The Fashion Law Institute applauds “The Charter on Working Models and Their Well-Being” issued jointly by the world’s two largest luxury conglomerates – and its challenge to the rest of the fashion industry to join them. This statement is the latest crest of a growing wave of concern for the health, safety, privacy, and dignity of fashion models that has included public regulation (in order: Madrid, Milan, Israel, New York State, France), industry guidelines (CFDA Health Initiative, Danish Fashion Ethical Charter), advocacy (Model Alliance, initially founded and directed with the assistance of the Fashion Law Institute), and the voices of current modeling industry insiders (notably and recently James Scully). Not since Vogue’s decision to cast only models 16 and over for the editorial content of its editions worldwide, however, have individual fashion-related companies put their reputations on the line and made such a public commitment to change.
The Charter is a comprehensive, standard-setting, buck-stops-here statement that has the potential to address the most difficult aspect of reform in the modeling industry, namely finger-pointing and the passing of responsibility. If designers say they cast U.S. size zero models because that’s who agencies send, and agencies say casting directors and fashion houses only select size zero “girls,” and young models are caught in the middle, it’s difficult to effect change. By stepping up and creating the Charter, LVMH and Kering – and their many influential labels – could help break the impasse.
Some aspects of the Charter will be difficult to monitor – the measurements of a U.S. size zero or French 32 vary from brand to brand and even garment to garment, for example – but collectively the provisions reinforce one another and reflect an understanding of models’ basic needs and concerns. After listening to models’ surprised and overwhelming gratitude when we offered something as simple as bottled water while casting a Fashion Law Institute show a couple of years ago, and previously seeing a model nearly faint after refusing to eat or drink backstage, we are convinced that even acknowledging the issues is a step in the right direction.
While the Charter’s creators can expect positive publicity, their joint statement actually carries significant risk. There are bound to be instances in which the Charter’s ideals are not met, and the sharp-eyed gaze of a thousand models’ mobile phones and social media accounts could potentially embarrass the companies. And in fashion, the most feared sanctions aren’t legal fines or even the potential for lawsuits – they’re negative headlines.
So kudos to Kering and LVMH for their ethical actions, and here’s hoping that other brands, modeling agencies, media outlets, trade associations, and individuals throughout the fashion industry will see them as role models.