Last week fashion conglomerates LVMH and Kering announced a charter to protect the wellbeing of models. The brands under them include Gucci, Saint Laurent Paris, Balenciaga, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen so it’s pretty big news for the fashion industry.
The charter includes:
- All brands will work with models to ensure that they can "present a valid medical certificate, attesting to their good health and ability to work, obtained less than six months before the shooting or the fashion show”.
- French sizes 32 (UK 4, US 0) for women and 42 for men will be banned from casting requirements. Instead, casting agents will need to present female models sized 34 (UK 6) and over, and male models sized 44 and over.
- Brands will have a dedicated psychologist or therapist at their disposal during their working time
- Models must be able to make a direct complaint to the brand "in the case of a dispute with a modelling agency, a casting director or a brand"
- Brands must provide transportation for models to return to their place of residence after 8pm
- Brands must provide models with access to food and drinks that comply with dietary requirements as well as "useful information to maintain a healthy diet throughout the working day"
- In the case of nudity during a shoot or while getting dressed before or after a show, "the model will never be alone with a person linked to the production or a photographer”
- Models aged under 16 "must not be hired by brands to take part in shows or shootings representing an adult"
- Regarding models aged 16 to 18 specifically, they will not be allowed to work between 10pm and 6am; a chaperone or guardian is mandatory; alcohol will not be served during castings or shoots; and they must meet their "school-attendance obligations”.
This charter comes after casting agent James Scully spoke out about the way models were being treated at a Balenciaga casting last March.
This treatment may shock people, who ask why a model would choose to wait in such conditions but it is quite normal treatment of models, especially during fashion week. The models would have been ‘requested’, and sent by their agencies who would be extremely angry if they weren’t seen.
Fashion week casting is notorious for poor treatment of models. For the four days leading up to fashion week, models are sent anywhere from 5-20 castings per day and expected to attend all of them. They rush around cities with heels, not eating for the whole day because they are measured at each casting and carefully scrutinised. The models are impossibly thin and the lines are impossibly long. The castings themselves often last for under a minute.
The famous ‘Fashion Scout’ casting in London always reminds me of a meat market. Every single fashion model in London is there, and there are generally between 20-40 designers sitting at tables in a large hall where the model will visit the table, offer a card and then walk up and down the room. The entire hall is a maze of models strutting up and down, usually to have their card thrown on the large ‘no’ pile before moving on to the next table. Fashion Scout is ‘off schedule’, meaning it is a large collection of shows with designers that most people will probably not have heard of. But it gives more people the opportunity of being a part of the fashion week umbrella.
Personally I think the charter is a very good step in the right direction, but reaching a size 34 (86 cm) around your hips (aka bum) when you are 6 foot tall is incredibly difficult to achieve without starving yourself. This is the new ‘minimum’ for models working with LVMH during fashion weeks - this simply means it is the new official standard for models to reach.
Of course, some models are naturally this size but speaking from my experience as a model, most are not. I chose to leave the agency that required me to get down to this size because it was simply unachievable for me to do without developing an eating disorder. It took me a year to work up the courage that this was the right thing to do and I was very lucky that I had a back up plan at University and another agency would represent me at size 8. I chose to do commercial modelling instead, which is well paid and where models are very well treated but it shouldn't have to be one or the other. My current UK agency is amazing and have never asked me to lose weight or do anything I don't want to do, but I'm very lucky that I found them.
The medical certificate, similar to France’s BMI law, will be easy to manipulate - with models gaining or losing weight as instructed to obtain it. The ability for a model to be able to complain directly to a brand is nice in theory, however in reality no model would ever dare complain to a brand personally out of fear of their agency and of not working. We already have that ability, to speak up on a job when we are being unfairly treated however we generally redress to our agencies because we are afraid of being labelled as ‘hard to work with’. It is already difficult enough to work in the industry, let alone receiving pay that models rarely use their voices.
Ultimately, it boils down to common sense in action rather than charters and words - the only way that LVMH and the fashion industry in general will create true change is by putting models on their catwalks, and in their campaigns who are clearly healthy. The true issue with the weight ‘problem’ is that there is no spectrum - models have to be either size 6, or a size 12 (‘plus size’). There is no in between, and the industry will continue making people feel bad about themselves, models and ‘normal people’ alike until something actually changes.
Read the full charter here.