Michael Kors joined Anna Wintour and model Natalia Vodianova at Harvard Business School Monday night for a panel on the Great Weight Debate in the modeling industry. While the focus of the evening was on body image and the pressure on models to be super-thin, Kors used the forum to announce that he would no longer employ models under the age of 16. In doing so, Kors became one of the first big-name American designers to institute a public change. He also called for more industry guidelines and supervision for models under 18.
Anna Wintour addressed what she called a “code of silence” about eating disorders in an interview with the Boston Globe before the panel.
“The models were so frightened of recrimination and that they wouldn’t be booked for shoots or shows that they didn’t want to talk about what everybody knew was going on. Creating guidelines within the industry to know what to do when they see a girl with a problem was an important first step. What we’ve been doing with discussions like this one is making sure that the message gets out there to everyone.’’
As someone whose immense power was so clearly portrayed in last year’s fashion documentary, “The September Issue,” it feels a little disingenuous for Wintour to decry a “fear of recrimination” or so-called “code of silence.” Wintour managed to singlehandedly change the shipping schedules of international fashion powerhouse Prada at the behest of Neiman Marcus, so it would seem that Wintour could have done more to stem the issue in the first place. With Vogue’s foothold as the fashion bible, a refusal from Wintour to review collections whose shows included a parade of unhealthy and underage models would have gone a very long way.
Aside from Kors, the most insightful comment came from Vodianova, whose experience as a model gave the best perspective and cut right to the heart of the issue. Of her fellow models, she said: “Their sense of self-worth is handed over to a bunch of people who don’t care about their self-esteem.”
And that’s where the change needs to happen.