Fashion Perspective. Too Skinny Model Debate: It's Not All Fashion's Fault. Second City Style Fashion Blog


Snejana Onopka in the spring Fendi show. Photo: Giovanni Giannoni

A mere 72 hours before New York Fashion Week begins and the word to be heard on the anorexic model controversy is…expect to see skinny models oh, and don’t tell them what to do!

According to an insightful story in today’s WWD, the fashion industry could care less and they are not going to crack under the pressure. Karl Lagerfeld labeled the effort to regulate models "politically correct fascism."


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While everyone agrees anorexia and eating disorders are serious issues, most point out the problem isn’t restricted to the fashion industry. Hollywood is equally to blame, according to many designers and magazine editors. "It’s not even attractive to see a grown woman looking like less than 100 pounds," said Janice Min, editor in chief of Us Weekly. "Nicole Richie is a celebrity because she lost weight." That doesn’t mean fashion is blameless. Vera Wang recalls a model passing out in her showroom because she hadn’t eaten enough (the designer didn’t cast her). Meanwhile, Nicole Miller has taken to weighing models backstage to make sure they aren’t undernourished.

WWD canvassed designers, editors, modeling agencies, advertising executives and health professionals to get their views on an issue sure to be debated throughout the season.

Designers: Status Quo
That is the main consensus of fashion designers, who, for the most part, say they are not going to make any dramatic switches in the type of models they’re hiring to walk their fall runways. And they don’t want to be dictated to by their respective fashion organizations.

Carolina Herrera noted anorexia is prevalent among ballet dancers and students, as well as actresses.

In recent weeks, fashion’s governing bodies have issued guidelines for the hiring of models. The Council of Fashion Designers of America has devised healthy model guidelines that are about creating awareness of eating disorders, rather than policing. Milan’s stricter rules require models to have a license and a body mass index above 18.5, and to be at least 16 years old. In Paris, Didier Grumbach, who heads the Chambre Syndicale, said it would not issue any ultimatums to regulate models, since the country was already subject to strict rules. "In France, we already have extreme regulation….All models under 16 must have frequent medical visits to make sure they are physically and psychologically fine. The system in France is not broken. It doesn’t need to be fixed," said Grumbach.

"Ultimately, the responsibility for models with eating disorders is their parents, the doctors who treat them and modeling agencies," Lagerfeld said. "The agencies are the people who do the pre-casting; [they] can look at that. That is their job," he added. This stance was echoed by many American designers.


The Editors
Could fashion magazines have some changes in the works? French Vogue editor in chief Carine Roitfeld said the cover of the magazine’s new issue reflects a "new style of girls." That means gone are the days of the superskinny waif. Instead, Roitfeld said, "We prefer skinny but healthy girls."

"It’s hard," said Janice Min, editor of US Weekly. "The fact is, weight is an all-consuming subject for women; they are interested. What I find interesting and a strange thing is the discussion of who has an eating disorder is like a spectator sport for young women. When we cover thin celebrities, we try to highlight the fact that this could be problematic."

The Ad Agencies
Advertising executives in the U.S. and abroad believe there could be a public relations backlash against superskinny models in ad campaigns.

The flip side is that most don’t expect any major changes in the selections of their models.

Raul Martinez, chief executive officer and executive creative director at AR, said the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s guidelines would not necessarily change his mind about hiring skinny models and actresses for the fall ads.

"For us, the decisions that we make around casting are always informed by being true to the brand and the concept for that season," he said. "The girls we choose need to speak to the target consumer in a way that resonates with them." For example, he chose Carmen Kass for the Salvatore Ferragamo campaign, and India Hicks and Elaine Irwin for Forth & Towne’s ads.

Modeling Agencies
The designers decide say modeling agencies, who claim the power of casting lies with designers and that if they requested larger-sized models, the supply would meet the demand.

"It’s not a matter of who we send; it’s a matter of who the designers choose and it depends on what type of clothes they design," said Katie Ford, president of Ford Models.

Still, even modeling agencies feel it could be time for a change.

"The models that are on the runways and in the magazines need to be representative of a healthier type of beauty. Unfortunately, there’s some very shortsighted people in our business who’ve allowed and pushed the envelope to go to this extent," said Sean Patterson, president of Wilhelmina Models.

One insider at a Paris modeling agency, who requested anonymity, disclosed agencies are still sending out skinny girls and leaving it up to fashion houses to decide whether to use them — and that skinny models are still the most requested.
Read the WWD article in it’s entirety at

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