Magazine reporter Levy Zhan discusses Paris Fashion Week, bringing attention to concerns faced by female models in the industry. Zhan points to how the Valentino Spring/Summer 2023 runway show is just one of many instances where discomfort and risk of injury are concealed as ‘female empowerment’.
A month has passed since Paris Fashion Week, but what has stuck with the audience are not any extraordinary garments and clothing–it is the image of models tripping in dangerous shoes.
Many videos of Valentino’s Spring/Summer 2023 runway show have gone viral, displaying models awkwardly attempting to deliver something akin to a catwalk; essentially, one watches them risking breaking their ankles with every step they take. Some might consider it an occupational hazard, some call it a PR stunt, but none of these stances deal with the real issue.
While there is a general gender wage gap in which men are paid more than women, the modelling and fashion industry is an exception: female models earn millions more than male models. Despite it being one of the few areas in which women are in a relatively “superior” position, they nevertheless pay a price for that privilege.
What does it mean to be a model? It’s not just about looking pretty and being skinny. Some may despise them for setting certain beauty standards, but it should be kept in mind that they themselves are pressured to uphold that standard. Their bodies are commodities and are used as a canvas for designers, while also being judged and looked upon by millions of spectators. It makes sense that in a patriarchal society, a woman can make more money than a man concerning the subjection of her body to the male gaze. It is not a misogynistic practice to be a model, it is strategically positioning oneself in a system that is inherently flawed. It is a system where the beauty myth is omnipresent; we have runway shows with attractive women walking in unwalkable shoes, with no regard for the person wearing them as long as they look good. Lots of people cannot imagine that there is a risk of seriously hurting themselves and impairing their ability to walk when their livelihood entails walking on a runway. The first assumption shouldn’t be that the models are tripping within the context of a PR stunt. The normative notion of doing something dangerous to generate viral content is absurd and speaks to the norms that have established themselves and that we have accepted.
Valentino’s Spring/Summer 2023 runway show is a case study exemplifying the perversion we tolerate if it’s labeled as artistic expression or, in this case, as fashion. Human safety should always be prioritized against perceptions of aesthetics. In an email response to Highsnobiety, a spokesperson said that Valentino is pleased with the models’ “empowered” act of removing their shoes. In fact, removing their shoes was not a move of empowerment, but a necessity to not slip and fall down. It also speaks of the hypocrisy surrounding this incident, as brands would not typically consider a model empowered for removing an unwearable pair of shoes; in other instances, it has been considered unprofessional or highlighted as an “epic fail“. The correspondence between Highsnobiety and Valentino simply shows the lack of accountability from the fashion house.
Prêt-à-porter or haute couture, it really shouldn’t matter what kind of fashion is on hand. What should matter are proper safety measures for models of any gender. One of the few female-dominated professions should have at least that. It’s evident that the fashion industry itself perpetuates questionable views on size, race and gender, but at the end of the day, anybody who chooses to walk down a runway should be able to do so without risking injury.
“Valentino’s Spring/Summer 2023 runway show is a case study exemplifying the perversion we tolerate if it’s labeled as artistic expression or, in this case, as fashion.”
Levy Zhan is an university student in Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.