Photographs by Ethan James Green, Styled by Edward Enninful
Today, longtime competitors and luxury conglomerates Kering and LVMH announced that they are creating a charter to protect the wellbeing of models in the future, something each feels they “have a specific responsibility, as leaders in the industry,” to do.
The charter, which starts just in time for the spring 2018 show season that kicks off today with New York Fashion Week, applies to all of their brands and “goes one step further” to pay “particular attention to ensuring good working conditions”; indeed, the stringent guidelines they’ve released seem almost too good to be true. Brands are banned from hiring models under 16 to take part in shows or shooting if they’re representing “an adult,” and models between 16 and 18 will be barred from working between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Oh, and they’ll also have to have a chaperone or a guardian, meet their “school-attendance obligations,” and work in a completely alcohol-free environment.
If these guidelines are held up, it’ll completely up-end the rapid-fire pace at which the industry operates during Fashion Week; models often don’t know until the last minute if they’ll be in a show, leading to castings and fittings into the late hours of the night. (This seems to be particularly unavoidable this week, as many of the rail-thin models already cast for the New York shows likely don't meet the new sizing requirements, which presumably will mean squeezing in even more castings.)
An overhaul, though, seems to be exactly what LVMH and Kering are calling for, given that the guidelines don’t end there: From now on, all of their brands must work with models who are able to “present a valid medical certificate, attesting to their good health and ability to work, obtained less than six months before the shooting or the fashion show”—and then also themselves provide a psychologist or therapist at the model’s disposal during their working time. If that working time extends past 8 p.m., brands also must provide transportation for the models to get home.
Of course, for many up-and-coming models, especially the majority of whom come from overseas, and many of whom don’t speak English, a medical certificate may be a bit hard to come by—and if it then turns out that in French sizes they’re a woman who’s a 32, and a man who’s a 42, there'll be no point in showing up to castings, since they'll then be banned. (Casting agents will from now on need to present brands with only women models sized 34 and up, and male models 44 and up; it’s unclear what size requirements will be made for those who don’t identify with a specific gender.)
For those who do end up getting cast, though, they’ll supposedly find a spread of food and drinks that comply with their dietary requirements, along with “useful information to maintain a healthy diet throughout the working day.” They’ll also have plenty of company throughout the shoots and shows, apparently to avoid any opportunities for assault: While nude during a shoot or getting dressed, they will “will never be alone with a person linked to the production or a photographer.” (In 2012, a Model Alliance study found that 29.7 percent of female models had experienced inappropriate touching at work, and 28 percent had been pressured to have sex at work.)
All this, of course, sounds great, especially after the New York Times kicked off Fashion Week yesterday with an investigation into what it’s truly like to be a fashion model, detailing how for many in the industry, experiences like being told to consume nothing but water for 24 hours, going five figures into debt (even though you’ve been a face of Prada), being told you’re too pretty to be black, and being charged with sticking to a 700-calorie diet for being “pudgy” at just 14 years old, are just a normal part of the job.
Those types of experiences are unfortunately not surprising for anyone in the industry, but especially for up-and-comers—and especially for models of color, who’ve long been essentially kept out from fashion, to the point that the fact that just a single model of color managed to appear in every New York presentation last season was a crowning achievement of New York Fashion Week.
Even supermodels, however, are subject to the same treatment, and don’t even seem to have a voice; the biggest names in fashion have been calling out these issues for decades, from Kate Moss saying that one of fashion’s most legendary images, the Calvin Klein ad she shot topless against her will at 17, prompted her to have a nervous breakdown, to Naomi Campbell insisting the treatment of black models today is just as bad as it was when she began her career. Karen Elson has long discussed how the industry exacerbated her eating disorder, and Karlie Kloss has been unable to escape being called “too fat” and “too skinny” by casting agents in one day.
Finally, however, their voices—or at least the voices of the customers and others in the industry complaining—finally seem to have gotten through. And while it's unclear whether Kering and LVMH can uphold their extremely ambitious promises, they've definitely guaranteed one thing: That the industry will be carefully watching whether they will over the course of the next month, starting today.
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