Customer Watch: The Live Version Without Retouching

In my blog, I’ve commented previously about a situation where the jewelry being touted does not appear to me that it will fit on the celebrity being styled. And last week, I talked about the silliness of putting the head of a celebrity on a body type not her own in assessing what styles would work for her.


Reading an article by Lauren Collins in the May 12, 2008 issue of The New Yorker, I’ve had my skepticism more than confirmed.


Ms. Collins profiles Pascal Dangin, “the premier retoucher of fashion photographs.” She reports that, in the March issue of Vogue, Dangin retouched 144 images: the cover shot (not surprising), 36 fashion pictures, and a whopping 107 advertisements (including those for at least one makeup line she identified – making over the makeover, in effect). Among other things, Dangin plumps and raises breasts, reshapes and reduces derrieres, adds to jaws, softens collarbones, minimizes bulging temples, excises bumps and blemishes, eliminates visible veins, shrinks pores and softens the lines around the mouth. His “virtual plastic surgery” is sometimes used to cancel out real plastic surgery, “resulting in a believable look.” All this on celebrities and models deemed by the most demanding people to be inherently photogenic.


His work is so good that, according to Collins: “Around thirty celebrities keep him on retainer, in order to insure that any portrait of them that appears in any outlet passes through his shop, to be scrubbed of crow’s-feet and stray hairs.”


Dangin’s work is not credited in the magazines. We the readers never know when we’re being shown something that doesn’t exist in nature. Well, actually, sometimes we do. I recall both the uproar years ago when, as Collins’ puts it, “TV Guide was busted for grating Oprah’s head onto Ann-Margret’s body,” and Kate Winslet’s recent protest of the excessive digital slimming of her photo on British GQ. When the modifications go too far, we likely don’t think, “She looks good”; we think someone is pulling the wool over our eyes.


Collins says that photo retouching, which has existed since the middle of the 19th century, “has always aroused the suspicion of viewers with a perpetual, if naïve, desire for objective renderings of the world around them.”


Well, naïve no more. Even the venerable Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty” turns out to be another vehicle for Dangin’s work. We regard to what Collins termed those “lumpier-than-usual ‘real women’ in their undergarments” in the Dove ads, Dangin commented, “Do you know how much retouching was on that?” Collins writes: “When I asked Dangin if the steroidal advantage that retouching gives to celebrities was unfair to ordinary people, he admitted that he was complicit in perpetuating unrealistic images of the human body, but said, ‘I’m just giving the supply to the demand.’”


So here’s my question: Does all this retouching used to make the product look better in print, actually work against the designer when the customer comes into the store and the product doesn’t look the way on her the way it looked in the magazine? Or do customers see only what they want to see?

Footnote: By the way, my photo with this column has not been retouched. But then again, my makeup artist is a genius.

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