One of the stars of the Transformers films is Megan Fox, a sultry young actress noted for, among other things, having several conspicuous tattoos. Her recent appearance on the cover of Elle distressed Samatha Sault, who found the cover “trashy.” One of Sault’s coworkers thinks Fox is “one of the worst-dressed women in the country.” Leaving that issue for others to judge, I found myself reflecting on the notion of what being transformable might mean in relationship to actors and models.
Tattoos are clearly one way of transforming your appearance, but having used that means of transformation can become an issue in some situations. For example, in the 11th cycle of America’s Next Top Model, Elina, one of the final five contestants, was eliminated after her “go sees.” She visited various fashion designers, all of whom reported that they would not book her because she had some prominent tattoos. Why would having tattoos be an issue for fashion designers looking for models?
The purpose of fashion shows is to sell clothes. During runway shows fashion designers want the audience’s focus to be on their designs. The models are there to show the audience how their designs can look when worn by a “stylish” person. I put “stylish” in quotation marks because runway shows and ad campaigns are often designed around a particular theme that expresses (or perhaps extends) our impression of an individual designer’s overall style. There is a lot at stake. When a fashion designer looks at a potential model, he (or she) hopes to see someone whose appearance can be temporarily transformed by skilled hair stylists and makeup artists in a manner that can help present his stylistic ideals.
So if a fashion designer sees a model and feels her appearance can be transformed to serve the particular concept he has in mind, then he may be eager to work with her. If, on the other hand, he sees a model who has conspicuous features that conflict with his current fashion ideals (perhaps she has prominent tattoos or breasts that are too spectacular), then his instinctive reaction may be, “I can’t use her. Her image doesn’t suit my designs.” (Incidentally, tattoos can be temporarily concealed, but the process is tedious, as shown in this video.)
If we think about actresses who have an exceptional ability to transform their appearance from role to role, one of the first that comes to mind is Cate Blanchett. In the photo at left, as she appeared in the film Heaven, her face seems an almost androgynous canvas. Looking at her strong facial features, you can imagine how a director might cast her to portray the young Bob Dylan in I’m Not There. On the other hand, she can transform into someone so strikingly glamorous (as seen in the photo below) that she could be visually believable in any role requiring glamour. (Speaking personally, I also find glamour in the strength of the stark image of her.)
The ability to transform in appearance is not necessarily the surest way to get consistent work as an actor. Many fine actors play essentially the same character in different guises throughout their careers. Grant McCracken has used Cate Blanchett as an example of someone taking a “transformational and fluid” approach to branding her image as an actress. In contrast, Megan Fox, by branding herself as an edgy sex symbol, may be hired many times to play variations of that role.
In the fashion world, a designer, when imagining a runway show, is most likely to be inspired by models who can be transformed to match his design ideals. The aura of high glamour that we sense in this photograph of Blanchett depends partly on the way her porcelain skin complements the gown, as do her hairstyle and makeup. In her Elle photograph Fox’s appearance and her attire also complement each other, even if some find the result “trashy.”
But if we imagine Fox displaying her shoulder tattoo while wearing the gown shown in the Blanchett photograph, the glamorous aura of the gown would be compromised. Her tattoo would draw attention away from this particular gown in a detrimental way, thereby failing to present the gown as ideally as the designer might hope for.
In a designer’s mind, some imagined ideal presentation will likely be what prospective models are measured against. The question then becomes, “could we transform this model’s appearance into a look that would present my design effectively?” Anything about the model’s appearance which hinders imagining an effective presentation becomes a hindrance to using her. Conversely, if something about the model’s appearance helps the designer imagine a deeply satisfying presentation, he will likely want to hire her.
Does a model give up her individual identity by being transformable? No. The ability to be comfortable in highly varied guises becomes an integral aspect of her identity.
[Both images of Cate Blanchett are in the extraordinary collection of images of her by Flickr user Louise Lampton, and are used under the Creative Commons license.]
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