Designers mask models

// 5 March 2006

Western fashion is often presented as the polar opposite of the burqa. Where one seeks to cover women in ungainly sacks that conceal not just their curves but their personality, turning them into expressionless lumps, the other tends towards exposing the female form in barely there strips of material.

But fashion is also accused of dehumanising women: creating a cult of the thin, and perpetrating the concept that the only value of a girl is in what she looks like and what she wears.

The latest collections to hit the catwalk in Paris could be a reflection of just how close these ideas can come, as a succession of designers conceal the faces of their models, from a stylish net that partly obscures to a full bag without even eyeholes.

This Washington Post story includes lots of photos.

And at the presentation of the presciently named Undercover collection Monday evening, models stepped into the spotlight with their heads wrapped tightly, unforgivingly and, one must admit, artfully in fabric with all the translucence of a pillowcase.

Could the models in Undercover even see where they were walking? Several of them wandered just a bit off-track, bumping shoulders and even meandering into the audience seating area until redirected by a handler. Each model’s entire head was bound in fabric — black, brown or white — with only tiny pinholes for air. The fabric was knotted in back — or at what one assumed to be the back of the head — in the manner of a tight chignon. Sometimes the fabric was pierced with silver rings and charms, like those worn by a tribal warrior or some disaffected teen aspiring to lead a punk band.

We’re accustomed to slam catwalk fashion shows for portraying a singularly dull, monotone version of female beauty. But contrast those pictures of models swathed in concealing fabric with those with their faces exposed and realise that things can get much worse. Models have character: they even become mega celebrities. They can convey power and personality. But not if they are wrapped up like mummies, reduced to mobile manequins.

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