As the SS18 shows kick off this week in New York, followed by London Fashion Week next Friday, then Milan and Paris, model castings are taking place across the major fashion capitals as designers and fashion houses select the faces they want to front their new collections. Will we finally see more diversity and representation on the catwalks this season, after years and years of predominantly white models? Will we see fewer painfully underweight girls and more designers celebrating plus-size figures?
While it can't be said whether the catwalks will at last be more diverse, today fashion conglomerates Kering and LVMH announced that they will stop hiring dangerously thin models on catwalks worldwide in response to continuous condemnation that the industry encourages distorted body ideals and eating disorders amongst models. In a press statement, released this morning, the fashion 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 own leading luxury brands including McQueen, Balenciaga, Christopher Kane, Stella McCartney, Louis Vuitton, Dior and Celine, have both signed a charter which forbids the hiring of girls under the age of 16 to pose as adult models for shows or shoots and 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 10pm and 6am (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 modelling agency, a casting director or a brand."
In March of this year, a furore broke out, following revelations about the mistreatment of models at Balenciaga and Lanvin castings. According to US 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 spoke out on Lanvin not wishing to work with models of colour as well as an unnamed big fashion house which tried to sneak 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 thinness.
This conversation was picked up again in May 2017, when casting director Ashley Brokaw was heavily criticised for reportedly cancelling 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 (UK size 6) from their casting requirements is a significant step towards ending the unhealthy goals models strive for and the perpetuation of dangerously thin beauty ideals in the media. All eyes will be on the SS18 shows to see just how much these fashion houses genuinely uphold these new guidelines and how much we will still need to campaign for change on the catwalk.