Upon entering the Brandy Melville store on Carnaby Street, you are seduced by the aesthetic of the American high-schooler; slogan quarter-zip sweats and gingham rompers cover walls adorned with stars and stripes. Break through the façade and actually pick up an item, you’ll notice a difference between Brandy Melville and the last styled store that you entered. It only sells one size, and that size converts to a UK size 6. So highly is the community that this brand creates that the exclusive customers are invited by their body shape.
It is undeniable that the fashion industry has always been affiliated with discrimination. Luxury designer brands have long discriminated financially with their high prices, forging a customer base of a certain monetary status. Yet, Brandy Melville opens our eyes to a new kind of discrimination, the customer base is not shaped by finance, or accessibility to the product, but one based on body shape, by the physical shape of your body, by your biology. If you do not fit the exact measurements of their ideal teenage cheerleader fantasy, you can’t buy their clothes. Anyone with a slight arse, thighs that touch together or any sort of breast is isolated.
Despite this, the brand’s USA Instagram account, a smorgasbord of long-legged, bleached-haired, bronzed, effortlessly candid, and obviously thin models and customers hanging out in empty car parks, has 3.8 million followers and it is estimated that the brand turned over $125 million last year and is growing by another 20% each year. Big numbers for a brand that only sells one size. The success of the company that discriminates is down to the desirable image that it endlessly creates. The clothes that they sell are only basics, such as tank tops and sweats, and they’re not expensive either; for example, you can buy a classic striped top for £18 or a pair of tailored trousers for £24. It is the models and their bodies that seduce the customers. Girls desire the body shape of the model and try to access this through buying her clothes, in the one size that she wears them. This also transfers from the virtual world into reality, the company’s workforce mirror their important ‘image’, mostly female and all attractive. Furthermore, there is allegations that the staff are subject to being photographed at the end of a shift to make sure that eight hours later, they are still fitting the ‘image’. At the end of the day, Brandy Melville is a company that retails an ideal lifestyle, rather than a commodity.
This focus on body image and appearance undermine the work of organisations such as the Be Real campaign or Girls Out Loud, which try to inspire body confidence and self-esteem in teenage girls full of anxiety surrounding their image. Being excluded from a shop which targets your own generation simply because you are not a UK 6 is damaging and certainly not what you need as a teen, insecure or no. This can be seen in Jo Ellison’s article for the Financial Times titled ‘Brandy Melville and the rise of Instabrand’, looking at the effects of the ‘cookie-cutter inclusivism’ of the brand which prescribes a shape and image for its customers. With a twelve-year-old daughter herself, she provides an insight into the relationship between Brandy Melville and its following. The girl is seduced and reeled in by ‘likes and shares’, instead of press or billboards, making the campaign seem real and accessible, it resides on her own Instagram feed instead of in a glossy magazine. It’s the ‘collegiate, sunny cornfed cool’ aesthetic that Ellison says attracts its ‘mostly pubescent patrons’ in a ‘cult-like appeal’ founded on images which are spread via social media.
It’s indisputable that nowadays we shop for an image instead of an item. Still, the existence of a brand such as Brandy Melville shows us how the selling of one-size basics, a business model that is ultimately exclusive and mundane, can become a cultural staple for teenagers through the use of identical skinny models, Instagram filters and a beach front in Santa Monica. American consumerism has always been transfixed with the ideal, whether it is owning the perfect house with a porch and a swingseat or living the American dream, this transfixion now is adapting to the modern age, Brandy Melville proves to us that we now live in a culture where the ideal has moved from the real to the virtual. Simply, the ideal inhabits Instagram.