Ford Cops to Repping Underage Models This Season Despite CFDA Guidelines: Does This Mean Age Restrictions Are Unrealistic?

The CFDA's new health initiative guidelines--which stipulate, among other things, that models be ID'd to show they are above 16 years of age--have been met, for the most part, with glowing support from the fashion industry. Or so it seems. Because despite the industry's best intentions, actually following the new rules is a whole other ballgame. Designers Tory Burch and Tommy Hilfiger both told the New York Times that models that are either too young or too thin are still being sent to them by casting agencies. Burch said she was concerned for some models who walked through her door during this season's casting. "There is still an issue, and there is still a lot of work to be done,” she said. “There have been positive steps. But I see some girls coming in who are really emaciated. It is still a problem.” Here's the problem:
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Hayley Phelan
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The CFDA's new health initiative guidelines--which stipulate, among other things, that models be ID'd to show they are above 16 years of age--have been met, for the most part, with glowing support from the fashion industry. Or so it seems. Because despite the industry's best intentions, actually following the new rules is a whole other ballgame. Designers Tory Burch and Tommy Hilfiger both told the New York Times that models that are either too young or too thin are still being sent to them by casting agencies. Burch said she was concerned for some models who walked through her door during this season's casting. "There is still an issue, and there is still a lot of work to be done,” she said. “There have been positive steps. But I see some girls coming in who are really emaciated. It is still a problem.” Here's the problem:
Photo: Ondria Hardin via Ford

Photo: Ondria Hardin via Ford

The CFDA's new health initiative guidelines--which stipulate, among other things, that models be ID'd to show they are above 16 years of age--have been met, for the most part, with glowing support from the fashion industry. Or so it seems. Because despite the industry's best intentions, actually following the new rules is a whole other ballgame.

Designers Tory Burch and Tommy Hilfiger both told the New York Times that models that are either too young or too thin are still being sent to them by casting agencies. Burch said she was concerned for some models who walked through her door during this season's casting. "There is still an issue, and there is still a lot of work to be done,” she said. “There have been positive steps. But I see some girls coming in who are really emaciated. It is still a problem.”

Here's the problem: Even if designers are dedicated to adhering to the CFDA's new guidelines--casting directors, agents, and the models themselves, may not be. Women Management, for instance, apologized to designers for leading them to believe that underage model Valerija Sestic was in fact 16, according to NYTimes.

Similarly, Ford Models, arguably the biggest agency in the industry, came under fire for including 14-year-old model Ondria Hardin in its show package. And, surprisingly, Ford isn't apologizing. They're standing by their decision to work with underage models. To preempt the Times story, the agency released the following statement:

"While we agree with many of the guidelines the C.F.D.A. is working towards, we did not sign on with this particular initiative. We are sorry for the confusion and apologize for not clearing it up right away when it was announced. We take the age and maturity of our models very seriously. We work on a case-by-case basis alongside a prospective model’s parents to make a determination as to whether they are ready to walk the runway. In most cases, the answer is no. But a select few demonstrate the know-how and maturity that are necessary to work earlier than they otherwise would."

Ford may be the only agency to own up to repping underage girls, but it's likely that other agencies are operating under the same principles. "Absolutely, [other agencies are working with under-16 girls and not disclosing it,]" Casting Director Julia Samersova told us. "No question."

Samersova added that while she personally does not like booking underage models, it's not always easy to ensure a model is the age she and her agency say she is. "I think it is almost impossible at times [to police models' ages," she told us. "Especially during Fashion Week, when everything moves at the speed of light. Are you going to ask girls to provide their passports at every casting? It does not seem realistic logistically." She has a point.

Instead, according to Samersova, casting directors and designers have to "rely on the agencies to respect the guidelines." And with industry players like Ford and Women disregarding (openly, in the case of Ford) the CFDA's rules, it's no doubt going to be a long road until the industry actually starts to change.

Though, to her credit, CFDA president Diane Von Furstenberg is staying upbeat, if realistic. “If we haven’t done anything else, we certainly have created awareness,” she told the NYTimes.

Samersova shares the sentiment: "I think it was a controversial move on Ford's part. I also think that it is an important topic, and maybe we need a little controversy to get people's attention."

What's your take?