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Is underweight overrated for models?

NEW YORK - Trapper hats, winter coats and Chanel purses were plentiful in the streets near Bryant Park last week, as Fashion Week attendees sipped Starbucks and rushed around the city to watch their favorite designers predict what will trickle down to the mainstream population years from now.

The fashionable elite congregated in scores as a plethora-221 to be exact-of New York Fashion Week designers showed their Autumn/Winter 2007 collections to enthusiastic crowds.

Despite the good cheer, New York Fashion Week (one of four major Fashion Weeks around the world, the others being Milan, London and Paris), is currently the subject of more than one controversy.

One of these disputes revolves around exactly where Fashion Week will occur in the future; the other is the seemingly ever-present controversy surrounding the weight-or lack thereof-of models. The tents were abuzz with conversations and complaints.

Last fall, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Fashion Week-which generates upwards of $180 million annually, according to Bryant Park Corporation-needed to move from its Midtown location, where it has been held for the past 13 years. Residents have been complaining that the Fashion Week tents ruin the ice-skating rink built in Bryant Park every winter.

"It is clear that due to its success, Fashion Week has outgrown the facilities available at Bryant Park," Bloomberg said in an October 2006 press conference. "Fall Fashion Week, which takes place in February, is just around the corner, and we have determined that the search for a suitable home will require further analysis and planning. The City will continue to work with IMG and the fashion industry to locate a permanent home for Fashion Week."

Many argue, however, that moving out of Bryant Park will decentralize Fashion Week and hurt the industry.

"I love the park," French-born designer Alice Ritter told recess, minutes before she showed her collection. "It would be a shame if it moved."

Although location questions were fresh in minds, the main controversy surrounding Fashion Week was the weight of models.

After Madrid and Milan took actions to ban models that were deemed to be "underweight" last fall, the United States has been under similar pressure. As Fashion Week began, protestors emerged outside the tents, holding signs and chanting.

"I'm normal and overweight," said one protestor, who wore a hat that said "Fashion Weak" and a full-body sign depicting a skeleton dressed in a bikini with the words "Does this make me look fat?" next to it. "If fashion is for everyone, I want these models to look like me."

Those inside the tents, however, seemed less concerned.

"I don't think there is a problem," said Joe Zee, creative director of Elle Magazine told recess. "It's fashion, and it's glamorous."

Despite the overwhelming support of models, there were still those-mostly those not entrenched in the fashion world-who supported legislation against skinny models.

"These models don't even look like people," said the husband of a dresser in line for the Doo.Ri show. "They look like robots. Without any flesh. I can't even look at them."

To a certain extent, these comments were not without merit. One model, who wished to not be identified, picked up a mint and ate it backstage at the Alice Ritter show.

"These things are great," she said. "They fill me up."

The issue of underweight models did not go without official discussion, however. The Council of Fashion Designers of America (headed up by esteemed designer Diane von Furstenberg), held a conference during the week specifically about the issue.

"There should be guidelines but no enforcement [on models' weight]," von Furstenberg said at the conference. She added that many models are naturally skinny, and it would be discriminatory to segregate based on weight.

There were many upsides to the week, however-namely the designers, despite the negative press. The collections that stood out of the crowd were the quirky New Zealand-born Karen Walker, known as the Marc Jacobs of her country, and recent CFDA award-winning designer Doo.Ri's draping silk jerseys.

The big surprise of the week, however, was Marc Jacobs himself, arguably the most popular and talked-about of the New York designers each season.

Jacobs, who is known for his progressive approach to clothes, toned down his collection considerably this season. Expected to be punk-influenced (as it often is), Jacob's collection was sleek and muted, and looked as though it could move directly to stores, which, for those who follow his trends, is a rarity. The biggest disappointments of the week were the much-hyped Vena Cava and Lela Rose.

Despite the negative attention New York Fashion Week has received, most viewers went through the week blissfully.

"I'm just loving every minute of this," Ritter said. "I grew up dressing dolls. This is a dream for me. This is what I want to do."

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