'Real women' elbow girls off the catwalks

"We've seen enough of 15-year-old Russian girls," sighed Karl Lagerfeld after his Chanel show in Paris, one of a string to make space this week for older ex-models, plus-sizes or street-casted unknowns.

"Enough of these kids, fashion isn't only for teenagers," the Chanel designer told AFP Tuesday, after a show that starred the 1980s top model Ines de la Fressange, as well as Stella Tenant, whose face marked the 1990s.

He is far from alone. On Monday it was British designer Giles Deacon at Ungaro who had career and non-professional models of different ages mingling on an indoor lawn - chatting to guests and plucking macaroons from trays.

"I design for women. I'm not intent on designing for infants," joked Deacon, who called on friends including the fashion director of Vogue Japan, Anna Dello Russo, to model for him.

"Women are all ages. What is important is that they have strong personalities," he told AFP.

Dello Russo said later she "accepted to play, to pretend to be a model for a day - because why not?"

And Ungaro's offbeat casting was just the latest example of a trend seen at Balenciaga - where Nicolas Ghesquiere hired non-professionals and a pregnant Miranda Kerr - and at Jean Paul Gaultier who used plus-sized models, while John Galliano also called on catwalk veterans for his Paris show this week.

Ghesquiere scouted the streets for many of his models, sending them down the catwalk alongside top-models like Denmark's tattoo-sporting Freja Beha.

"There is a tendency to clone women and erase their personality," he told AFP. "I want to stress their individuality. I wanted to show different types of woman."

For Patrick Lemire, in charge of booking at the Marilyn modelling agency in Paris, the industry is at a "real turning point."

"Designers no longer want to show underage girls who are not yet women," he told AFP. "There is a move back towards mature, confident women, who are afraid of nothing and who are comfortable in what they are wearing."

"Our little youngsters are less in demand for shows," he added, who said he was "delighted" to see a "return to reality and to women with figures."

"It is as if designers have understood that you have to be a real woman to be truly elegant."

The casting trend was first spotted earlier this year, including at Prada in in Milan or at Louis Vuitton, who both used fuller-figured models with pronounced waistlines.

Marc Jacobs at Vuitton chose to cast the voluptuous veteran models Laetitia Casta and Elle Macpherson.

Magazines picked up on the trend, which has burst back out in fuller form this season.

Luxury and fashion consultant Jean-Jacques Picart believes the shift signals a shift away from extreme glamour and back towards common sense.

The economic crisis "is forcing everyone to be more rigorous and to offer clothes that mean something and which make sense - ie ones that can be worn differently by a women of 20 or 50."

But calling on famous faces from the 1980s or 1990s is also a way, he suggested, for fashion houses to "affirm their brand identity" in strained economic times.

For him, there is a feel-good rationale behind the casting of past catwalk stars: "These faces are linked with a golden age of fashion - a time when fashion was very much in fashion."

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