The Ongoing Battle over Underage Models

In May, Conde Nast announced that the editors of all of its Vogue magazines, including American Vogue, (there's 19 of them) have vowed to stop using "underage" models. In the industry, this means models under the age of 16. They, thereby, join the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) in efforts to stop the use of underage models. You may recall that the CFDA's guidelines, which are part of its Health as Beauty and Diversity campaign and are not legally binding, recommend that designers require models to produce a valid ID the day they walk the runway proving that they are at least 16 years old. Moreover, the guidelines suggest that designers do not keep models under age 18 working past midnight, and refrain from paying them in trade (aka - refrain from compensating them with garments as opposed to money). 

The New York-based trade organization's issuing of such guidelines come on the heels of the $28 million lawsuit that 15-year old model Hailey Clausson and her parents filed against photographer Jason Lee Parry and Urban Outfitters. In the suit, they allege that  Clausson "is posed in a blatantly salacious manner with her legs spread, without a bra, revealing portions of her breasts" and that Urban Outfitters then plastered the image on t-shirts and other items without the model or her parents' approval. 

Well, since Vogue agreed to join the effort to ban the use of models under the age of 16, not one, but two recent violations have come to light. A Vogue Japan editorial shot for its December issue, features 14 year-old Thairine Garcia. This follows the shoot featuring Ondria Hardin, a 15 year-old American model (pictured above), who appeared in Vogue China’s August issue.

The use of underaged models has been a topic of increased scrutiny in the fashion industry as of late. However, by establishing guidelines (as the CFDA did in its Health Initiative) and pledges (as Vogue did with its Health Initiative), and subsequently disregarding them, the industry's track record is looking quite bleak. You may recall that CFDA member designer, Marc Jacobs, has notoriously disregarded the organization's guidelines by hiring models under age 16 to walk in a number of his recent shows and in lieu of paying them for long hours, provided them with trade in exchange. Specifically, he casted two underage models in his Fall/Winter 2012 show during New York Fashion Week. In addition, he hired 17-year-old Hailey Hasbrook as a fit model and kept her after midnight on more than one occasion (2 a.m. and 4:30 a.m to be exact). Lastly, MJ paid her in trade, which is unusual for a fit model.

Jonathan Newhouse, Chairman and Chief Executive of Condé Nast International, which publishes Vogue, spoke out about Vogue's use of young models. He said, “The Health Initiative banning underage models is very serious, and we will reinforce it. I apologise for the error which took place in China. We will do everything possible to prevent future errors.” With such efforts in place, do you think the industry is going to change?