Notebook: For now, it's back to size zero in magazine-land

Let's face facts - models must look extraordinary; why there's no good reason to reboot the King's Speech; and the unbecoming GQ award for Lana Del Ray

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The Independent Online

When is a woman not a woman? Answer: when she is a model. Models, as we are constantly told, are not “real women”. And woe betide the real woman who attempts to be a model. It simply will not work, as the German magazine Brigitte has now discovered to its cost. Three years ago, the top-selling fashion and lifestyle magazine grabbed headlines when it brought in a zero-tolerance policy on size zeros. In a bold stance against the ultra-skinny norm, it declared that it would no longer use professional models and would instead people its pages with real women, “to restore naturalness in beauty and to show that attractiveness has many faces”.

Except, as it turns out, attractiveness in magazine world really has only one face – and it’s a really attractive one. Now, two years and 1,000 or so real women later, Brigitte is lifting its ban on professionals. Rather than identifying with the new breed of civilian models, ­readers found them to be distracting to the fashion, even intimidating with their consistently far from ordinary “real-life” beauty. If you’re going to peddle us a fantasy lifestyle/make us feel bad about ourselves, they apparently cried, at least have the decency to go completely over the top.

On top of that, editors at the magazine discovered that working with non-professionals was time-consuming and inefficient; they had to scout them out, work around their “real” lives, and then train the amateurs, while paying them almost the same as professionals who already knew what they were doing. Principles can be a real pain in the neck. The crucial ­factor in its decision to backtrack, though, was the bottom line: giving readers models with whom they could identify did nothing to stop falling sales at the magazine and may even have caused them to plummet further – from 801,574 10 years ago to 601,696 today.

Coming at the start of New York Fashion Week, Brigitte’s U-turn may well be another cynical exercise in generating column inches but its short-lived attempt to promote a healthier approach to fashion consumption was not wholly bad. The magazine just wasn’t radical enough. And it went about it  the wrong way. It’s not a question of professionals vs non-­professionals. The idea that anyone can model is just as patronising and offensive as the idea that readers will like something only if it’s ­ordinary, just like them.

Brigitte admitted defeat because the archetype is too deeply engrained for one magazine to change it – designers, editors and photographers all want super-skinny models and the figures would suggest that readers, perhaps reeling with Stockholm syndrome after ­decades of being force-fed the same template of beauty, want them too. The answer is to provide them with a wider range of real models, of all shapes, and to move away from nebulous notions of what makes a “real woman”. Until then, skinny sells.

Was ever a sequel more unnecessary than this?

The London Film Festival rolls back into town next month and with it the premiere of a “King’s Speech Two” which, in the mould of all unnecessary sequels, will see our hero go abroad for farther-flung larks. In fact, Hyde Park on Hudson will be an unofficial prequel, centring on King George VI’s visit to America, and his confidence-boosting encounters with a roguish President Roosevelt in the summer of 1939, some three months before That Speech. The cast and crew will be entirely different – Samuel West and Olivia Colman star as B-b-b-bertie and his Queen, and Bill Murray as the president – so it’s a quality rehash, but a rehash all the same.

Of course, movie producers can’t walk past a dead horse without giving it one last twitch of the whip. It might turn out to be lucrative; it might (and film history dictates that this is more likely) turn out like Grease 2. The great joy of the British film industry is its ability to produce idiosyncratic, unique hits – about a stuttering king, or the Mumbai slums, or stripping steel workers, even Pierce Brosnan singing Abba – and conquer the globe. Sequels and prequels should be left to Hollywood.

At least allow Lana to keep her clothes on

It was the GQ Men of the Year awards this week, which meant that lots of zeitgeisty actors, sportsmen and celebrities put on their slickest Tom Ford to accept vague accolades for Being a Legend/Looking Cool/Turning Up. On top of the Perspex gong, five winners were also honoured with their own magazine cover. Readers of the October issue can choose between James Corden, Tinie Tempah, John Slattery and Robbie Williams – all resplendent in designer black tie – and Lana Del Rey, Woman of the Year, wearing sapphires and diamonds, and nothing else.

Perhaps this is the pay-off for being recognised as an achiever by a men's magazine, X chromosomes and all, but at the Glamour Women of the Year awards, the Man of the Year is usually allowed to accept the honour and keep his clothes on.