Hollow-eyed and gaunt, the skeletal model stalked down the runway at the Gianfranco Ferré fashion show in Milan last night wearing a dress cut in a deep V that revealed her protruding clavicle and flat chest. A flurry of flashbulbs popped as photographers vied to get the best shot and the line of fashion editors sitting front row scribbled furiously on their notepads. If ever there were a case of Emperor's New Clothes at fashion week, it was here.
Did any one of the assembled crowd really think this model - bony cleavage, dark circled eyes - looked good? Could they genuinely say that this image was aspirational? And ultimately, would the model do what must be her main purpose here: sell these clothes to other women? The answer to all of the above should surely be a firm no. But the designers' decision to use such dramatically thin models - and to accentuate their emaciated looks with the use of revealing clothing and dark make-up - suggests the powers that be within the fashion industry think otherwise.
As debate rages on about the irresponsible use of underweight models in fashion shows, it seems the designers themselves - those with the power to evoke change - are just not listening. In 2006 Milan formally barred ultra-skinny models from catwalk shows as the fashion world came under pressure to promote a healthier body image. The agreement signed between the city and its powerful fashion industry banned models with a body mass index of less than 18.5 from Milan’s shows. The accord included the introduction of courses on healthy eating and exercise and called for a variety of clothing sizes in shows. Realistically, four years on, it is very unlikely these measures are being adhered to.
It is, say insiders, just too difficult to enforce. Pressure from the high profile designers in New York, Paris and Milan prevents change, they say, because the designers ignore requests not to use underweight or underage girls. There is, however, a small number that are taking the first steps towards promoting a healthier image on the catwalk.
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