Too thin for the catwalk? Fashion furor

A superpower has come under heavy attack. The global fashion industry is currently faced with an international outcry against skinniness. It started in Spain, where the capital’s regional government imposed a ban on skinny models on the occasion of the city’s fashion week, known as Pasarela Cibeles. The local authorities, which sponsored the fashion event, argued that they were promoting the idea of healthy thin, as opposed to waif (five models were eventually banned from the catwalk shows which end today). Protest against the decision was immediate and came from all sides of the business, predominantly suggesting that the industry should decide for itself. Officials in Spain noted that they were acting following increasing concern about young women struggling to achieve skinny looks. While eating disorders are topping the charts of serious teen problems in affluent societies, the role of fashion has become increasingly influential. Following Madrid, the controversy reached New York and then London. In New York, where shows ended last week, fashion industry officials noted that if such a move was to be adopted it would open the door to a long series of lawsuits for prejudice and discrimination. In London, where shows end today, the British Fashion Council, the organization in charge of London Fashion Week, issued a statement saying that «it does not comment or interfere in the aesthetics of any designer’s show.» Following bad press due to its refusal to implement the skinny model ban in Britain, the council decided to cancel a photocall for the event. After London, it’s Milan’s turn to play host to the traveling fashion circus for a few days. The Milan fashion week kicks off tomorrow, while last week the city’s mayor was quoted in a local paper saying that she was prepared to go the Madrid way unless the industry could come with a solution for what she referred to as «sick- looking» models. Speaking from London, where he was attending the shows, Lakis Gavalas, the well-known Greek fashion enterpreneur and the man behind the LAK label, explained why looks vary. «As far as the industry goes, skinny models are chosen because they look good in photo shoots, not so much on the catwalk,» he said over a phone interview. «When it comes to the young generation, I think that these days young people go to websites and they look at the brands, not so much the models. Models are really the hangers for the clothes.» As for his own LAK spring/summer 2007 show coming up in September, Gavalas noted that he was in search of regular-looking people. Will beauty continue to be in the eye of the advertising and designer beholders or will it fall into the hands of the body mass index (aka BMI, a method based on weight and height)? Will naturally skinny models lose lucrative jobs and emaciated beauties be forced to gain a few kilos or will it be business as usual with daily model diets including a few laxatives? In Greece, where the Athens Collections, the Greek fashion week, is scheduled to start on October 19, the issue has not been officially raised – so far. «If this could be a good thing, give or take three kilos, let it be,» said designer Christoforos Kotentos, speaking to Kathimerini English Edition. Given that Greece is a small market with a handful of modelling agencies representing about 100 models, Kotentos argued that picking 40 for the Athens shows leaves little choice. But how will an industry which thrives on serious excess, be it floating champagne, beauty, stress, talent and egos, react in the long run? Daphne Valente, president of the Hellenic Fashion Designers Association was pragmatic. «Over the years, fashion has observed various movements in terms of social issues, take fur for instance. A while ago there was much talk about not wearing fur, but now its back with a vengeance,» said Valente to this paper. «In the same way, even though the anorexic image is bad, clothes look better on a thin body, unfortunately. It would be nice to see the Spanish example prevail, but I don’t think it will.»