From the Union Tribune
Ruth Levy uses a proportion gauge to show how one’s face fits into the measurement dynamic.
Photo by John Gastaldo – Union-Tribune
Ruth Levy (left) and her twin sister, Sara Levy (working with client Rory Bennett), use a mathematical formula to determine how to make people look their best in clothes.
Rory Bennett, a client of Sara and Ruth Levy’s from Rancho Santa Fe, models an outfit that uses the golden ratio, a mathematical formula, in order to flatter her body.
Fashion designers Ruth and Sara Levy spent years searching for the secret to looking good. Then they heard about something called the golden ratio, a mathematical formula for beauty that many believe Leonardo da Vinci used in his paintings.
Thus began a project
to crack what they call “the fashion code.”
The identical twins once relied on their intuition to select outfits. It was obvious that bulky trench coats make women look heavier, and that pointy-toed shoes “elongate the leg,” Ruth Levy said. But in other cases, they couldn’t explain why some pieces were stars and others were dogs.
“Everybody can relate to ‘I have a closet full of clothes and I have nothing to wear,’ ” Sara Levy said. “The question is, why?”
Enter the golden ratio.
About 10 years ago, Ruth Levy said, she learned about the concept, discovered by ancient Greek mathematicians and used in Western architecture for centuries to provide visual balance. Some say da Vinci used it to insert secret codes in his “Mona Lisa” and other works, and that idea forms part of the premise for the best-selling book and movie “The da Vinci Code.”
The Levy sisters harnessed it to establish their Rancho Santa Fe business, The Fashion Code, five years ago.
They use the ratio to analyze a woman’s body measurements and determine her ideal hemlines and proportions for clothing, from jeans to power suits. They advise their clients to have the garments altered accordingly. The results — attractive, flattering outfits — speak for themselves. They have “before and after” photos on their Web site, thefashioncode.com.
They recommend, for example, wearing a shirt with a neckline that ends 1 or 2 inches below the underarm. (Their “code line” calculations determine exactly where that is on each woman.)
A woman who wears her neckline too high when she is even a few pounds overweight can look like she has a “barrel chest,” the twins say. The deep neckline “instantly slims your frame because it enhances your cleavage while drawing an arrow to the thinnest part of your torso,” their guide says.
The twins charge $250 per hour for a consultation, or $30 for an online service through their Web site that generates an e-book and personalized “code lines” for a woman who enters her measurements. (A hard copy of the book will be available in fall 2011.) They declined to reveal revenue numbers, but said they have a growing list of clients from Iceland to Singapore . They appeared on “The Rachael Ray Show” last year.
The golden ratio frequently appears in geometry. Naturalists have found it in the measurements of tree branches, seashell spirals and even the human body. Lines and shapes based on the ratio, also known as the divine proportion, tend to be pleasing to the eye, for reasons philosophers have tried to explain since the Renaissance.
At first, Ruth Levy assumed that the golden ratio wasn’t being used in fashion. Then, on a hunch, she took out a tape measure and began “deconstructing” the Hermes Birkin, an iconic leather handbag that retails for $5,000 to $50,000 or more. She found 32 elements, such as the lines of the seams and the shape of the bag, all in the ancient formula.
“I remember being so angry with my professors at school because they never taught me this,” Levy said. “There were thousands and thousands of pages on the Internet about the divine proportion, and nothing about fashion.”
Levy also found the golden ratio in designer outfits, such as the dramatic Elie Saab dress Halle Berry wore to the 2002 Oscars and the black Givenchy dress Audrey Hepburn wore as Holly Golightly in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” In the photo of Hepburn, everything was in the proportion, “right down to the cigarette holder,” Levy said.
The twins said they believe that no one wants to reveal the secret to looking good because it’s part of the mystique of fashion.
Norman Bryson, an art history professor at the University of California San Diego , said he is not surprised that fashion designers use the golden ratio. He noted that architects such as Le Corbusier also designed clothing. The golden ratio produces “harmony and order and ease,” he said.
“Although they keep quiet about this in fashion school, it is the truth,” Bryson said. “The same people who were designing the modern buildings were designing the swimsuit.”
Bryson cautioned, however, that formulas have their limits. “Fashion doesn’t stay still and it often works against itself,” he said. “So much fashion is anti-fashion.”
The Levy sisters grew up outside Chicago. Ruth Levy attended the prestigious Fashion Design School in Zurich and worked in that city and in Paris as a fashion designer. Today, she divides her time between Zurich — home to the European office of The Fashion Code — and Cardiff, in Encinitas.
Sara Levy has a degree from Northwestern University and has spent years as a fashion designer and stylist. She lives in Rancho Santa Fe with her husband and their 12-year-old son.
The sisters aim to make women look beautiful, not necessarily trendy. They advise their clients to reject popular items — such as round-toed shoes and ruffles — they deem unflattering. “Ruth and I feel like we’re taking on the fashion industry,” Sara Levy said.
During a recent consultation with one of their regular clients, Rory Bennett, the twins advised her on how to alter a new Jones New York Sport jacket in navy blue knit with silver buttons. “I got this for $22.49 at Costco,” Bennett said proudly. “Needless to say, I get almost everything altered now.”
Article by Tanya Mannes