Too much, too young?
Should children under 18 be allowed to model for adult fashion?
Earlier this summer, the French luxury conglomerate Kering, owner of Gucci and Balenciaga, pledged that by 2020 they would not use models under the age of eighteen. In August last year, Conde Nast International made a similar pledge claiming that it will no longer work with models under 18.
The fashion industry is no stranger to model controversy. In 2015 an advert for Miu Miu that appeared in Vogue was banned for inappropriately sexualising a young-looking model. It turned out to be twenty-two-year-old Mia Goth. However, the issue laid more with the fact that she looked under the age of sixteen. In 2016 Dior used 14-year-old Israeli model Sofia Mechetner for their spring-summer collection in Paris. In 2011 there was outrage when Tom Ford co-edited the January issue of Vogue. Within was a feature staring modelThylane Blondeau who at the time was ten years old. The photos saw the young model in seductive poses caked in makeup, although the images were defended as being art there is something very disconcerting and uncomfortable about the pictures. This was one of the last publications under Carine Roitfeld’s editorship, rumoured to be the reason that she was fired.
Kering’s arch-rival LVMH is adamant that the real issue is the conditions in which the models are made to work. The New York Times reported a story in 2017 where casting directors, Maida Gregori Boina and Rami Fernandes kept models in a dark stairwell for hours on end at a Balenciaga show.
But perhaps both age and conditions are important?
According to Fortune in 2019 “Models under 18 makeup 15% to 20% of those used in LVMH-brand fashion shows.” While LVMH thinks that Kering has gone too far, many, don’t believe they have gone far enough. As in their pledge, they did not tackle topics such as harassment in the workplace and unreasonable body expectations.
The non-profit organisation ‘The Model Alliance’ that supports models have said, “What’s
really needed are industry-wide standards that are actually enforceable, because even in the United States, where we’ve seen more progress, there still aren’t [legal] standards,” In respects to age, conditions and health. This was something that they announced in a social media storm, on Twitter. Social media has given models, and those who work with them, a platform to publicly call out bad behaviour. In 2015 a ban was created in France, stopping brands from using underweight models after the death of model Isabelle Caro caused by anorexia.
The #MeToo movement has shone a light on the dark side of fashion and men using their position of power to exploit women. After a handful of models came forward, naming highly respected photographers and accusing them of sexual harassment and abuse. In 20017 an anonymous model reported to the BBC “On set with makeup artists, stylists, et cetera, the photographer shoved his hand between my legs. I was 16”.
Many successful models started their cares at a starting young age. Kate Moss and Karlie Kloss began their careers at just fourteen, Naomi Campbell at fifteen all of them dressed and posed in sexualised positions before they hit 18.
One of the big questions of this topic, aside from the massive issue of exploitation and child sexualisation, is are these children old enough and mentally equipped to hold there own and look out for themselves in a high-stress fashion, grown-up environment? In an interview with Megyn Kelly, Kate Moss spoke about how she once had to lock herself away and cry after being told by female photographer Corinne Day she would not work again if she refused to pose nude.
This reportedly happened when she was only sixteen. Soon after this event, Moss stared in the Calvin Klein campaigns starring Mark Walberg that would cement her career. The model felt very uncomfortable in these shoots in the Kate Moss Book
she explains, “It didn’t feel like me at all. I felt really bad about straddling this buff guy. I didn’t like it. I couldn’t get out of bed for two weeks. I thought I was going to die.”
And now there’s a new generation. Daughter of fashion royalty Cindy Crawford- Kaia Gerber is one of today’s most popular models, and she is a mere seventeen years old. Begging the question is the fashion industry actually making any changes? Some models under the age of eighteen may feel more submissive toward authority figures than an older model hence putting themselves in uncomfortable positions and being too afraid to voice their concerns.
Many models that start young often have a natural waif-like figure, but as they get older, it is unlikely they can maintain such a child-like physique. The question is, how will this affect the mental health of a young adult who is expected to get into the same outfits as before, with the added emotions that adolescent hormones bring.
As these changes are happening, there has been a rise in the popularity of using older models. Models such as Maye Musk the seventy-year-old Canadian–South African model has worked successfully for brands such as Dolce and Gabbana and Swarovski. There has also been a resurgence of models that were at the top of the game twenty or thirty years ago and are now middle-aged. In 2017 Versace had an original supermodel reunion with models like Cindi Crawford and Naomi Campbell closing the show. Similarly, Helmut Lang has reinstated 48-year-old Kirsten Owen as one of their models. This could show the future of the fashion industry, an inclusive and diverse future that they keep promising to the consumers.
Brands must be cautious when it comes to using child models there is first the matter of how the model is represented and secondly the matter of safeguarding. In the USA the law states that any employer of a child model must “provide models everything they would have at school and more. That means nurses on the premises; a “responsible person” supervising them onset; more breaks during work; and a separate, restricted bank account where at least 15 per cent of the model’s earnings are transferred.” In the Uk, if a child is under school leaving age, they may require a licence to model, they must also be accompanied by either a parent, school teacher, home tutor or a chaperone that has been approved by the council. While this is the law is it one that is actually closely enforced?