Haven't I seen you before?
If these poses look familiar it's because they hide a million sins. ANNALISA BARBIERI on the tricks of the rag trade
Aside from The Independent, Annalisa Barbieri writes for the Economist's Intelligent Life magazine, and the New Statesman. A former contributing editor of the Independent on Sunday and fishing correspondent of the Independent, she is also patron of Rights of Women
Sunday 30 May 1999
The slouch shot that you see on this page is cousin of the most prevalent Nineties pose of all, one that Martin Raymond, senior lecturer at the London College of Fashion, aptly calls "the retch". This is where the hips are pushed forward in a pelvic tilt, and the shoulders are rounded into the chest. These poses may sound unattractive but if you have ever wanted long, lean limbs - and most of us in this screwy Western nation have - this pose can, in a thrice make yours as long and as lean as they are ever likely to be outside of a hall of mirrors.
The retch and the slouch (the sitting down version of the retch) came about the way all poses do, to accommodate a change of fashion. The fashion at the beginning of the Nineties - grunge - required something different to the wind machine glamour shots of the late Eighties. "Real" clothes needed "real" poses. Progressive photographers of the day posed their models slouching and others copied. Badly.
"Photographers like Steven Meisel are very clever at picking up on familiar poses but feeding it to us in a modern way," says Sally Courtis, senior fashion editor at Elle. "He's very good at taking the Nova/Fiorucci thing of the Seventies but making it look modern. It's the pale imitators that fall flat on their faces. The maestros know what they're doing, other photographers don't."
All naff poses - all those on this page - were born great. But, like Fergie, they just did not know when to leave the party. "Fashion poses start off as a statement by great photographers," says Raymond, "then everybody copies them so they become a parody. Eventually they end up in high street catalogues [regarded as the retirement home of fashion poses] and become a farce."
There is another reason certain poses persist - they make the clothes look good. This is one of the greatest reasons people get home and are disappointed with the clothes they've just bought after seeing them in a magazine. It wasn't just because they were modelled by a beautiful girl shot by a top photographer; any outfit can look good in one brief, artificial moment. As a teenager with nothing better to do, I'd pose in front of the mirror, contorting my body into shapes that were impossible to uphold in daily life but made me look fantastic. My favourite was a side-on pose that concaved my chest and made me look like a gazelle. It could make even shapeless jumpers look good, especially if also performed in conjunction with the yank. Of course I recognise it now as a very early retch pose - pretty radical since this was the early Eighties and the pose of the day was a model hailing a taxi with a rolled-up magazine.
There is a new pose on the scene that is scarier than any that has gone before and it's already being copied. Watch for it because it is so bad it is almost good. I wish I could say it exists to make clothes, or the model, look good. But it doesn't. It is just a hugely lazy device that marks out its creators as having just about enough talent to go into day time television presenting. It is this: in each shot the model changes outfit but remains in exactly the same, very wooden pose - often with a pointlessly surreal prop too (fish, log, scythe) - throughout. It is the last word in fashion poses and it's coming to a magazine or newspaper near you.
This sticking-your-neck-out pose was popular four years ago when it was mostly used in conjunction with shiny make up. Always shot front on so you can't see that the model is pushing her chin forward. Excellent for giving a skinny neck and tight lower jaw, which is why it's popular for jowly pop stars. Try it on your next passport photo.
Used in its most overt form in mens' magazines (girl with lolly, that type of thing), or diluted in lifestyle shots for women (woman eating cake with cup of tea). It has little function as a clothes-showing device other than to focus in on a pretty top - its main aim is to make you think "sensuous" or "cor, wouldn't mind giving her one".
By looking at her belly, the model makes interesting angles with her arms, which makes an otherwise insignificant vest and drawstring trousers shot less boring. This has been the decade of the belly, and this shot is the only way of showing it without putting the model in a hideous cropped top.
The most famous "yanking" shot was Bailey's Sixties' photograph of Jean Shrimpton pulling at the neckline of her jumper. It has an obvious sexual subtext when shot with swimwear. Beware, however, when you see other types of clothes being yanked - it is a classic trick to hide the shaplessness of an otherwise photogenic garment.
The pose of the Nineties - for an entire generation of photographers it is the only way to shoot clothes. An "anti-fashion" type pose, (and a world removed from the poker up the botty shots of the Fifties), and supposed to look realistic, although actually highly contrived. Concaves the body, making the stomach and breasts appear flat.
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Supposed to be sexy without showing anything - topless without the tits. By holding the hands in this position the shoulders appear skinny and almost childlike, which is a look some photographers like. There is another, more pragmatic reason for using this: if a stylist wants to use a pair of trousers or skirt and there is no suitable top.
Appears with boring regularity in "intellectual" fashion magazines. It uses the body as little more than a prop to show the clothes, thus dehumanising the model. The angular stance is also one of the easiest ways to show the highly sculptured wares of "conceptual" designers such as Shelley Fox and Junya Watanabe.
Otherwise known as the Foetus, and a good way to shoot a whole outfit without having the model standing up (which means shooting from further away, thus losing detail). This is why it's popular for catalogue shots. The forerunner to this pose was the one with the model sitting on the floor with legs bent to one side.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MYKEL NICOLAOU/STYLED BY ZOE BROWN/HAIR AND MAKE UP BY SHARON WILLMORE USING CLINIQUE/MODELLED BY CHANTAL AT STORM
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