A major force in fashion says it will abandon the industry’s longstanding practice of using adolescent models—sometimes as young as 14—to represent adults in photo shoots and runway shows.
Kering, the parent company of labels including Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, and Alexander McQueen, has announced that starting in 2020 its brands will only hire models over age 18 to portray adults. The decision follows a similar one by Vogue last year, to stop casting models under 18. Both had previously set policies banning models under 16.
Teen models are common enough that several successful models got their start long before they reached adulthood, including Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. Model Ondria Hardin walked for Marc Jacobs at age 14 and starred in a Chanel campaign at 15, while Kaia Gerber, currently one of the top models in the industry, has been walking runways since she was 16.
Kering’s decision is meant to protect both adolescent models and consumers seeing those models. Marie-Claire Daveu, the chief sustainability officer at Kering, said in a statement that “the physiological and psychological maturity of models aged over 18 seems more appropriate to the rhythm and demands that are involved in this profession.” She added that they are also aware of the “role-model element” that imagery portraying young girls as adults can have.
Models can be under intense pressure to maintain unhealthy weights, leading to eating disorders and health issues. They can also frequently find themselves in situations like being asked to change clothes without privacy, and are particularly vulnerable to inappropriate touching or other sexual harassment. Meanwhile, images of extremely thin teens presented as adults can contribute to unrealistic beauty standards among girls and women.
Vogue was forceful in its own language about the shift in policy. “Vogue, along with a number of other publications, has played a role in making it routine for children—since that’s what they are—to be dressed and marketed as glamorous adults,” it proclaimed. “No more: It’s not right for us, it’s not right for our readers, and it’s not right for the young models competing to appear in these pages.”
Kering’s decision has met with some criticism for not going far enough. The advocacy group Model Alliance responded on Twitter, saying it’s a step in the right direction, but lacks an enforcement mechanism since brands tend to operate independently and make their own decisions about casting. Without that, the pledge “will amount to little more than lip service,” the group wrote. “Moreover, this limited pledge does not address the broader issues that models face on the job — issues such as sexual harassment and assault, pressures to fit into tiny samples, late and nonpayment, and the lack of an independent complaint mechanism to resolve complaints.”
There is growing awareness, at least, that something needs to change. The Council of Fashion Designers of America, the governing body of US fashion, supported Vogue’s policy change and encourages brands to only use models 18 and up. And Kering had already partnered with its luxury rival, LVMH, which controls such brands as Louis Vuitton and Dior, on a charter laying out rules for how their brands will work with models.