The House of high fashion
The fresh intake of Labour MPs have provided a new model army for the glossy pages of Elle magazine
Friday 04 July 1997
They embody the core values of Elle, the upmarket women's style magazine - but they are not the latest breed of professional model but members of Labour's new model army. Sumptuously spread over five pages, five Labour women MPs strut their stuff in the magazine's September issue.
The unprecedented number of Labour women MPs winning seats at the May election prompted the magazine's piece. Of the 101, Diane Abbott, Melanie Johnson, Caroline Flint, Shona McIsaac and Jane Griffiths escaped the Commons for a session as models in a top studio.
Fussed over by the fashion guru Iain R Webb, the women spent a day posing in front of the renowned photographer John Swannell's camera.
But the magazine's photography director, Duane Ashurst, said: "These women are not fashion victims. They were a bit apprehensive at first but we assured them they wouldn't be modelling Versace ball gowns but instead smart day wear.
"In the main we chose the younger and newer MPs to the party and wanted a range of looks. We didn't want them all to have long blonde hair."
Swannell shot the black-and-white pictures two weeks ago in his studio in Camden, north London. But the magazine is keen to keep the pictures under wraps until nearer the publication date of 8 August. Mr Ashurst said: "We can't give too much away too soon - there has to be an element of surprise for our readers.
"The clothing is very smart and the pictures are classic - the women look almost statuesque. They are smiling and up-beat."
The youngest model, the new Cleethorpes MP Shona McIsaac, 27, sports a pair of high spiked metal stilettos and an above-the-knee skirt. Caroline Flint, 35-year-old new MP for Don Valley, sees the focus on fashion as a good way to reach the readers of women's magazines.
"If it were an angling magazine or an FA Cup magazine the focus would be different.
"But we are showing that as women politicians we share some of the same interests as other ordinary women and I think that's good," she said.
The MP for Welwyn Hatfield, 42-year-old Melanie Johnson, said the five chose their outfits from a rack of clothes provided by Elle.
"I think there's quite a lot of interest in us as a group. There is a sense of change and of people finding out what that change means," she said.
Jane Griffiths, MP for Reading East, was clad in a pin-striped wool suit for the shoot, and enjoyed the experience.
She said: "They definitely haven't made us look like models. It was a way of showing we were human beings."
Diane Abbott, Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP since 1987and the only one in the group who was already an MP before the last election, did not think the exercise particularly significant.
"Elle wanted to take some photographs of Labour women MPs. I have had my photograph in magazines before," she said.
Elle is not the only magazine to have taken an interest in the new intake of women MPs.
Since the general election returned a total of 120 women to Parliament their profile has been constantly high.
Within the first week, Richard and Judy had three new Labour women on their morning show for a makeover.
The MPs have also featured in She and New Woman. Good Housekeeping ran pictures of 70 of the new breed with their pledges on what they would like to do for women.
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