Is the CFDA's New 16-and-Over Model Initiative All Talk and No Action?

With their new health initiative guideline that models be ID'd to prove they are above the age of 16, the CFDA is making an effort to create a healthier and fairer work environment for models. But is the fashion industry even listening? We asked designers, models and casting agents during New York Fashion Week, and the answer seems to be: Wellll, not really.
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Hayley Phelan
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With their new health initiative guideline that models be ID'd to prove they are above the age of 16, the CFDA is making an effort to create a healthier and fairer work environment for models. But is the fashion industry even listening? We asked designers, models and casting agents during New York Fashion Week, and the answer seems to be: Wellll, not really.
Photo: Getty

Photo: Getty

With their new health initiative guideline that models be ID'd to prove they are above the age of 16, the CFDA is making an effort to create a healthier and fairer work environment for models. But is the fashion industry even listening? We asked designers, models and casting agents during New York Fashion Week, and the answer seems to be: Wellll, not really.

We already know that two of the industry's biggest players--Ford and Marc Jacobs--have come out against the CFDA's new rules about underage models. Ford said that while they take a model's age and maturity "very seriously", they will continue to use girls under the age of 16, who they deem to be ready for the catwalk on a "case by case" basis.

Jacobs, on the other hand, seemed to think it was really none of his business how old the models were in the first place: "If their parents are willing to let them do a show, I don’t see any reason that it should be me who tells them that they can’t."

Casting Director Julia Samesova told us that Ford and Jacobs are certainly not the only ones using underage models. "Absolutely, [other agencies are working with under-16 girls and not disclosing it,]” she wrote to us in an email. “No question.” Coco Rocha told us that she knew "for a fact" that models lie about their age.

We spoke with a model post-Marc by Marc, who wished to go unnamed, to ask if she had been ID'd at any of the multiple castings she went on (she was 21). The answer? Nope. Actually, she said, she hadn't noticed a single difference between this season and previous seasons, when the recommended guidelines were less strict.

That's not particularly surprising, given that some designers we spoke to didn't even seem aware that there were guideline's concerning a minimum age for models. Jill Stuart seemed a little confused when we asked her if she had been ID'ing models, before assuring us that "most" of the models she used were 16 and over. Hmm...

Kimberly Ovitz also seemed caught off guard when we asked her what she thought of the CFDA's new guidelines. "I wasn't really paying attention...I don't know," she said. "I really, honestly, worry about other things."

To be fair, this was right before Ovitz's Fall 2012 show, when the designer admitted she hadn't had more than two hours sleep the past few nights. Still, when pressed, Ovitz seemed to fall more into Jacobs' camp. "I don't think it matters [if a model is over the age of 16 or not,]" she said. "I mean if they're just walking down the runway, with clothes on and they're treated well..."

Model Hailey Clauson who walked DVF last season at age 15

Model Hailey Clauson who walked DVF last season at age 15

Ovitz certainly isn't alone. "The recommended guidelines are known by many but perhaps could be known by more," CFDA president Steven Kolb wrote to us in an email.

"And they are recommendations and not requirements," he added. "Some people will follow the recommendations and some people will not. Everyone has to make their own decision."

True, but leaving the fates of 14-year-old and 15-year-old girls up to agents and designers doesn't seem quite right. Especially when, particularly in the case of modeling agencies, they have a lot to gain from using an underage model if she's the "hot" look of the season, and have very little incentive to make an unbiased decision about whether she's ready or not. "From my own experience, being 17 years old, that's young enough," Shalom Harlow told us. "I just think there's already an imbalance of power [between models and those that work with models], so then when you factor models being even younger, on top of [the imbalance that's already there] it gets exponentially more challenging."

If there's one thing we're sure of, it's that the modeling industry will have to change. And while organizations like the CFDA and The Model Alliance have made some serious strides in the right direction, this fashion week proved we still have a long ways to go before everyone catches on.