It is an assumption universally acknowledged that to be successful as a model, the key is to begin your career early. Kate Moss was scouted age 13 and began working at 16, whilst 60’s icon ‘Twiggy’ began her career at 17. There has always been a demand in Hollywood for young stars, but in the modelling world it is only really since the movement towards “boy like” figures, as opposed to the fuller, muscular figures seen in the 80’s fashion industry, that teenagers and even children have been moved to the forefront of fashion photography and in some cases, the runway.
Dior’s use of fourteen-year-old Sofia Mechetner to open the SS16 Show once more sparked the reoccurring debate on age appropriation within the fashion industry. The model used to open a show should set the tone for the entire spectacle. Hence, it is questionable what a powerhouse such as Dior was trying to suggest in their choice. Was it a nod to natural innocent beauty, complimented by the flowers incorporated in the set, or a more sinister reflection of society and its expectations on young girls?
There has been an eruption in recent years, of teenage celebrities used as the faces of big fashion brands. To name but a few; Hailee Steinfeld for Miu Miu, Chloe Grace Moretz for Coach and the infamous shot of Dakota Fanning with a Marc Jacobs perfume bottle strategically placed between her legs. In an increasingly global and commercial industry, it is no wonder that the concept of celebrity endorsement has been adopted by fashion. Young girls are beginning to buy into a ‘mature’ world, somewhat fuelled by such teenage celebrity campaigns. Negatively; these uses of younger stars have generated a “Lolita” approach to castings in some regions, for example Japan. The infinite quest for youth by the older woman is an age-old tale upon which fashion and beauty brands capitalise.
For instance, French model Thylane Blondeau, who was just 12 at the time, shot for the front cover of Jalouse magazine, whose demographic is women aged 25-40. It is arguable who is coming off worse in this situation; the consumers of such magazines are being convinced that by purchasing products, they will be perceived as having such doll-like beauty as it’s advertised, whilst Thylane herself is arguably being exploited of her childhood for the sake of commercialism.
It is however hard to justify whether age and exploitation can really be compared. For example, whilst Kendall Jenner walked her first show aged 18, 2 years older than the NYFW council deems the minimum, she appeared braless in a sheer top for Marc Jacobs AW14. The show was considered a bold statement for her debut in the high fashion world and so attracted much attention to the appropriation of nudity on the runway in young models, and the extent to which it was artistic or exploitative.
Whilst both New York and London Fashion week’s have long since upheld a ban on models under age 16, initiated by Diane Von Furstenberg, other fashion capitols have not maintained the same ethical standards hence the use of Sofia for Dior in PFW. Paris fashion council stated that they’d put an emphasis on improving the health and wellbeing of models, however this is surely counterproductive if such young models are going to be used.
The initiative prompted Vogue to reinforce its ban on the use of underage models in its photography, though this has been broken, namely by the use of Cindy Crawford’s daughter Kaia Gerber in Italian Vogue.
Evidently there are not only ethical effects of using underage models, but there are direct physical and emotional effects too such as the pressure to maintain a slim figure despite the natural changes which occur in teenagers, the competitive drive and set backs and the sexualisation enforced within campaigns. The question on everyones lips is; is it all too much too young?
Cover Image: WashingtonPost