16 February 2010

Fashion Industry, Struggling with Size, Realizes Age is Part of the Problem

The Detroit Free Press

The models auditioning for New York Fashion Week were undeniably thin. But it was only after the fashion industry started worrying about too-skinny models that casting agent James Scully began asking their age.

Most, he found, were under 16.

"Things are very seriously wrong at this moment," Scully said.

As another round of runway shows kicked off last week, fashion insiders have again taken up the cause of emaciated models, this time with a new target to blame: youth.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America hosted a panel discussion last week about changing the standard model "sample size," part of the health initiative it started after the death of a model with an eating disorder three years ago.

Spain and Italy adopted mandatory weight guidelines at the time, but the CFDA opted for voluntary measures that put the focus on nutritional and emotional counseling. Since then, some models have been red-flagged and removed from the runway to focus on eating and living well, said CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg.

The recent panel, "The Beauty of Health: Resizing the Sample Size," initially focused on whether increasing the size of sample garments used in fashion shows and magazine photo shoots from 0 to 4 would result in healthier models. But designers, models and agents agreed that part of the problem is the dominance of very young models.
"You can't address the sample size 0 without addressing age," said David Bonnouvrier, head of DNA Models.

Among the CFDA guidelines was a recommendation that models under 16 be kept out of fashion shows, and models under 18 kept out of fittings or photo shoots past midnight. Those guidelines clearly haven't stuck and remain purely voluntary.

The current youthquake happened as runway tastes moved from Brazilian bombshells like Gisele Bundchen to Russians and Eastern Europeans, such as Natalia Vodianova, who has talked about her weight struggles, Scully said.

When scouts first fell in love with the very angular, narrow Eastern bloc look, those girls were ill-prepared to be away from home in the high-pressure, competitive fashion world, added DNA's Bonnouvrier. Even American models were younger -- 17-year-old Karlie Kloss, for example, did her first round of shows with her dad by her side.

Designer Zac Posen traced the problem to Kate Moss back in the early '90s, and said it could take a long time to erase the cultural impression of the waif.

It's natural for a 13- or 14-year-old to be slim, have a small bust and hips that measure no more than 33 inches, but as those models age -- to all of 18 or 19 -- they will do "terribly dangerous things" to fight nature and their increasingly womanly bodies, Scully said.

Model Doutzen Kroes, 25, is a Victoria's Secret Angel but says her fashion-show work has slowed to almost nothing. The reason? She's too big.

"I'd love to do shows but I don't fit in the sample size," she said in an interview after the panel.

The Dutch native started her modeling career at 18, and was constantly told she was pretty but "needed to lose a few pounds," she recalled. But she looked in the mirror and liked what she saw, and made the decision to work with her agent to make her curvy figure an asset -- hence a brand like Victoria's Secret.

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