Panel stops short of calling for rigorous measures to tackle eating disorders.
Hadley Freeman, deputy fashion editor
Thursday July 12, 2007
Models under 16 should be banned from the runways, designers should be trained to help models with eating disorders and shows should be “demonstrably” drug-free, an investigation into the fashion industry has concluded.
The measures are set out by the Model Health Inquiry, which was set up in response to concerns about the use of ultra-thin models during last year’s London fashion week.
But the panel, headed by Labour peer Lady Kingsmill and made up of health specialists and fashion industry insiders, including designers Giles Deacon and Betty Jackson, has stopped short of trying to enforce rigorous measures to weigh models or test their body mass index (BMI) before they are allowed on the catwalk.
The independent study was keen to focus attention on issues other than weight, such as long working hours and, in particular, the use of models under 16. Inevitably, though, the question of models’ weight was the focus of the press conference yesterday at which the report was presented. Dr Adrienne Key, clinical director at the Priory hospital’s eating disorder unit, said at the conference that as many as 40% of models may have eating disorders and almost all the models the panel spoke to confessed to having an “unhealthy relationship with food”.
The report rejected the suggestion that there should be an agreed BMI all models should fulfil.
The model Erin O’Connor, who sat on the panel, told the Guardian it would “compromise the dignity of the models”. Instead, the panel recommended that those who work in the industry should be trained to recognise problems.
One suggestion being considered is that models should submit to random drug testing, with the risk of bans and fines. But panel member Sarah Doukas, founder of Storm model agency and the woman who discovered Kate Moss, disagreed with this idea. She said: “I wouldn’t fine them, I would try to help them. If it continues to be a problem for that one model then, yes, you have to take action and once I did have to fire a model, which was an extremely painful event.”
Lady Kingsmill, former deputy chair of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, was riled when one journalist described the report as “idealistic” but admitted that “this report won’t bring about a revolution. It is moving the peanut forward. I can think of no other industry which has such a highlighted health issue but no one does anything about it.”
Critics felt the report did not go far enough, however. Dee Doocey, Liberal Democrat culture spokeswoman on the London assembly, said: “This report has been a huge disappointment. We were led to believe that this inquiry would produce recommendations that would actually protect young models in London fashion week from exploitation and illness. Unless some real action is taken the health of our young models will continue to suffer.”
The difficulty for the panel is that the most powerful designers are not British but Italian, French and American, and they often prefer to use very thin models. To many in the business, the skinnier the model, the more fashionable the label must be. Lady Kingsmill said she was surprised by what she had seen at the Paris couture shows last week: “All was not well there.”
The report admits that if British models are discouraged from losing an excessive amount of weight, it could harm their careers elsewhere.
“Models told the panel that they are required to shed extra weight to be successful in Paris, Milan and New York. Would action in London be undermined by the demand of other international fashion centres?” the report asks rhetorically.
Other fashion weeks, including Madrid and Milan, have said they are taking steps to ban obviously unhealthy models from their runways. However, the report says that some contributors described Madrid’s move as “window dressing without substance” and, of Milan, the report says that there has been “no evidence that this has been enforced or that intervention has been effective”.
Ms Doukas told the Guardian that the situation was much worse in New York, Milan and Paris.
Lady Kingsmill agreed: “I hope one day we will have international cooperation, but right now we focused on London and I would like to set up London fashion week as the gold standard in terms of the treatment of models,” she said.
Yet even this may be difficult. Lady Kingsmill said that “it is unclear who should enforce these recommendations. We think the British Fashion Council should do it, but they lack the funding.”
Even before the press conference took place, Hilary Riva, the head of the BFC, released a statement saying: “Supporting models does not fall within the BFC’s remit. If the BFC is to take a broader role in this important area, new funding will be required.”
Ms Doukas also told the Guardian that the schedules of fashion weeks in other countries were not conducive to healthy working.
“If there are five or six shows in the daytime, you’re going to fit the models for the clothes for the shows the next day in the middle of the night. And then they have to get up the next day to do those shows. It’s very difficult and I don’t know what you can do.”
Betty Jackson said at the launch of the report: “No designer wants to have an ill person walking in their show.”
Others, though, have a different starting point. Karl Lagerfeld, the designer behind Chanel, Fendi and his own line, recently said: “We don’t see anorexic [girls]. The girls are skinny. They have skinny bones.”
· Initiate model health education in the industry, including workshops about eating disorders
· Provide a healthy backstage area for models at the shows, with good-quality food
· Model agencies to provide regular health checks and recruit experienced models as mentors to younger ones
· Create a representative body or union for models
· Backstage environments should be demonstrably drug and cigarette free
· Models under 16 should not be used in London fashion week
· A formal licensing system for model agencies to be established