared herself “thrilled to be part of Vogue’s international transformation”.

For the curator of the exhibition, it is ironic timing.

“We had no idea it would end like this when we started work on the exhibition,” said Lecallier.

“Who knows where it will go from here.”

The exhibition Vogue Paris 1920-2020 is at the Palais Galliera in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. The gallery is open 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday and is closed on Mondays. Tickets for the exhibition are €14 (€12 for concessions and under 18s go free) and must be reserved online in advance.