In the latest industry move to combat eating disorders and the influence of ultrathin body types, models in Milan will need a license to walk the runway next season, if Italy's Chamber of Fashion has anything to say about it.
The license will guarantee that the model is healthy and will be issued by a committee comprising city officials, the Chamber of Fashion, the Association of Fashion Services, ASSEM and a scientific committee, which includes a group of doctors, nutritionists, psychologists and other experts. The license is just one of the issues of the "ethical code of self-regulation" that was presented to the press on Monday by the Camera della Moda and the mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti. "This is a code of self-regulation," said Moratti, "and it is connected to those lifestyles that lead to social diseases. The risk is that we are not protecting the health of the models and the impact on the young adolescents who see models as a reference point to achieve beauty."
According to the code, models will have to be at least age 16. Also, the code plans to comply with a Body Mass Index of 18.5, set by the World Health Organization. However, the Italian code takes into account geographical and ethnic factors that may define different body types.
The ethnic-geographic consideration had been overlooked by Spanish fashion industry officials, who last season banned superskinny models from the Madrid runways. Madrid was both ridiculed and praised when it gained headlines around the world by drawing attention to the connection between fashion and the risks of eating disorders by reinforcing the World Health Organization's Body Mass Index. But the Italian code points out: "We cannot limit ourselves to numerical parameters or preset formulas. For this reason, a personalized analysis is necessary."
In addition to validating a license to model, the ethical and scientific committees plan to promote a greater variety of sizes on the runway and to put fashion shows on par with athletic competitions, thereby reinforcing the need for a healthy eating habits and techniques to fight stress. The committees plan to introduce nutrition courses and balanced physical activities in modeling schools. "We will also evaluate the production of shoots done outside Italy, for example, and see if they are in line with the code's principles to be distributed in Italy," said Moratti, adding that intense marketing and communications are also planned to promote a message of well-being and health.Although Mario Boselli, head of the Chamber of Fashion, underscored that "this is only a starting point," the code will start to regulate the shows next February. Milan Fashion Week is slated to run Feb. 17 to 25. "This is not a revolution, but [the code] marks the first steps of future changes," said Boselli.
However well-intentioned the new rules, this being Italian politics, there were a number of sticky issues that emerged on Monday, such as the notable absence of fashion designers or their public relations representatives and the underlying tension between Moratti and Giovanna Melandri, the Italian minister for sports activities and youth-driven programs. Melandri will hold her own press conference in Rome on Friday to present her manifesto, a nationwide campaign in Italy against anorexia with support from designers, top brands, modelling agencies and photographers that will seek to ban the use of emaciated models in advertising and on the catwalks.
A source familiar with the situation said "a political squabble has emerged between the two politicians." However, replying to questions by reporters trying to assess the differences between the code and the manifesto, Moratti and Boselli stressed that, in fact, there are no differences, and that the code will eventually be part of the national manifesto. The latter was originally scheduled to be presented in January, but a rush to capitalize on the media's current interest in the controversy prompted the politicians to hold their respective conferences before Christmas. The issue continued to gain attention last month after the death of 21-year-old Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston from anorexia.
"I'm sorry to say this sounds a lot like a way to get votes," said Roberto Cavalli in a phone interview, adding that he was not informed by the Chamber of Fashion about the code. "I don't think the code will change fashion, and fashion is not the cause of juvenile problems," said the designer. "There are other ways to take care of our young generation: stop showing half-naked starlets on television, ban silicone implants if one is not at least 25, for example," said Cavalli. As for the models' age limit, the designer agreed with the code. "I never have models who are too young, in fact, I would even raise the age to 18."Marilyn Agency's Robert Ferrell lauded Italy's move to ban pre-16 models from the runway. "It's not right to put kids into an adult environment," said Ferrell, adding that despite France having introduced the same age restriction in the Eighties, certain houses will always find ways around it. He also welcomes the debate on the "ongoing issue" of models and their weight, declaring fashion should be a healthy industry. "It's too early to see how they're going to put their restrictions into place," said Ferrell. "But I don't predict it will have a big impact on the agency."
Although Boselli did not dwell on possible restrictions for designers on Monday, he hinted earlier this month to an ousting of noncomplying fashion houses from the official calendar.
A number of those who attended the press conference said it was a mistake not to invite designers to the event, although Boselli said that he and the Camera represented the body of Italian designers. A Giorgio Armani spokesman said the company was "aware of the conversations between the mayor and Mr. Boselli, but we have not been given the details of the code." The spokesman, however, attributed this lack of communication to "a probable matter of time constrictions."
Anna Molinari, who was contacted later in the day, knew the contents of the code because of her friendship with one of the city's officials. Molinari said she was "entirely in favor of Melandri's project, given the fact that the runways have become a model of beauty and elegance for young adolescents who are still looking for their identity.…The fashion world should take responsibility for its role, dismissing those ‘excesses' that can become dangerous for the youngest. I firmly believe we should recover the concept of beauty and balance, harmony, proportions and health, elegance and seduction that don't necessarily match with sizes."
Fashion veteran Beppe Modenese said "the weight problem has always existed and it's right to talk about it, but in the end, it's an issue for the modeling agencies."
Boselli was adamant that the code will produce a standard to export to the rest of the world.
In France, designer Isabel Marant said "It's a mixed debate." Marant believes that, if restrictions are ever applied to the Paris shows, it will be a short-lived affair. "It's an agency's responsibility to monitor their girls closely, but to weigh models and enforce restrictions based on weight alone is not realistic," she added, citing "natural clotheshorses" Erin O'Connor, Kristen McNemany and Audrey Marnay, who, despite healthy appetites, remain slim.Didier Grumbach, who heads Paris' Chambre Syndicale, said: "We work with two unions in Paris [to oversee models] and up to now that arrangement has worked. If one day any agency is unprofessional we will do something. But at this point that is not the case. There have been no breeches of conduct. I don't see why we should regulate something that functions."
In the U.S., the fashion community's strategy to respond to the model debate is being spearheaded by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and its president, Diane von Furstenberg. She and Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue, arranged an initial meeting with Vera Wang, Derek Lam, industry leaders and several health professionals on the issue earlier this month. Von Furstenberg also sent out a letter to CFDA members asking them for their input and ideas.
Asked about the Milan plan on Monday, von Furstenberg said, "I am very interested in finding a way designers can really help this issue. I cannot speak in the name of the CFDA until I speak to my fellow designers who I represent. I am very sensitive to this matter and will address it. Right now, I am assembling information so that we can really be effective."
Many anticipate American fashion to come up with its plan before the February shows.
Steven Kolb, executive director of the CFDA, said: "Initiatives that address healthier models are a positive thing. To what degree do you enforce or regulate it is the question. I think that as we in the States contemplate or consider our own action, there are a number of suggested recommendations that we can put forward to the fashion community in terms of portraying beauty and health on the runway, but I don't know if you would ever be in a position to regulate them in a way that is so strict.
"I don't imagine we would go down the route of that kind of enforcement," he added. "Ours would be more about healthy recommendations for working with models and working collectively with all the industry to follow those regulations."
— With contributions from Robert Murphy and Katya Foreman, Paris; Marc Karimzadeh, New York
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