More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
The Vanishing Point
By GUY TREBAY, New York Times
February 7, 2008

Credit Hedi Slimane or blame him. The type of men Mr. Slimane promoted when he first came aboard at Dior Homme some years back (he has since left) were thin to the point of resembling stick figures; the clothes he designed were correspondingly lean. The effects of his designs on the men’s wear industry were radical and surprisingly persuasive. Within a couple of seasons, the sleekness of Dior Homme suits made everyone else’s designs look boxy and pass?, and so designers everywhere started reducing their silhouettes.

Then a funny thing happened. The models were also downsized. Where the masculine ideal of as recently as 2000 was a buff 6-footer with six-pack abs, the man of the moment is an urchin, a wraith or an underfed runt.

Nowhere was this more clear than at the recent men’s wear shows in Milan and Paris, where even those inured to the new look were flabbergasted at the sheer quantity of guys who looked chicken-chested, hollow-cheeked and undernourished. Not altogether surprisingly, the trend has followed the fashion pack back to New York

Wasn’t it just a short time ago that the industry was up in arms about skinny models? Little over a year ago, in Spain, designers were commanded to choose models based on a healthy body mass index; physicians were installed at Italian casting calls; Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, called a conference to ventilate the issue of unhealthy body imagery and eating disorders among models.

The models in question were women, and it’s safe to say that they remain as waiflike as ever. But something occurred while no one was looking. Somebody shrunk the men.

“Skinny, skinny, skinny,” said Dave Fothergill, a director of the agency of the moment, Red Model Management. “Everybody’s shrinking themselves.”

This was abundantly clear in the castings of models for New York shows by Duckie Brown, Thom Browne, Patrik Ervell, Robert Geller and Marc by Marc Jacobs, where models like Stas Svetlichnyy of Russia typified the new norm. Mr. Svetlichnyy’s top weight, he said last week, is about 145 pounds. He is 6 feet tall with a 28-inch waist.

“Designers like the skinny guy,” he said backstage last Friday at the Duckie Brown show. “It looks good in the clothes and that’s the main thing. That’s just the way it is now.”

Even in Milan last month at shows like Dolce & Gabbana and Dsquared, where the castings traditionally ran to beefcake types, the models were leaner and less muscled, more light-bodied. Just as tellingly, Dolce & Gabbana’s look-book for spring 2008 (a catalog of the complete collection) featured not the male models the label has traditionally favored — industry stars like Chad White and Tyson Ballou, who have movie star looks and porn star physiques — but men who look as if they have never seen the inside of a gym.

“The look is different from when I started in the business eight years ago,” Mr. Ballou said last week during a photo shoot at the Milk Studios in lower Manhattan. In many of the model castings, which tend to be dominated by a handful of people, the body style that now dominates is the one Charles Atlas made a career out of trying to improve.

“The first thing I did when I moved to New York was immediately start going to the gym,” the designer John Bartlett said. That was in the long-ago 1980s. But the idea of bulking up now seems retro when musicians and taste arbiters like Devendra Banhart boast of having starved themselves in order to look good in clothes.

“The eye has changed,” Mr. Bartlett said. “Clothes now are tighter and tighter. Guys are younger and younger. Everyone is influenced by what Europe shows.”

What Europe (which is to say influential designers like Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons at Jil Sander) shows are men as tall as Tom Brady but who wear a size 38 suit.

“There are designers that lead the way,” said James Scully, a seasoned casting agent best known for the numerous modeling discoveries he made when he worked at Gucci under Tom Ford. “Everyone looks to Miuccia Prada for the standard the way they used to look at Hedi Slimane. Once the Hedi Slimanization got started, all anyone wanted to cast was the scrawny kid who looked like he got sand kicked in his face. The big, great looking models just stopped going to Europe. They knew they’d never get cast.”

For starters, they knew that they would never fit into designers’ samples. “When I started out in the magazine business in 1994, the sample size was an Italian 50,” said Long Nguyen of Flaunt magazine, referring to a size equivalent to a snug 40-regular.

“That was an appropriate size for a normal 6-foot male,” Mr. Nguyen said. Yet just six years later — coincidentally at about the time Mr. Slimane left his job as the men’s wear designer at YSL for Dior Homme — the typical sample size had dwindled to 48. Now it is 46.

“At that point you might as well save money and just go over to the boy’s department,” Mr. Nguyen said from his seat in the front row of the Benjamin Cho show, which was jammed as usual with a selection of reedy boys in Buffalo plaid jackets and stovepipe jeans, the same types that fill Brooklyn clubs like Sugarland. “I’m not really sure if designers are making clothes smaller or if people are smaller now,” Mr Nguyen said.

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans are taller and much heavier today than 40 years ago. The report, released in 2002, showed that the average height of adult American men has increased to 5-9 ? in 2002 from just over 5-8 in 1960. The average weight of the same adult man had risen dramatically, to 191 pounds from 166.3.

Nowadays a model that weighed in at 191 pounds, no matter how handsome, would be turned away from most agencies or else sent to a fat farm.

Far from inspiring a spate of industry breast-beating, as occurred after the international news media got hold of the deaths of two young female models who died from eating disorders, the trend favoring very skinny male models has been accepted as a matter or course.

“I personally think that it’s the consumer that’s doing this, and fashion is just responding,” said Kelly Cutrone, the founder of People’s Revolution, a fashion branding and production company. “No one wants a beautiful women or a beautiful man anymore.”

In terms of image, the current preference is for beauty that is not fully evolved. “People are afraid to look over 21 or make any statement of what it means to be adult,” Ms. Cutrone said.

George Brown, a booking agent at Red Model Management, said: “When I get that random phone call from a boy who says, ‘I’m 6-foot-1 and I’m calling from Kansas,’ I immediately ask, ‘What do you weigh?’ If they say 188 or 190, I know we can’t use him. Our guys are 155 pounds at that height.”

Their waists, like that of Mr. Svetlichnyy, measure 28 or 30 inches. They have, ideally, long necks, pencil thighs, narrow shoulders and chests no more than 35.5 inches in circumference, Mr. Brown said. “It’s client driven,” he added. “That’s just the size that blue-chip designers and high-end editorials want.”

For Patrik Ervell’s show on Saturday, the casting brief called for new faces and men whose bodies were suited to a scarecrow silhouette. “We had to measure their thighs,” Mr. Brown said.

For models like Demi?n Tkach, a 26-year-old Argentine who was recently discovered by the photographer Bruce Weber, the tightening tape measure may cut off a career.

Mr. Tkach said that when he came here from Mexico, where he had been working: “My agency asked me to lose some muscle. I lost a little bit to help them, because I understand the designers are not looking for a male image anymore. They’re looking for some kind of androgyne.”
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