As alliances go, it’s not quite as unlikely as Donald Trump breaking bread with Kim Jong Un, but it’s up there. News that LVMH (Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton) and Kering have reached an agreement to stop using excessively thin models on their catwalks is as surprising as it’s welcome. On paper, both are arch-rivals: two virtual oligopolies who between them own and control most of the major luxury fashion houses in the world. LVMH owns 70 prestigious brands including Christian Dior, Celine, Marc Jacobs, Kenzo, Givenchy and (obvs) Louis Vuitton. Kering’s roster includes Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Bottega Veneta and Alexander McQueen.
The two conglomerates have announced the joint signing of a charter “for the well-being of models”, in response to criticism that the fashion industry encourages eating disorders. The charter (which comes into effect in time for Paris Fashion Week later this month) also forbids the hiring of girls under the age of sixteen to work as adult models for fashion shows or editorial shoots. In addition, they have pledged that none of their fashion brands will employ models below a size 34 (UK 8) for women and a size 44 for men. “The wellbeing of models is of great importance to us,” said Antoine Arnault, son of LVMH director Bernard Arnault, in a statement, commenting further on Instagram that he was “deeply committed to ensuring that the working relationship between LVMH brands, agencies and models goes beyond simply complying with the legal requirements.” In 2015, France passed legislation outlawing thin models from working, with those found in breach being heftily fined or given six months imprisonment.
All of which begs the question: is this finally – hell, once more with feeling – FIIIIIINALLY – the end of size zero? My stance is one of cautious optimism. “Cautious”, because I feel like we’ve been here a zillion times before, yet to the naked eye, nothing ever seems to change. Every so often, a bag of bones will stride down the catwalk, and the industry will turn a blind eye.
Designers have always argued that clothes “hang better” on tall, thin models with nary a bum or breast to screw up the line
However noble the intention, it is extremely hard – not to mention dubious – to “police” a model’s weight. Despite LVMH and Kering’s best efforts, inevitably, it will fall to the models’ agencies to ensure that the young men and women on their books are healthy. Which is why it’s so essential that modelling agencies, casting directors, photographers, stylists and designers are all on board. Everyone in the fashion industry needs to work together: not just to “ban” too-thin models but, where necessary, help them. This means treating them as human beings, not revenue streams whose worth increases in inverse proportion to their weight. There has to be no more “if you’d just drop a dress size, you’d be booked more”. No more “you’ve gained weight over the summer – I don’t care how you lose it, just lose it.” The constant, invidious pressure to be the thinnest version of yourself must stop.
Designers have always argued that clothes “hang better” on tall, thin models with nary a bum or breast to screw up the line. In western cultures, thinness has long been associated with youthfulness, wealth and success. But a genuine sea change is occurring. At last, diversity is truly on the agenda, and the parameters of what constitutes “beautiful” are widening. The more we become used to seeing models of different races, sizes and ages represented on the catwalk (and, just as importantly, in magazines and newspapers), the more we are reminded that beauty comes in many forms.
That LVMH and Kering are supporting a model charter undoubtedly gives it more chance of success than any previous endeavours. Yet while they both have massive power and influence, let’s not forget that they are, first and foremost, businesses. It could be argued that, rather than leading an agenda, they’re belatedly following one: the one dictated by their customers.
The freedom of expression afforded by social media has given everyone a voice: not just models, but consumers. And what consumers are saying, increasingly, is that super-thin isn’t in. We don’t want to look like that. We don’t want to starve ourselves. We’d rather look strong. So well done, LVMH and Kering, for taking action. But well done, all of us, for speaking out. We need to keep doing so. We need to be heard. As in life, so too in the fashion industry: it takes a village.