In the fashion industry, the casting of underage models has historically been commonplace. In 1980 Brooke Shields controversially appeared on the front cover of Vogue at the tender age of 14. Some of the most iconic supermodels of the 1990s, including Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks, started their careers just shy of 16. Over the years, however, the use of underage models has been a topic of increased scrutiny and the fashion industry has taken a number of steps to restrict such use.
In 2007, the British Fashion Council (BFC) voiced their concern over the growing tendency to recruit underage models. This was in pursuit of a certain body type sought by particular designers, which was felt by many to be only achievable by older models with drastic dieting. As a result, the BFC issued certain health guidelines that strongly recommended that designers cast models who were at least 16 years of age.
Condé Nast echoed the BFC and announced in 2012 that all 21 international Vogues had signed a pact pledging they would not use models under the age of 16. In further support, Condé Nast increased the minimum age from 16 to 18 in 2018.
Most recently, on 16 May 2019 we saw Kering (parent to Gucci, YSL and Balenciaga, among other brands) match Condé Nast’s stance and announce that they will no longer be hiring models under the age of 18. Marie-Claire Daveu, the chief sustainability officer at Kering, said in a statement that “the physiological and psychological maturity of models aged over 18 seems more appropriate to the rhythm and demands that are involved in this profession” and chief executive François Henri-Pinault added “we hope to create a movement that will encourage others to follow suit.”
Indeed, Sara Ziff (founder of the campaign group Model Alliance) stated that Kering’s announcement was “a positive step towards eliminating the intense pressure models currently face to maintain an adolescent physique and to go to extremes to lose weight.” However, she also highlighted that it may lack a “mechanism for actual enforcement.”
Although the enforceability of such policies is questionable, it is undeniable that Condé Nast and Kering’s vocal support for models under the age of 18 and their wellbeing is meaningful in itself; given their influence, it stands to make a sizeable impact on the fashion industry.
Having recently hosted a seminar for the Responsible Trust for Models (see the drop down menu titled ‘Conferences and seminars’ here) and spoken to those in the industry, we can appreciate the steps already taken whilst acknowledging that there is still work to be done. It remains to be seen which other global players will step up to the mark.
If you would like advice in this area, please contact a member of our Fashion Group here.