As the spring/summer 2018 shows kick off this week in New York, model castings are taking place across the major fashion capitals of the world. Will we finally see more diversity and representation on the catwalks this season, after years of predominantly white models? Will we see fewer painfully underweight girls and more designers celebrating women of all sizes?
While it can't be said whether the catwalks will at last be more diverse, on Wednesday, fashion conglomerates Kering and LVMH announced they will stop hiring dangerously thin models on catwalks worldwide in response to continuous criticism that the industry encourages distorted body ideals and eating disorders amongst models. In a press release, the groups explained: "Respecting the dignity of every man and woman is at the heart of both group’s values. Having always cared for the well-being of models, LVMH and Kering feel that they have a specific responsibility, as leaders in the industry, to go one step further with their brands."
Kering and LVMH, which collectively own leading luxury brands including Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Christopher Kane, Stella McCartney, Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Céline, have signed a charter which forbids hiring girls under the age of 16 to pose as adult models for shows or shoots — it will come into effect ahead of this month's Fashion Week in Paris. Models aged 16 to 18 will not be allowed to work between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. (as school-attendance obligations must be met), a chaperone or guardian will be mandatory, and alcohol will not be served during castings or shoots. The charter also stipulates that models must be able to make a direct complaint to the brand "in the case of a dispute with a modeling agency, a casting director, or a brand."
In March of this year, a furore broke out following the reported mistreatment of models at Balenciaga and Lanvin castings. According to casting director James Scully over 150 girls were left to wait in a stairwell at a Balenciaga casting for over three hours. Apparently the casting directors "shut the door, went to lunch and turned off the lights to the stairs leaving every girl with only the lights of their phones to see. Not only was this sadistic and cruel it was dangerous and left more than a few of the girls I spoke with traumatized." Scully also claimed Lanvin did not want to hire models of color, and that an unnamed fashion house tried sneaking in a model aged just 15. Following Scully's Instagram exposé, many models and public figures joined in on the discussion about the sub-standard conditions models are forced to work in, the systemic racism within the industry, and the constant promotion of unattainable physical standards.
In May 2017, the conversation was picked up again, when casting director Ashley Brokaw was heavily criticized for reportedly canceling model Ulrikke Hoyer from a Louis Vuitton show last minute for being "too fat."
Thankfully, Kering and LVMH's new (though long-overdue) commitment to banning female models below size 34 (US size 2) from their casting requirements is a significant step in the right direction. All eyes will be on the spring '18 runways to see just how houses uphold these new guidelines, and how much we will still need to campaign for more inclusivity (and less perpetuation of dangerously thin ideals) in the industry.