PARIS — France’s leading luxury groups are joining forces to ban size-zero models from the catwalk and fashion shoots.
The measure is part of a charter set up by Kering and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton to ensure the well-being of models following a string of high-profile incidents during Paris Fashion Week in February, including allegations that models were mistreated at a casting for Balenciaga, a Kering brand.
The initiative marks the first time that the two powerhouses have joined forces, and they hope that other brands and industry bodies — such as the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode in France and the Camera Nazionale della Moda in Italy — will rapidly follow suit.
The charter, which will be implemented by both groups’ brands worldwide, also requires models to present a recent medical certificate proving their overall health, and bans the hiring of models below the age of 16 in shows or shoots representing an adult, among other measures.
François-Henri Pinault, chairman and chief executive officer of Kering, said the group had been working on the topic since 2015, but was moved to act quickly after casting director James Scully blew the whistle on several brands, including Balenciaga, Hermès and Elie Saab, for allegedly abusing models.
“That’s where I decided in March, ‘Enough is enough. We are going to put in place some rules and I want those rules to be implemented for the next fashion week,’” Pinault told WWD.
Antoine Arnault, ceo of Berluti and chairman of Loro Piana, was among the first public figures to comment on Scully’s Instagram post, alongside the likes of Joan Smalls, Helena Christensen, Carolyn Murphy and Hilary Rhoda. “If you hear of anything like this happening at our houses, please contact me directly,” he wrote.
Pinault has long stated his commitment to promote a socially, ethically, economically and environmentally sustainable business. He is chairman of the Kering Foundation, which was launched in 2009 to combat violence against women.
“We could not accept the status quo. If someone had to act, it was us. We decided to forge ahead because of our commitment, in the belief that we have to set the example in this domain, take the lead and apply the relevant rules to ourselves,” Pinault said.
He rapidly realized that in order to have an impact, the charter would have to be adopted by other companies.
“I decided to call the LVMH Group, which is the sector leader, to see if they were interested in joining forces with us and I realized they had also been working on the topic for a while, so it was very easy and the collaboration between the LVMH teams and ours was very productive and efficient,” he said.
Arnault, who is the son of LVMH chairman and ceo Bernard Arnault and a director at LVMH, told WWD his reaction to the casting scandals was instinctive. “It wasn’t the corporate executive reacting, it was really the man, the netizen. I was in my car heading home after a tiring day and I didn’t think twice,” said Arnault, whose partner is model Natalia Vodianova.
He met with Scully a few days later. “I wasn’t really surprised to learn this kind of thing happens almost everywhere,” he said.
“And if it’s happening everywhere, it’s bound to be happening in our group. We realized this was no longer admissible and, as sector leader, we have a responsibility to lead the way, preempt any problems and set the example across the board,” he added.
He immediately agreed to collaborate with Kering on the sensitive topic, which has been in the spotlight in France since the government adopted a law in December 2015 intended to ban excessively thin models.
“We had the idea of drafting this joint charter and I must say I’m very proud of it, because some things are bigger than competition concerns,” Arnault said.
“It’s not a question of communication and who does what first,” echoed Pinault. “It’s a question of professional ethics and a vision of the profession that we shared immediately, so I am very confident this will work and I think a lot of brands will join us.”
Pinault has also spoken with Scully, who is casting director for Stella McCartney, another label in the Kering stable, in addition to other casting directors, brand representatives, models and Synam, France’s union of model agencies.
“Each had a different vision of things and it was interesting for everyone to reconcile the different points of view to realize there were sometimes misunderstandings and it was time to correct them,” he said.
He has also met directly with the group’s designers, which include Alessandro Michele at Gucci, Anthony Vaccarello at Saint Laurent and Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga, to discuss the ban on the French size 32 for women — equivalent to a U.S. size zero — and size 42 for men from their casting requirements.
“The teams always think the designer thinks a certain way,” Pinault said. “These are such important topics that if you don’t ask them directly one to one, you only get indirect responses. When you talk to them and you have a calm discussion, there is no issue. They totally understand.”
Casting agencies are required to present models who are size 34 or above for women and size 44 and above for men. Brands also have to put a dedicated psychologist or therapist at their disposal during their working time.
Models’ medical certificates must be less than six months old — compared with the official French requirement for a certificate issued in the last two years. “Everyone knows that two years is far too long,” said Arnault. “We respect and follow the law, but we will try to do even more and even better.”
“A lot of people know — as I do — people affected by the scourge of anorexia,” added Pinault. “This represents an important advance in tackling the issue of excessive thinness and in particular anorexia in our profession.”
Both men said the new rules apply immediately and no exceptions will be tolerated. “I can tell you I’ll be checking,” promised Pinault, saying that the additional costs associated with the charter were not an issue.
Each LVMH brand will designate a point person for models to contact with any complaints about working conditions. They will in turn report to Hélène Freyss, group communication director at LVMH.
“We will be very vigilant so that every incident, especially the first season, is reported and handled so that it is not repeated the next,” Arnault pledged.
“We will be extremely strict with those who don’t implement this charter, whether it’s our houses directly or the casting or model agencies we work with. But you have to be realistic. In my opinion, it will take at least two seasons for the rules to be applied 100 percent,” he added.
Meanwhile, Kering brands will provide models with a hotline for reporting problems. Models will also be asked to provide feedback to a shared monitoring committee.
“Things won’t be perfect straight away, so we will continue to work on improving the implementation of these measures and if some measures have to be improved, they will be,” Pinault said.
In its current form, the charter addresses issues including working hours for models aged 16 to 18, who have to be accompanied by a chaperone or guardian at all times, and the creation of a dedicated private space for models to get changed during shoots or fashion shows.
It does not tackle racial diversity, despite accusations against several Paris-based brands, including Balenciaga, that they favor predominantly white casts. Balenciaga’s fall display featured several models of color, including Alek Wek.
Given the role of social media in accelerating change, it could be just a matter of time before the charter is extended.
“I was talking to my wife about it the other day and she said all these problems already existed 15 years ago, except that models didn’t have social networks to talk about them and try to effect change,” Arnault said, referring to Vodianova.
“She was lucky. She had good people around her and she was mentally strong, but we can really thank social networks for lifting the lid on a lot of things we would not have tolerated in the past if they had been public knowledge.”