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Tel Aviv Fashion Week Makes Major Strides in Promoting Runway Body Diversity

Though the Israeli event is still in its infancy, it's already poised to set an example for fashion capitals around the world when it comes to size acceptance.
Models on the runway at Tel Aviv Fashion Week. Photos: Tel Aviv Fashion Week

Models on the runway at Tel Aviv Fashion Week. Photos: Tel Aviv Fashion Week

We love models of all ages, shapes and sizes here at Fashionista, but unfortunately, we're living in a world where bombshells like Gigi Hadid get body-shamed for being a little less skinny than girls she shared the runways with during Fashion Month. (I even heard a number of show-goers in New York describe her younger sister, Bella, as "too big" to be a high fashion model.) Despite the fact that countries like Spain, Italy and France have put guidelines in place to forbid models under a certain Body Mass Index (BMI) from working with designers — and the UK has been known to pull advertisements that appear "unhealthy" — not much has changed as far as the ideal body image projected by the fashion industry. As usual, most of the season's breakout faces are incredibly thin, and many still teenagers.

One of the first countries to take a stance against too-skinny models was Israel, whose government passed a law in 2012 banning the use of models with a BMI under 18.5. I spent the past few days taking in the shows at Tel Aviv Fashion Week, and from the first collection that walked, it was clear that the powers that be take this regulation very seriously. The range of body types was much broader than I'd ever seen at a more mainstream fashion week; I'd estimate that sizes from zero to 12 were represented on the majority of runways, and in a couple of cases, the spectrum stretched even further. There was also a more diverse range of ages.

Aside from the law itself, this forward movement is thanks in large part to Motty Reif, the producer and founder of Tel Aviv Fashion Week, who started his career in the industry 30 years ago as a model for Shankar College, which boasts the top fashion design program in Israel (and according to the Business of Fashion, the fifth best in the world). He also founded a modeling agency called Look, where he worked to both discover and foster new talent in the fields of fashion, film and music.

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Reif is heavily involved in the event's model castings; internally, he and his assistants narrow the pool down to 60 or 70 models after auditions, and the designers are able to choose who will walk their shows from there. All of the girls have to have a note from a doctor before they are seen, and as a personal imperative, he will not work with any who are under 17. "A year ago we had an audition, and one of the girls told me that she was almost 13," Reif says. "This beautiful girl arrived [an Israeli model named Sofia Mechetner], and I didn't take her. Everyone told me I was missing out, but I couldn't cast someone who was not even 13 years old. Last season, she opened the Dior show. Even this Fashion Week, I didn't want to take her."

Reif's preferences have clearly made an impact. In addition to healthier-looking models, I noticed that many well-established designers in the community seemed to be targeting a more mature customer than those in the other Fashion Month cities — so they're not as focused on a youthful, trendy look, which as we all know, often translates to "skinny."

Reif admitted that spearheading this change has been a bit of a process, but he believes they're making progress slowly. "Throughout the year, I really try to push my clients to work with women of many different ages and sizes," he says, but hesitates when asked if it's been a tough sell. "To convince someone [to change] is to make him believe that it's good for him." But has he been successfully able to do that? "Yes."

Here's hoping that someone like Reif can come in and do the same for the four major fashion capitals in the near future.

Disclosure: The Israel Ministry of Foreign affairs provided my travel and accommodations to cover Tel Aviv Fashion Week.