Recently, with heated talks about an Arrested Development movie in the works rekindling my interest, I’ve been watching a fair amount of the short-lived cult comedy. Sometime around my fourth viewing of season three I started to have an epiphany. In the show, Michael Bluth’s love interest Rita (played hilariously by Charlize Theron), whom the show’s characters had previously thought to just be whimsically eccentric, is revealed to be mentally handicapped. To the viewers of the show, this fact is blatantly obvious — from the insane way she seems to dress (inside out clothing in mismatched patterns, strange hats, bizarre accessories) to the apparent childlike qualities she possesses.
However due to her stunning beauty, and the fact that all Americans seem to be bowled over by an aristocratic British accent, it isn’t until much later in the season that it is revealed that she is Mr. F — a mentally retarded female. It was then that I joked to a friend that the same emperor-has-no-clothes syndrome could easily be applied to incomprehensibly British fashion phenom, Agyness Deyn.
As I look through magazines and websites calling her Daring! A fashion rebel! The newest muse of Jean Paul Gautier! — desperately trying to pull off a ball gown with a jean vest and saddle shoes — I can’t help but think of one scene from AD where Michael’s sister Lindsay comes home from shopping with Rita and talks about how great her fashion sense is. They are both wearing a riding helmet with American Girl-style braids and a mini backpack.
Once it is revealed that Rita is retarded, Lindsay no longer sees her fashion as “edgy” but rather what it is — the best efforts of a mentally-challenged woman. The result is a pithy commentary about how people are willing to believe almost anything is a fashion trend as long as someone they deem stylish tells them so. Whether the creators of the show intended this or not. While even the fashion world seems to be tiring of Deyn’s freshness at this point (ditto for Albert Hammond Jr.), the hype machine surrounding her is indebted to the fact that a beautiful woman can sell anything — even the idea of who she really is.