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As Fashion Week kicks off, one hallmark of haute couture might be making its last pivot on some of the runways: super-thin models. The companies that own Christian Dior and Gucci have announced that their catwalk models must be larger than a size 0.
But is this a PR move or does it signal real reform in the fashion industry? And if the reform is real, is it a bold step in couture, or a reflection of changing attitudes about size?
Designers have come under increasing pressure to make clothes that fit the average American (size 16 for women, 39-inch-waist for men). The new season of “Project Runway” features models from sizes 0 to 22. And the Internet is making new fashion stars and affirming body positivity.
Will future catwalks look a lot more like today’s sidewalks?
- Vanessa Friedman Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic for the New York Times
- Sara Ziff Founding director of the Model Alliance, which promotes fair treatment and sustainable practices in the fashion industry. She worked as a model for nearly two decades and produced the feature documentary "Picture Me."
- Cindy Gallop Advertising consultant and entrepreneur. CEO of IfWeRanTheWorld and Founder of MakeLoveNotPorn.
- Katie Sturino Founder of the12ishstyle.com & the fashion PR agency, Tinder PR
On banning size zero
“Louis Vuitton and Kering, which are the two of the largest high-end fashion conglomerates in the world … put aside their usual competition and signed on to a dual-commitment, public commitment to changing their policies toward models,” Freidman said.
The companies, whose brands include Dior, Marc Jacobs and Gucci, agreed not to use models smaller than size zero — which roughly equals a size 34 in European markets. They committed to specific labor and consent rules for models younger than 18 and to not use models younger than 16 on the runway or in ad campaigns to appear as adults.
“Together they represent some of the most known brands in the world … and an enormous amount of economic power. So the fact that they’ve publicly committed to this is pretty significant,” Freidman said.
On protecting workers
“There is an important distinction to be made with this particular declaration, I think what LVMH and Kering is doing is really about protecting or responding to the working health of their employee base, as opposed to necessarily sending a message to the population at large. This is not a commitment to a gigantic range of diversity in body types on the runway or in ad campaigns,” Freidman says. “I found that there was a focus on the superficial, a lot of interest in this issue of the size zero and body image ideals, but complete disregard for concerns about the working conditions of these girls and many of them are girls — kids who, like me, start at 14, 15, 16,” Ziff replied. “Although we appear to be powerful and highly visible, actually we are a vulnerable group of workers who, as independent contractors, have very few protections.” “There’s a very dark underbelly to this aspirational business where there are far more people who want to work as models than are actually going to get legitimate modeling work,” Ziff continued. “The fact is that we are doing a job like anyone else. As women who are seen as powerful and who are certainly influential we certainly deserve basic workplace protections … we don’t even have protection against workplace sexual harassment.”
Why do models often look so unlike regular women?
“The fundamental reason that is the case is interestingly the same reason that we see similar aspirational body types in other forms of public culture. At the top of the fashion industry, at the top of the advertising industry, at the top of pretty much every industry is a closed loop of white guys talking to white guys about other white guys,” Gallop said.
Every industry is male-dominated where the power lies, even when that industry ostensibly sells primarily to women. We are played back to ourselves all the time through the male lens and the male gaze even though women or the primary target for purchases in every sector. So what you have is a self-perpetuating system where the majority of powerful designers are men. The majority of the powerful CEOs that head fashion houses are men. The majority of fashion photographers whom everyone wants to work with are men. The majority of filmmakers are men and you have the male perspective that has been set for, quite honestly, many centuries of what beautiful women ought to look like, who clothes look best on, who are the most elegant. All of that informs everything that we see in popular culture in a way that makes ordinary women, real-world women feel very bad about themselves on an ongoing basis.
Being a “plus-size” brand
“I am seeing more options going up to a size 32,” Sturino said. I think that if you are considering yourself a plus-size brand, you are not just going up to a size 22, you are really trying to service more women. (Companies) are aware and hearing women saying that just because we are of a certain size does not mean we don’t want to participate in fashion.
“I would actually love to see the model reversed,” Gallop said. “There is a huge amount of money to be made out of taking women seriously. I would love to see the future forward players in the fashion industry really talk to women and look at what women on the street today want … literally put women at the heart of the experience.”
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