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Essay: Working Girls

by Alexander Fury on 11 August 2010

Writer Alexander Fury celebrates the fashion industry's most recognisable editors.

Writer Alexander Fury celebrates the fashion industry's most recognisable editors.

A slender figure in a heavily-embroidered dress strides towards us through a barrage of flashbulbs. Sequins glinting, legs crossing, twisting on the highest heels, she turns and tosses a mane of hair as she reaches the end of the catwalk. And then takes her seat. This is not a model, and this is not a fashion show. Or perhaps it is, of sorts - the new catwalk to the catwalk, the procession of editors to their places in the front row of the international shows which, for many, supersedes the clothing on the catwalk itself.

Perhaps it's indicative of our general need to probe behind the perfect images of fashion - witness the lust for behind-the-scenes documentaries and revealing romans à clef - but our focus has shifted from the perfected, idealised bodies on the catwalk to the bodies beside it. Today, the most intriguing form of fashion is played out across the bodies of these editors - at Large, in Chief, or just plain Fashion.

There's a refreshing reality to them. The iconic Anna Wintour barely graces five foot seven, Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou of 10 and Harper's Bazaar is gloriously curvaceous in the Sophia Loren mould, and French Vogue's Carine Roitfeld has laughingly declared she resembles Iggy Pop in (very chic) drag. As opposed to the polished, unreal bodies of pubescent models, these women are just that - women, human and real, albeit clad in the often outlandish garb of high fashion.

When Blow was inexcusably late for a meeting with British Vogue, she decided to 'flummox them with a look'. She wore a wedding dress to the office, complete with train.

The grande dame of them all was the late, great Isabella Blow, who stated that she wore her trademark hats to detract attention from her face, and undeniably understood the power of her own attire. Case in point: when Blow was inexcusably late for a meeting with British Vogue, she decided to 'flummox them with a look'. She wore a wedding dress to the office, complete with train. No-one said a word.

Blow and her latter-day incarnations are walking billboards not only for the fashion industry, but for their own inestimable skill as image-makers. Anna Dello Russo of Vogue Japan is the undisputed queen, a veritable titan in ten-inch heels perpetually surrounded by an aureole of flashbulbs outside each and every major show in the world. Dello Russo approaches her fashion week appearances like a magazine shoot, crating up ninety outfits for each fashion capital from an expansive wardrobe that has overflowed into a neighbouring apartment.

In the multi-billion dollar circus that is the fashion month, flitting across two continents and several thousand miles, how is it that so much attention has turned onto these tastemakers rather than the product on show - which, when push comes to shove, is the reason behind the entire exercise? Is it part and parcel of our fixation on stripping glamour to its barest bones, leaving every image un-retouched and every wrinkle exposed in a culture obsessed with debunking any myth? No. Look at those images captured by Scott Schuman of The Sartorialist, Tommy Ton of Jak & Jil, or any one of their very many imitators. There's a potent magnificence to them. They put me in mind of those Peter Beard images of lion prides in the African veldt: majestic, powerful creatures prowling their territory and asserting their dominance. It's survival of the fittest - and these women are the fittest, the finest the fashion industry has to offer.

But, in fact, it's more than that. Turning the attention away from the bodies of models to the bodies of these women redressed an imbalance of power. There is no Svengali behind their image, no grand manipulator kneading their bodies into submission through fashion. These women are not victims to their fashion. They make their choices, they determine their image. And, at the end of the day, in an industry preoccupied by the exterior, the most valued and valuable parts of these women's bodies are their brains.

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