By  on February 10, 2010

NEW YORK — The age of models is a key industry issue, with many so young they burn out years before their bodies reach maturity.

That was one of the key points that emerged at Tuesday’s Council of Fashion Designers of America-organized Health Initiative panel, which sought to address the topic “The Beauty of Health: Resizing the Sample Size.”

The size of samples has long been a topic of conversation in editorial circles, with designer samples cut so small it often mandates the type of models magazine editors work with. The panel — which featured model Doutzen Kroes; Zac Posen; casting agent James Scully; Vogue’s fashion director Tonne Goodman; beauty executive Aerin Lauder, and David Bonnouvrier, head of DNA Model Management — was hard-pressed to pinpoint a solution to the issue of too-small sample sizes, and conversation turned to the trend of younger models in the industry, and how their underdeveloped bodies send out the wrong signal to women who buy the clothes.

Scully said that, since the Health Initiative was founded in 2007, he has made a point of asking the models’ ages. He said over the past few days of castings, he has seen about 170 models, and 100 who were under 17, and 70 percent were 16, or too young for his shows. “I am running out of girls to cast my shows with,” he said. “I would like to see a minimum age of 18. I can’t tell a girl who never even kissed a boy to go out on the runway and be sexy.”

Lauder noted that beauty contracts — often chased by models like fashion’s holy grail — require different ideals than runway shows, because healthy hair and skin are crucial. “If we go too young, the customer can’t relate to you,” she said.

The panel was moderated by David Herzog, director of Boston’s Harris Center for Education and Advocacy in Eating Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital.

It was Kroes, however, who, with her anecdotes, drove the message home most effectively. The model recalled struggling to be cast in runway shows because she didn’t fit into sample size garments. “I was 18 when I started,” she said. “I probably fit a sample size once when I was 11 or 12. Now I am 25. I am always told I should lose weight.”

Realizing she liked what she saw in the mirror, she decided to sit down with her agent and restrategize her career. “We called it the ass meeting because I had one,” she said, causing the crowd to erupt into laughter.

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