So much for models with PhDs. If they’re all still slim, young and attractive, it’s hardly clever

Brains are sexy - but the implication here is still that looks come first

Cor, look at the PhDs on that. Academia got hot this week when an American clothing company launched its spring collection, as modelled by a “ravishing roster of PhD and doctoral candidates”.

There’s Sasha, a nuclear engineering PhD student at UC Berkeley, leaping around in the Del Ray perfect dress. And there’s Asha, already a doctor in cognitive psychology at Stanford who manages to pull off a grey “confetti popover shirt” with aplomb. Ines, pouting at a big book in a short mustard check shirt-dress, has her PhD in electrical/computer engineering from the University of California. Nicole, studying for a chemical biology PhD at the same university accessorises her aqua “better-boyfriend” jeans with some geek spectacles and a textbook about molecules.

They all look lovely. And well they might. This is the crème de la crème of pretty people with high-level qualifications, as handpicked by Betabrand’s marketing department. The San Francisco-based company put out a call for models with letters after their name and received 80 doctoral applicants. Of those, 18 made the cut, because some brains are more beautiful than others. “ Our designers cooked up a collection of smart fashions for spring, so why not display them on the bodies of women with really big brains?” said the brand’s founder, Chris Lindland, of his bold foray “beyond the ranks of the professionally beautiful”.

In one sense, this is quite nice. Academic excellence is something that should be aspired to and celebrated and not just in a cap and gown once a year after exams. Brains are sexy – spread the word. It’s also unsettling. There is the implication that all professional models are a bit thick, for a start. There may well be some stupid ones but Lily Cole graduated with a double first from Cambridge; Christy Turlington has a master’s in public health from Columbia; Brooke Shields studied French literature at Princeton, and so on. As stereotypes go, it is as stupid as the idea that all female academics are ugly bluestockings.

As for the ravishing roster of models, they are all female, pretty, young and slim, which barely bucks the fashion trend; it also discredits the concept that intellect matters more than looks. Drs Asha, Ines and co – they don’t come with surnames – are just older, better qualified versions of the GCSE girls who are rolled out every August, a celebration of curves and good hair dressed up as a celebration of good grades.

Betabrand has form with eye-catching campaigns. In 2012, when hoodie-wearing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced his company’s stock exchange float, it came up with its revolution in business casual – the pinstripe executive hoodie. It didn’t catch on and its doctoral models likely won’t either.

What has caught on, wearyingly so, is the cult of the “ordinary”. This week social media went wild for an arty, black-and-white film of everyday strangers kissing for the first time. There they were – shy and passionate all at once, like Hugh Grant in the good old days. “Beautiful,” cooed the Facebook comments. “Love this,” swooned the tweets. It soon emerged these strangely attractive and articulate common-or-garden folk were in fact models and actors, and the project was just another advertisement for a clothing company. Before the truth came out, it had been viewed 24 million times on YouTube.

Academics playing at being models, models playing at being nerds; it is the same illusory package. Both feign to push at boundaries while secretly reinforcing them with safety pins and hairspray; and both have one aim: to shift more shift dresses. It’s not big – this is fashion – and it’s definitely not clever.

He’s successful, she’s bossy...

Sheryl Sandberg, billionaire, chief operating officer of Facebook and campaigner for women’s rights in the workplace, would like to ban the word “bossy”.

She argues that the negative connotations of the word, which is only ever applied to women, are hampering ambition. I’m not so sure it has that power but it is certainly an irritant.

At a lively debate about women’s place in public life last weekend, chaired by the Newsnight presenter Kirsty Wark and featuring a female chief executive and magazine editor among others, the B-word raised its head, along with other words the panellists have had thrown at them on their rise to the top, such as “harridan” and “hectoring”. The males in their world, they agreed, usually got away with being simply “successful”.

While Sheryl is at it, how about a moratorium on other gendered adjectives? Feisty, ball-breaking, kick-ass, and, worse of all, spunky – all of which are compliments with a side helping of snark and none of which are ever applied to men.

MasterChef has lost its tastiest ingredient

Eh bien, au revoir, Michel Roux Jnr. The MasterChef judge has quit the televised cookery competition after a row with the BBC.

It turns out that Roux, as well as being a two Michelin-starred chef and television’s most twinkly arbiter of taste, is also an “ ambassador” for a potato firm. This and other lucrative sidelines have put him at odds with the BBC’s strict rules on commercial interests. Now sick of wrangling, he has plumped for pommes de terre over presenting, just like Scarlett Johansson, who chose her SodaStream ambassadorship over Oxfam work earlier this year.

Greedy or not, Roux will be much manqué – not only for his expertise and calm authority but also for his delicious injections of perfect français amid the shouting. Hearing Gregg Wallace extol the virtues of poulet de Bresse won’t be quite the same.

Failure is indeed an option

Schools should get rid of F grades and replace them with the encouraging phrase “not yet”. That is one of the proposals outlined in a report, Everyone Starts with an A (that’s another of its proposals), published by the Royal Society of Arts’ “Brain Centre”. The 72-page document also suggests keeping pot plants in classrooms “to help regulate certain dispositions and reduce mental fatigue”.

Nobody really believes in the school of hard knocks approach any more, but this is a bit much. Erasing the notion of failure from schools is irresponsible and immature. Learning to fail and how to move beyond failure is one of life’s most important lessons.

Comments