- The Washington Times - Monday, February 15, 2010

NEW YORK | While President Obama and the first lady recently highlighted the need to combat childhood obesity, the fashion industry debated a different weight-related angle: “sample size.”

The models who auditioned for New York Fashion Week, which runs through Thursday, were undeniably thin. But it was only after the fashion industry started worrying about too-skinny models that casting agent James Scully began asking their age.

Most, he found, were younger than 16.

“Things are very seriously wrong at this moment,” he said.

As another round of runway shows kicked off Thursday, fashion insiders again took up the cause of emaciated models, this time with a new target to blame: youth.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) hosted a panel discussion last week on changing the standard model “sample size,” part of the health initiative it started after the death three years ago of a model with an eating disorder.

Spain and Italy adopted mandatory weight guidelines at the time, but the CFDA opted instead for voluntary measures that put the focus on nutritional and emotional counseling. Since then, some models have been red-flagged and removed from the runway to focus on eating and living well, said CFDA President Diane von Fursternberg.

The CFDA panel, “The Beauty of Health: Resizing the Sample Size,” initially focused on whether increasing the size of sample garments used in fashion shows and magazine photo shoots from 0 to 4 would result in healthier models. But designers, models and agents agreed that part of the problem was the dominance of very young models.

“You can’t address the sample size 0 without addressing age,” said David Bonnouvrier, head of DNA Models.

Among the CFDA guidelines was a recommendation that models younger than 16 be kept out of fashion shows and models younger than 18 kept out of fittings or photo shoots past midnight. Those guidelines clearly haven’t stuck and remain purely voluntary.

The youthquake happened as runway tastes moved from Brazilian bombshells like Gisele Bundchen to Russians and Eastern Europeans, such as Natalia Vodianova, who previously disclosed her weight struggles, Mr. Scully said.

When scouts fell in love with the angular, narrow Eastern bloc look, those girls were ill-prepared to be away from home in the high-pressure, competitive fashion world, Mr. Bonnouvrier said. Even American models were younger — 17-year-old Karlie Kloss, for example, did her first round of shows with her father by her side.

Designer Zac Posen traced the problem to Kate Moss back in the early 1990s, and said it could take a long time to erase the cultural impression of the waif.

It’s natural for a 13- or 14-year-old to be slim, have a small bust and hips that measure no more than 33 inches, but as those models age — to all of 18 or 19 — they will do “terribly dangerous things” to fight nature and their increasingly womanly bodies, Mr. Scully said.

Model Doutzen Kroes, 25, is a Victoria’s Secret Angel but says her fashion show work has slowed to almost nothing. The reason? She’s too big.

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