Out of Fashion

Article excerpt

They were queens of the makeover show, and a generation of women trusted their style advice. So what caused Trinny and Susannah's crowns to slip? By Carola Long

Trinny and Susannah might have made the television makeover show a primetime staple, but it appears that their no-nonsense fashion formula is struggling to compete with a new era of fashion TV. The rumour mill is in overdrive this week with talk that ITV may axe the duo after viewing figures for their current show, Undress the Nation, fell sharply; it's been attracting just 2.5 million viewers (11 per cent of the available audience) in recent days.

When Trinny and Susannah first hit our screens with What Not To Wear in the early Noughties, their dominatrix-style bossiness and tendency to grapple with women's breasts as part of their programme of public humiliation seemed daringly abrasive. Now, compared with some of the makeover shows following in their kitten-heeled footsteps, their formula seems like old-fashioned, no-nonsense innocence.

Like the public-school nurse whose remedy for everything from a broken leg to bipolar disorder is carbolic soap and a plaster, Trinny and Tranny (as they have been unkindly nicknamed) pronounced a well-fitting bra the panacea to all life's sartorial mishaps. There was no figure too lumpy, skinny or lanky that couldn't be improved with a few stern words from Trinny, a good old grope from Susannah and some hardcore corsetry.

And for the icing on the cake, the duo would dress their subjects up in an approximation of their own west London yummy-mummy uniform of velvet or lace-edged cardigans, bias-cut dresses, chunky necklaces and tasteful natural-look make-up.

However, these days, on more radical makeover shows such as 10 Years Younger, a less than perky bust is solved with breast implants, crooked teeth with cosmetic dentistry, and wrinkles with chemical peels. T&S's reassuringly wholesome attitude of "make do and mend" when it came to image has been replaced by a disturbing agenda of radical transformation. Why make the best of yourself, some shows seem to ask, when you can remodel your face and body? On one episode of the cable show Extreme Makeover, a participant's family barely recognised the subject post-beautification - and this was considered a good thing.

T&S's reluctance to promote cosmetic surgery is admirable, but their endeavours to move with the times by choosing to get under their subjects' skins psychologically rather than physically haven't been entirely successful. Perhaps it's just not such good entertainment any more?

When the duo moved from BBC1 to ITV in 2005 as part of a reported 1.2m "golden handcuffs" deal, they had to not only rethink their successful makeover show format, but also consider a way to compete with the new extreme makeover culture now popular in other programmes. …