Why do fashion designers have such a problem with normal?

·3-min read
Jill Kortleve in the Chanel Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2022-2023 collection - JOHANNA GERON
Jill Kortleve in the Chanel Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2022-2023 collection - JOHANNA GERON

Jill Kortleve is fashion’s new darling. She was “the bride” in Chanel’s couture show on Monday, and as quaint/old fashioned as that sounds, that’s still a crowning milestone in a model’s career.

Then again, for all their talk about being agents of change, despite their espousal of gender fluidity (one brand recently responded to a stylist’s emailed query about whether the bags they’d sent for a shoot were for men and women by declaring that “gender is so 2019”) there’s a range of issues where the fashion world demonstrates astonishingly quaint/old fashioned values.

Normality is one of them. Ultra thin it can do, endlessly. Size 20 plus? Not a problem, up to a point. Back in the early noughties, designers fell over themselves to work with Beth Ditto. Ditto, funny, feisty and fiercely voiced, was an  early poster girl for body positivity. But she was an outlier. And hardly “normal”. Fashion loves extremes. Dominatrixes in  cartoonishly wide shoulders and 14 cm heels are eventually superseded by barefoot waifs. Polarising volte faces are the propulsion that moves fashion’s wheel. Average doesn’t.

Even brands whose bread and butter is selling normal-ish clothes to normal-ish women like to give an avant-garde top a spin on the catwalk. An extreme body can help promulgate the idea they’re doing something daring.

What’s more daring if you’re in the business of normal-ish clothes, is to use Kortleve. Of Dutch, Indonesian, Indian and Surinamese extraction, she’s an exceptional beauty by any standards. But at 26, five feet seven and size UK 12, her body is normal. That makes Kortleve’s ascendancy of note. Having first been spotted by Nike, she appeared on Alexander McQueen’s catwalk in 2019, then Michael Kors and Max Mara. She has modelled for Zara, Fenty beauty and H&M. Mass brands are faster to embrace body diversity because they need to sell clothes to millions of women. Luxury brands don’t.

Kortleve made an appearance as 'the bride' at the Chanel couture show - JOHANNA GERON
Kortleve made an appearance as 'the bride' at the Chanel couture show - JOHANNA GERON

She won’t make a brand’s clothes look edgy. Her quiet poise does the reverse, making even slightly off kilter looks seem desirable. The Kortleve effect clearly made its mark on Chanel’s couture show. Designed by 59 year old Virginie Viard, it was crammed with clothes normal-ish women could wear - from feather-weight midi skirted tweed suits to gauzy pleated chiffon dresses. The most controversial elements were the Cuban heeled cowboy boots styled with almost every outfit and that fact that made to measure, largely by hand, prices for this collection start at around £30,000.

Fashion may never entirely embrace normality as the norm. But Kortleve’s high-low circuit is a sure sign of clout. If the economy starts to hurt even luxury fashion brands, maybe we’ll see more of her.

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