[Originally posted on the Judgment of Paris forum on November 21st, 2004.]
This past summer, at about the same time that Ronald Regan was being laid to rest with all of the pomp and ceremony that was due a de facto
American monarch, a state funeral of comparable historical significance was taking place in France.
As widely reported in the international press, the heart of Louis XVII--who was the uncrowned French king until his life was cut short by the zealotry of the Revolution--was finally interred, two centuries after it stopped beating:
A witness to the event described the funeral as a suitably majestic affair:
Incense filled the interior of the basilica and trumpets blared as the reliquary, draped in royal purple, was carried through the grand stone archway by 12-year-old Amaury de Bourbon de Parme, a descendant of the royal family. As he gently lowered it down on a column festooned with the royal fleur-de-lys, a footnote of history blazed to life. "This funeral is a deliverance for him," declared Prince Charles-Emmanuel de Bourbon de Parme.
The universal awe that surrounded this event was a reminder that, although we live in an increasingly democratic world, many of us still cherish a lingering appreciation for the ideals and trappings of royalty--an appreciation that transcends mere nostalgia. We still have "Cinderella Stories," "Knight's Tales," and "Lion Kings." We still enthuse over the fairytale beauty of princesses and the noble bearing of princes. Aristocracy still inspires us, no matter how much the political power of actual monarchs has ebbed (for better or worse).
The Holiday 2004 season has produced a number of campaigns which celebrate the opulent aesthetic that is traditionally associated with royalty. And since no one has yet given this trend a name, let's give it one here:
And although we do so begrudgingly, we must acknowledge that the genesis of this trend is likely due to two events that were engineered by the straight-size fashion industry.
First, there was the Metropolitan Museum's Dangerous Liaisons exhibition, sponsored by Conde Nast (the publisher of Vogue magazine). This exhibit showed modern audiences that, far from being stuffy or priggish, the aristocratic world of the Eighteenth Century was a glamorous milieu filled with passion and intrigue--a world in which unbridled romance and forbidden amour blossomed under the cover of (and with the secret compliance of) a structured, hierarchical world order.
And then there was the Christian Dior Fall/Winter 2004 show, which was the only relevant couture event of the season.
While other Parisian design houses were retreating into outmoded and pointless Modernism, the Dior show embraced the Aesthetic Restoration and created a fascinating display of styles inspired by the aristocratic tradition:
Sadly, the models showcasing the gowns were every bit as ghastly and malnourished as one might expect, but anyone looking at these ornate dresses would have to acknowledge that they positively demanded to be filled out by fuller, more feminine bodies. And in some cases, the models were even enveloped in hip padding to give them the illusion of shape:
Memo to couturiers the world over: to properly exhibit the designs that are being ushered in by the Aesthetic Restoration, only plus-size models will do. Gowns such as these are absolutely tailor-made to frame curvaceous arms, sumptuous shoulders, and dangerous decolletage. Like the Classical styles presented in last year's "Goddess" exhibit at the Met, this brand of couture is optimized for plus-size beauty.* * *
Now, fast forward to the current holiday season, and we are pleased to see that not just one, but several plus-size fashion retailers have adopted "Aristocratic Chic" for their winter campaigns. And the results are truly gorgeous.
We recently posted one image from the Dress Barn Woman holiday promotion, but here is another, showing Valerie Lefkowitz in full princess mode, holding up a package which has variously been identified as a special Christmas gift, or as Pandora's Box:
(Actually, the image itself is Valerie's gift to her fans, and we were sorely tempted to feature it in a post titled--what else?--"Valerie Lefkowitz for Christmas.")
From Lane Bryant's inspired holiday presentation, here is a lovely shot of Crystal Renn in an opulent setting, showing off an exciting item of intimate apparel in a very regal colour. This could well be Lane Bryant's finest campaign to date. Ever since the company's acquisition by Charming Shoppes, it has continued to use models size 14 and up, rather than their unpopular faux-plus predecessors, and Lane Bryant's stunning financial success is undoubtedly directly attributable to this fact.
Kiyonna has launched a new formalwear collection for the holiday season, and we must compliment photographer Leslie Delano for shooting against a backdrop of gorgeous, regal drapery. Melissa Masi looks as ravishing as ever in this deep-hued dress, but in the larger version of this image, which lacks the drapery, a certain je-ne-sais-quoi is palpably missing. Opulent settings may not be necessary to make a shot work, but they certainly help, especially when showcasing sumptuous dresses.
And finally, Ashley Stewart (www.ashleystewart.com) has unveiled a "new look" for the Holiday season, with a fine campaign featuring Jordan Tesfay and Randi Graves. Here is Jordan, the Odalisque of the plus-size modelling world, reposing on a cushy sofa, and offering an unbearably seductive glimpse of her midriff:
Be sure to view the fine video that Ashley Stewart offers on its Web site to accompany this campaign. Some outfits look better in the video than they do in the still images.* * *
Although the plus-size fashion industry lost a tremendous opportunity when it failed to rally to the "New Femininity" of spring/summer 2004, we are delighted to see that it has embraced "Aristocratic Chic." The opulent beauty of plus-size models, and of full-figured women in general, harmonizes perfectly with regal garments, ornate accessories, and luxurious settings.
If certain elements within the straight-size fashion industry continue to reject modernism and find inspiration in the styles of the past--in eras when plus-size beauty was beauty, without exception--then full-figured fashion will find itself increasingly in tune with the trends that the fashion elites espouse.
And as this happens, perhaps the artificial and unnatural discord between timeless feminine beauty and women's fashion that arose in the twentieth century will finally come to an end.