Runway to Nowhere: Ford Supermodel of the World Competition and Make Me a Supermodel

A global model competition that wobbles. Plus, the latest example of displaying shell-shocked beauties.

Oh well. Next week, a cadre of young sylphs, who have never had to eat a moray or study at Berlitz, will defy child-labor laws and glide down the runways of New York's Fashion Week as the Dow plummets and consumer confidence approaches zero.

This sense of impending financial doom is likewise present at the Steven Kasher Gallery, at a show entitled Disfarmer: Women (521 West 23rd Street, through February 2), featuring photographs taken by a guy called Disfarmer in his photo studio on Main Street in Heber Springs, Arkansas, from the 1920s to the 1950s.

As it turns out, this Disfarmer was as much a creature of self-invention as André J. He was born Mike Meyer in 1884 but had his name legally changed in 1939 after telling his neighbors, apparently with a straight face, that he was blown into town at the age of three by a tornado. Remembered as a semi-recluse and genuine oddball, he was also a brilliant portraitist. Two days after the Ford contest, I am staring with delight at these pictures— a circa-1945 voluptuary in a swimsuit as big as a dress, sisters in ruffles and polka dots, one lone lady in a shabby fur (who'd wear a fur in Arkansas? OK, maybe I would)—when Kasher himself emerges from the back room.

Disfarmer women circa 1940 (left); André J. and Chanel Iman, circa 2008
photo: Steven Kasher Gallery/Jen Graylock/Graylock.com
Disfarmer women circa 1940 (left); André J. and Chanel Iman, circa 2008

Proving once again that authentic inspiration comes from everywhere, Kasher tells me that Karl Lagerfeld is a huge Disfarmer fan. When I seem skeptical, he assures me that Gerhard Steidl, who published an exquisite Disfarmer catalog in 2005, shared a copy of the book with Karl as soon as it came out.

Lagerfeld was reportedly enchanted by the homemade garments worn by these Southerners more than a half-century ago. And in fact they may be frayed and faded, they may bear the hallmark of uncertain needlework, they may be paired with the humblest work shoes, but their gentle appeal is far more fetching than the spangles sported by those pouty Ford girls.

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