Did YSL Blatantly Violate the Recently-Enacted French Model Law?

THE FASHION LAW EXCLUSIVE - Saint Laurent is known for casting some of the skinniest models in the industry, and the house’s Fall/Winter 2016 collection – Part I and II – was no exception. The latter half of the house’s Fall/Winter offerings, the couture collection, entitled, LA COLLECTION DE PARIS, however, left some industry insiders and fashion fans, alike, rather stunned by what a number of publications have called “uber-skinny models” or as Vogue’s Sarah Mower put it, the house’s “ultra-ultra-skinny youth aesthetic.” In connection with the show, the Telegraph’s fashion features editor, Bethan Holt stated: “When will designers get that using models this thin doesn't make their clothes look good? Also, [its] painful to watch.”

The casting of scary-skinny models is certainly not novel. Each season, we see a few brands casting models that cause uproar. For Spring/Summer 2016, it was Victoria Beckham that came under fire for casting models that were deemed to be “too skinny.” Before that, it was Alex Perry, and before that, designers that cast Canadian model Alana Zimmer were shamed. What is particularly interesting in connection with the recent YSL show is that it comes on the heels of the passage of a French law banning the employment of fashion models deemed to be "excessively thin.”

According to the bill, which was initially introduced by the National Assembly in April 2015, in order to walk in runway shows, models must obtain a medical certificate stating that their health, "assessed in particular in terms of body mass index, is compatible with the practice of the (modeling) profession.” The April 2015 version of the bill suggested a minimum Body Mass Index for models, prompting protests from modeling agencies in France. The final draft, which was approved in December, allows doctors to decide whether a model is too thin by taking into account their weight, age, and body shape.

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The legislation, which is part of a larger campaign against anorexia by President Francois Hollande's government, holds that employers who are found in violation of the law will be subject to monetary fines and imprisonment. As for who, exactly, will be held liable, the legislation places liability on the part of modeling agencies, and if they fail to require such certificates, they stand to face fines of about $80,000 and possible imprisonment for up to six months.

The bill has faced significant backlash since it was enacted last year, with opponents posing doubts about if, and how, it will be enforced. Per Fortune: “Whether the law will have any effect on the industry is debatable. ‘90% of models in French fashion shows are foreigners passing through France,’ Isabelle Saint-Felix, secretary general of France’s National Union of Modeling Agencies, noted to the New York Times. If this is indeed the case, then the majority of models—who work in countries without these kind of industry regulations—will not have had to go through a health screening process.”

Some interpretations of the law suggest that it only applies to French models. Arnaud Robinet with the opposition center-Right UMP party, for instance, said the law is "inapplicable and discriminatory" and will put the French fashion world at a disadvantage. "Agencies will employ foreign models over French models," he claimed. However, the legislation likely has more widespread implications, considering the bi-annual women’s ready-to-wear shows and the bi-annual couture shows, which are held in Paris and which routinely attract models from all over the world.

So, who is at fault in the case of the YSL F/W 2016 collection? Well, it seems as though YSL might be off the hook, as the bill places the most significant share of liability – if not exclusive liability – on the models’ agencies. With this in mind, just about every major Paris-based agency is potentially subject to serious fines and potential jail time. Elite, Viva, Next, Marilyn, Supreme, Women, Oui, New Madison, The Face, and Premium all represented models that walked in the show earlier this month.

However, it also appears as though any potential violations have gone unpoliced. We have reached out to the aforementioned agencies and will update you if there are, in fact, legal proceedings underway in connection with the potentially “too skinny” models.