LONDON (Reuters) – London opened its spring/summer fashion week on Monday, but there was more attention on the body size of its models than on what clothes they were wearing. Days of debate about whether some thin women are too skinny for the catwalk because their appearance may encourage eating disorders has pushed the clothes out of the limelight and left organisers begging for a change to the subject. “Some controversy can be helpful, but what we have seen over the past days is not the way to hold a proper debate on the issue,” Marks & Spencer Chief Executive Stuart Rose, chairman of the British Fashion Council organising the event, told Reuters on the sidelines of an opening show.
Britain’s premier fashion event has found itself under siege after health experts and Culture Minister Tessa Jowell suggested it should consider following Madrid which last week announced it would ban too-tiny women from its shows. Madrid’s plan, that has already seen some models rejected for its shows — aims to ban models with a body mass index (BMI) — a ratio of height to weight — of less than 18. In an effort to diffuse the weight row, organisers the British Fashion Council cancelled a photocall on Sunday, where some of Britain’s top models were due to showcase London Fashion Week’s shows spanning cult 1960s label Biba to a one-off appearance by Giorgio Armani’s younger line Emporio Armani. Yet, the debate continues to simmer among fashionistas and designers at the five-day event. While most agree eating disorders sparked by the industry need to be addressed, they say the Spanish solution is not the way to do it. “If someone doesn’t eat, they’re no fun and that’s boring. But there’s nothing you can do to stop that happening,” said Jade Jagger, one of Rolling Stone Mick Jagger’s daughters and a leading light of London’s fashion set.
Some designers and leading fashion journalists have suggested organising an industry roundtable to discuss how to quash the “thinspiration” trend — a term used in pro-anorexia Web sites to describe skinny celebrities. Veteran fashion editor Suzy Menkes said anorexia in fashion was a “deeply important” issue that needed to be discussed by the whole industry but fashion week was not the time to do it. Topshop’s head Jane Shepherdson said the chain, part of tycoon Philip Green’s Arcadia group, steered away from putting very skinny girls on its catwalk because of its broad audience.
“We deliberately wanted the models to be beautiful healthy looking girls, there was one model who was a little bit on the thin side, she wasn’t our first choice,” Sheperdson said after a show of voluminous dresses and jumpsuits. Nevertheless, research shows retailers are ramping up production of dress sizes at opposite ends of the range, producing more large sizes — reflecting the obesity crisis gripping Western countries — and more tiny.