REPUTATION CHECK: Size-zero furore hits Fashion Week

A PRWeek survey shows precisely how much London Fashion Week is suffering from the uproar over 'size zero' models.

As one of the ‘big four’ events on the catwalk calendar, London Fashion Week is a glittering showcase for the world’s top fashion houses.

But the debate over the physical size of the models used at the event has been gathering pace for some time.

So, in the run-up to LFW, PRWeek commissioned Opinion Matters to run an opinion poll and gauge the effect of the furore on public perceptions. The results make uncomfortable reading for the fashion industry.

Nearly 80 per cent of men and 90 per cent of women think LFW had a duty to take a stand and ban so-called ‘size zero’ models.

Only 13.5 per cent of the 1,380 respondents backed the decision of the British Fashion Council (BFC) – the event’s organiser – to leave it up to individual designers’ discretion.

Positive response
Before the event, BFC chief exec­utive Hilary Riva wrote to designers, imploring them to use only healthy girls aged over 16 in their shows.

After the first show, Riva said she had a positive res­ponse from designers about the use of models, but said it was ‘unrealistic’ to expect a change of attitudes at such short notice.

Madrid Fashion Week recently banned overly thin models. But some commentators argue that, as a smaller event than London, Madrid was able to implement a ban without causing the logistical problems that New York, Milan, Paris or London would suffer.

In our poll, the public said magazines, model agencies, the retail industry and models themselves were all
responsible for encouraging eating disorders.

LFW’s reputation has undoubtedly ­suffered.

Analysis 1: the journalist’s view

Jess Cartner-Morley, fashion editor at The Guardian
‘The irony is that before the “size zero” debate, London Fashion Week was gaining in prestige – it was becoming much better organised, with some really exciting designers. But during the last fashion week, in September, the clothes were barely mentioned by the media – all the coverage was about skinny models, with all the efforts of the British Fashion Council and the designers overshadowed by scandal.

'The coverage reinforces the perception of the British public that the fashion industry is full of crazy, outlandish people, and all designers are bonkers. Similarly, established designers wouldn’t usually use very skinny 15-year-old models, but the media don’t reflect what’s actually on the catwalk. LFW has the toughest time of all the fashion weeks as our media are so ferocious.

'The BFC needs to take hold of this debate. The story now is skinny models, so it needs to do something to move this on. For example, in New York the Council of Fashion Desig­ners America has just held a panel discussion with interesting models and nutritionists, which cast the industry in a more responsible light.’

Analysis 2: the PR professional’s view

Raoul Shah, chief executive of Exposure:

‘After a few years of gloom and lack of creativity, London is enjoying a lot of attention and attracting both media and buyers from around the world. LFW has benefited from this, but it – and the industry as a whole – is now firmly in the spotlight due to the ongoing “size zero” debate.

‘A responsible approach would prevent any backlash or impact on the event’s credibility. LFW must be brave about taking a stance and having a point of view rather than hoping the issue will just disappear, and focus the agenda on education and understanding of the real causes of the problem.

‘British Fashion Council chairman and Marks & Spencer CEO Stuart Rose should be available to set out LFW’s views, and they should be followed up by clear actions.

‘Start by getting the model agencies to agree to taking action collectively. Talk to models’ families and get health experts to provide insights to encourage high-street groups to also act.

‘LFW should also secure designer and celebrity endorsement – individuals who ultimately may carry more influence over models than their families and industry experts.’

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