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A New Charter Aims to End Model Abuse: Will it Work?

François-Henri Pinault of Kering and Antoine Arnault of LVMH speak to BoF about their new charter to protect models. Does it go far enough?
Source: Shutterstock
By
  • Osman Ahmed

LONDON, United Kingdom — When casting director James Scully gave a powerful talk about the abuse of models rife within the fashion industry at BoF's VOICES gathering in December, he concluded with an ultimatum: if he continued to see evidence of bullying, cruelty and discrimination, he promised to name and shame the perpetrators publicly on social media. True to his word, Scully became the modelling industry's whistle-blower, taking to Instagram to publicly address an incident at a Balenciaga casting during Paris Fashion Week in March. Many more models came forward with disturbing stories, and in May, another incident made headlines, this time involving Louis Vuitton and its Cruise show in Kyoto.

Within a week of his post about Balenciaga, Scully had become the de-facto advocate for models' rights and was invited to meet with François-Henri Pinault, chairman and CEO of Kering, and Antoine Arnault, CEO of Berluti and son of LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault. Both executives were understandably concerned, and keen to improve the way their fashion houses employ and treat models. In an unprecedented move, both Pinault and Arnault agreed to collaborate on a bill of strict regulations that would be adhered to by their brands, which include Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Loewe, Marc Jacobs, Céline, Givenchy and Fendi at LVMH; and Gucci, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney at Kering.

“The Charter on the Working Relationships with Fashion Models and Their Well-Being” is the first time that the rival luxury conglomerates have united to implement regulations within the fashion industry. It includes a commitment to ban clothing sizes 32 for women and 42 for men (EU measurements), as well as asking agencies to present female and male models who are respectively sizes 34 and 44 or over.

I knew it was happening in our brands but I needed to have a bit of a wake-up call.

There are also commitments to having a psychologist or therapist at the models’ disposal during their jobs; private fitting rooms; strict nudity and semi-nudity agreements; a ban on alcohol and provision of healthy food and drink at all times; the provision of transportation after 8pm; a ban on models under the age of 16; a ban on models between the ages of 16 and 18 working between 10pm and 6am; as well as the presence of a dedicated brand representative at all times. A “monitoring committee” will be put in place and models will be given a hotline to brand representatives to make complaints. The committee will meet with designers, models and agencies every six months to check in.

The manifesto marks an important milestone amidst claims of abuse and unethical treatment of models. But how will it be implemented across the board and can it actually solve one of the industry’s darkest problems?

One could argue that this is long overdue, however the pressure on brands to act has reached a seminal moment this year. Thanks to social media, models have a public platform to share their experiences. There’s also the fact that the incidents at Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton were covered by media outlets around the world, forcing their parent companies to take notice.

“I knew it was happening in our brands but I needed to have a bit of a wake-up call,” Arnault tells BoF. “We started thinking about establishing a few rules inside our group and then I heard that Kering was obviously also very concerned with this issue, and we decided to write it together.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/BYtXyN7jfc1

Of course, both LVMH and Kering will likely face challenges along the way. “It’s absolutely compulsory starting this fashion week; there will be no exception and we need to be absolutely perfect in the implementation,” asserts François-Henri Pinault. Arnault, however, concedes that the new regulations may take some time to implement. “I’m absolutely sure that this first fashion season will not be 100 percent compliant with this charter, unfortunately, but things will go in the right direction,” he says. “I hope that in the second fashion season, we will not only be 100 percent compliant, but also that this charter will have been completed and amended with probably new topics that we haven’t seen or identified yet.” The key, as Arnault points out, is that executives and a dedicated team will be paying closer attention to the casting process and treatment of models. “There will still be issues to raise and there will still be problems this season, and I want to hear them,” he says.

Certainly, there may also be room for improvement on the charter itself. “We’re going to meet every season and discuss how it’s working, and we can change this agreement every season,” says Scully. “I would love to see a little more regulation on the number of girls under 18 that are allowed to work, because I still think there are too many,” says Scully. “I was hoping everyone would take the example of Gucci where they don’t book anyone under 18.”

Scully believes one of the most important aspects of the charter is the hotline to a brand representative. “It really does give the models and the agents a voice,” he explains. “It’s going to be very difficult for people to behave in some of the ways they have done before because now, any model or agent can call this hotline and say, ‘I’ve been harassed. This person is pressuring me about my weight.’”

Ulrikke Hoyer, the Danish model who claims she was told she was "too fat for Louis Vuitton" at the brand's Cruise show in May, is pleased with the action taken as a result of her whistle-blowing. "If telling my story had just a bit to do with this and if that can make changes for so many of my colleagues, then it's been all worth it," says Hoyer. "I am so happy for the actions that these two huge companies have taken [because] their influence sets the agenda for other fashion brands worldwide." Hoyer encourages fellow models to share their stories of unethical treatment. "We models are in the middle of the whole thing and see and feel the environment first hand, so speak up if these words on signed papers won't hold ground," she advises. "We'll see after these coming fashion weeks, and I am also sure that the press will keep a closer eye on what comes down the catwalk."

Models, casting directors, stylists and designers were consulted for brainstorming sessions when drawing up the charter. Arnault's partner, Natalia Vodianova, was also involved. "We have had countless discussions on it, and she has talked to me about her early years which was 15 years ago and she told me it was bad — probably even worse — because there were no social networks at the time to say something with if something happened," he says. "Of course, we could have done it earlier but it's never too late and I think it's going in the right direction."

It's going to be very difficult for people to behave in some of the ways they have done before.

One reason why fashion houses fail to efficiently address cases of mistreatment is because casting directors and stylists are often external contractors, and therefore removed from human resources departments. “If you behaved like a lot of these people did and you were working for that company as a regular employee, you’d be fired in one afternoon,” says Scully. “Everyone has been turning a blind eye to these people because they’re freelancers.”

Pinault and Arnault both say that they hope that charter will tightly control these external relationships and ensure they adhere to the standards. “When we contract with those external people — the casting directors and agencies — we will be precise in our contract about the strict respect of the charter in the way they work,” says Pinault. “It’s now a matter of controlling those people. Frankly, the first external partner that will try to fool us on that will be out. That’s the end of any contract or relationship with them.”

This isn’t the first time that efforts have been made to regulate the modelling industry. In 2012, the Model Alliance was established in New York to protect models working in the American fashion industry. In 2015, France passed legislation outlawing underweight models from working in the country's fashion industry. Agencies face fines of up to €75,000 ($89,527) or imprisonment of up to six months if they breach the law. And while models there are required to undergo medical certification as evidence of their health every two years, Arnault and Pinault have introduced the same requirement on a six-month basis.

Other brands outside of the LVMH and Kering firmaments will be welcome to sign the charter, too. "I feel that in a way, they will have to comply because models will not accept being treated certain ways by brands and another way with others" says Arnault. "Once the two leaders of an industry apply reasonable rules, they will need to comply. They're more than welcome to join even if they're late to the party." Pinault has plans to take it further, too. "I'm pretty sure, between Arnault and myself, [we] will have conversations with our competitors to try and convince them to follow the example and sign the charter," he confirms. "Certainly, for professional institutions like the Camera della Moda, Fédération de la haute couture et de la Mode and the British Fashion Council."

Will it work? It may take time, but already things are improving, according to Scully. “Places that used to be notorious for late fittings and over-casting are already improving their situations,” he says. “Even here in New York, models this season are sending me pictures saying, ‘There was food, there was water, they asked how I was!’”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L5uYojEJTw

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