By ERIC WILSON
PUBLIC scrutiny of the dangerously thin appearance of several runway models this fall served to divide the fashion industry between those who agreed with calls for regulation and those who did not see a problem, like Stefano Gabbana, who told Women’s Wear Daily, “Backstage we have food and I always see models eating — sometimes more than me.”
But the issue, as some predicted, has not faded in the three months since organizers of the Madrid Fashion Week announced a ban on models who did not achieve a body mass index considered healthy by the standards of the World Health Organization.
After initially saying that they would not follow the example set in Madrid, representatives of the Italian government and its fashion trade group, the Camera Nazionale, said this week that they would promote a national campaign against anorexia and what they described as “a national manifesto of self-regulation.” Independently the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the trade group based in New York, plans to address the issue with a response that has not been formalized.
“From what I can tell, there is a growing insight among designers, or people are beginning to see the negative effects of what dangerously thin young women are going through,” said Steven Kolb, the executive director of the American council. “It is something that they were aware of and were processing. Now the issue is coming to a point where the industry is more collectively focused on it.”
Mr. Kolb said that American designers began to revisit the subject, which had overshadowed London’s Fashion Week in September, after the death last month of a Brazilian model, Ana Carolina Reston, from complications of anorexia. Madrid’s initial response had followed the death of a Uruguayan model, Luisel Ramos.
Mario Boselli, the president of the Camera Nazionale, said yesterday that the group began to study the issue after the September women’s collections in Milan. Its decision to create guidelines for the industry was first reported yesterday in The Wall Street Journal.
“They will be very balanced rules which, starting from objective facts related also to the guidelines” of the World Health Organization, Mr. Boselli said, will leave to a doctor a final written decision about the physical suitability of the model.
The effectiveness of such guidelines will largely be determined by how receptive designers are to enforcing them. Following the initial complaints about too-thin models in New York and London, there was a perceptible shift away from them at subsequent shows in Milan and Paris in September and October, suggesting that designers had become aware of the negative publicity associated with the images they project.
“Italian fashion means elegance, style and, most of all, lifestyle,” Mr. Boselli said. “This means to show, promote and communicate the image of a Mediterranean, healthy woman, that is to say an image of joy and wellness.”
Didier Grumbach, the president of the Chambre Syndicale, which controls the Paris fashion calendar, said a formalized response would not be necessary in France because of existing labor laws that require foreign models to be registered with local agencies. He said the trade group has attempted to provide those agencies with information on eating disorders and related issues.
“As far as I know, no casting manager or any agency positioned in Paris has ever transgressed their moral obligations,” he said. “We think our system has controls. To regulate is not as efficient at this point as informing.”
Likewise, Mr. Kolb of the American council said that the issue, for the time being, revolves around the importance of presenting a positive image. “Obviously, we recognize fashion certainly impacts people’s perceptions and can emphasize good health and empower women in the industry,” he said.