Juliet Dunlop: ‘Real women’ reject catalogue supermodel
THE Boden catalogue has never been what you might call a “style bible”. It’s a bit too corduroy for that.
A quick flick reveals page after compact page of moleskin and merino draped across cream-teas and Jack Russell terriers. It’s a middle class English idyll of sorts, where it’s always time for tea; an Enid Blyton pastiche starring chinos in five different colours.
You can understand the attraction – it’s mail-order fashion made-easy – customers need never leave the warm glow of their Aga to find the perfect white shirt. It’s non-threatening too – the clothes are quite appealing, non-revealing and they go up to a size 22. And, whether Emily (likes photography and olives) or Simon (likes snorkelling and crosswords) happen to be modelling the togs in Somerset or Siena, they always looks safe and, well, cosy. That’s Boden’s USP, but now the brains behind the smart-casual outfit, the eponymous Johnnie (failed stockbroker, likes jam) has shaken things up. He’s given a supermodel a walk-on part.
Now, some people might say that’s a fine idea – it is a catalogue selling clothes mainly to women after all – but the inclusion of Helena Christensen has caused uproar in the Shires. Mothers who once criticised Boden for being too “mumsy” are up in arms. Helena, you see, is far too beautiful and far too famous to peddle dirndl skirts and cashmere cardies.
She’s just not “believable” apparently. Pictured in a floral dress in the autumn-winter catalogue, she looks alluring rather than wholesome, the mark of a true “super”I would say, but loyal Boden customers feel betrayed.
As one woman put it on the company’s website: “I think Helena is completely wrong for Boden as she’s far too sultry and sexy. I see Boden clothing as appealing to women mid-thirties plus; down to earth and real.”
It’s all rather confusing really. When it first launched, Boden did use “real people” but it started using models a long time ago. We all know that those 5ft 10in beauties aren’t “real”. Don’t we? A whole team of people would have sweated over their transformation from edgy to every-woman. So, I hate to break the news to unsuspecting customers, but those women were never really going to bake brownies between school-runs and those sticky-fingered children beaming up at them. Well, they don’t even belong to them.
Which is all a little ironic really, as Christensen is in actual fact a 43-year-old working mother, who may well bake. She’s a living, breathing real-life yummy mummy.
Perhaps that’s part of the problem. Christensen is too real. Motherhood apart, she’s just too famous too fool us. No amount of chintz is going to make a woman who once dated Michael Hutchence look at home in Boden.
So, it seems it’s easier all round to keep up the pretence of a heightened, glossier normality than is to use the real thing. That, thank you very much, might just tip customers over the edge. And anyway, try as it may to look moody, brand Boden will always be more cake-bake than catwalk. Johnnie just needs to remember which side his scone is buttered on.
Of course women complaining that models are too young, too glamorous or too thin is nothing new. In recent years we’ve seen what might be described as a beauty backlash, with companies falling over themselves to use “real women”. Dove soap started the ball rolling, but other big brands including Marks and Spencer, have followed suit. The trend was even picked up by a popular German women’s magazine a couple of years ago. Brigitte ditched skinny models in favour of “real people” but last month it went back to its old ways. Real women, it seems, were a little too real for readers. Wrinkles, tummies and double chins apparently made women feel worse about themselves. Airbrushed reality is just much nicer to look at I suppose.
One company still prepared to take a chance when it comes to female customers is Chanel. This week it unveiled Brad Pitt, yes a man, as the new face of the world’s favourite perfume, Chanel No.5. Perhaps Brad can come up smelling of roses.
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