Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Our Interview with Velvet D'Amour: Part I

If you don't recognize Velvet D'Amour's name, you surely remember her famous walk down the runway for Jean Paul Gaultier. Velvet is an outspoken advocate for beauty diversity in the fashion industry--a job that is keeping her very busy these days. She just photographed a series of older women for the current issue of Standard magazine. She will also be shooting for an upcoming issue of PLUS Model magazine and will model for a beauty story styled by Olivier Mulin and shot by Christian Lartillot. In early July, Velvet will host a fashion extravaganza on the rooftop of London’s Alfies Antique Market. We caught up with her in Paris, the city she calls home. We're bringing you our interview in two parts. Check back tomorrow for Part Deux.

You walked the runway for Gaultier in the midst of a heated international debate about underweight models in the fashion industry. How did that collaboration come about? What kind of statement did you want to make? How did people treat you backstage?
My runway appearance for Gaultier came about as he was casting for his 30-year retrospective. I had already done runway the previous season for John Galliano, consequently, my French model agency, Contraband, sent me to the casting.

Jean Paul Gaultier had used a plus sized model back in the 80’s (and thereafter!), thus my preliminary casting was in order to appear in his retrospective. Once I made it past the initial casting, I was sent to the second casting conducted by JPG himself. He seemed very taken by the images in my book, and we had a nice chat about philosophies of beauty as well. It was wonderful to speak with such an amazing talent that I had always revered.

As to what statement I wanted to make, my quest is to diversify notions of modern beauty, and I knew my inclusion would spark debate and get people talking if nothing else. JPG has been clear on the statement he was making--that beauty takes many forms. He had also included another model from Contraband’s Master’s division, who is a senior citizen. There were some who viewed my appearance as ‘farcical’, or token, but when would any appearance of a genuinely fat person NOT be viewed as such? People of size are utterly banned from any mainstream media (other then the headless, junk food munching, obese [people] witnessed on the evening news every night). There are few, if any, references of inclusion beyond ridicule.

If people are only exposed to imagery of fat people as jokes in movies, TV, etc., then that limits our perception to degradation. So what then is the solution? Not to take the opportunity to proudly embrace my curves in a global venue? One must take advantage of these rare opportunities when presented by people who are willing to take the risk on you. I had utter confidence in both Galliano and Gaultier to represent me in a fashion inclusive of their impeccable style, and I knew their intent to be positive. I don’t think it is so ludicrous for people of such immense creativity and broadminded natures to witness beauty in what mainstream people may have blinders to.

As to backstage, it’s funny because often people seem to perceive that behind the scenes was some sort of Showgirls atmosphere, with skinny teen models spiking my Evian, or bashing on the fatty, when in fact, everyone was quite sublime. As I am both a photographer and a model, I am accustomed to being around models and thus I don’t find it an intimidating atmosphere in the least.

Whilst models are esteemed by the general public to have it all, merely by the luck of the gene-pool, (and likewise, professed to have an attitude to accompany that), they more often than not grew up equally outcast by virtue of extreme height and thinness. Thus I find models tend to be quite sympathetic and kind/curious for the most part and this certainly held true backstage at the runway shows. Its an eclectic, buzzing atmosphere.

What do you think of the term "plus-size"?
Good question. I doubt it was easy coming up with a term to encompass clothes designated for people who are purportedly larger then the current norm, in an era when being so is hardly considered popular.

I recall as a fat child having my Mom take me to the HUSKY store, and that seemed rather humiliating at the time. I had initially pictured some Alaskan dogsled hideaway, but soon found myself amidst frighteningly outdated d├ęcor, with racks of polyester knit bellbottoms in puke green, or ‘KICK ME HARD’ red, guaranteed to ensure a wedgie or two, in a era where you were nothing if you didn’t wear straight cut Levi’s.

I am sure its origins were well intentioned though, and it’s certainly better then Negative-size, ay?

Read Part II of our interview with Velvet D'Amour.

Velvet D'Amour on MySpace

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