Is Kirstie Clements the fashion industry’s Bradley Manning?
A whistleblowing former Vogue editor has forced the industry to address its most guilty secret
Her minions at Australian Vogue called her “the Devil wears Witchery”. Anna Wintour “never gave her the time of day”. She must be a “bitter” ex-employee, out for revenge.
Now Kirstie Clements, one of the industry’s most influential figures, is steeled for the worst the fashion world can throw at her after she revealed the shocking lengths to which models will go to remain catwalk-thin.
Clements, who was sacked as editor-in-chief of Vogue Australia last May after 25 years with the magazine, has become the “Bradley Manning of the fashion world” after publishing a scathing inside account of a business in which the pressure to stay thin is so intense that some models eat tissues to stave off hunger pangs.
In her memoir, The Vogue Factor, Clements, summarily dismissed with an instruction to collect her Gucci handbag and go after 13 years in the editor’s chair, confirms the suspicions which campaigners against the use of size-zero models and the remorseless demand for ever-skinnier girls, have held for years.
She recounts a three-day Vogue shoot in Marrakesh during which a top model did not eat a single meal. By the final day, the woman could barely stand up or keep her eyes open.
Clements, 50, relays the example of a Russian girl, employed as a “fit model” – a size used by design houses to test samples – who in her desperation to get “Paris-thin” for the city’s catwalk shows, avoided solid food and ended up “in a hospital on a drip a lot of the time”.
“You know how you read interviews where models insist that they eat a lot,” she said. “Not true. The only way they can get that thin is to stop eating. They eat tissue paper to stave off the hunger pangs – literally ball it up and eat it.”
Her book has thrown a hand-grenade into a business which prickles at the slightest criticism from an uncomprehending outside world, to the point of closing ranks even when a leading designer is accused of anti-Semitism.
The revelations are even more devastating since they come from an impeccably-styled catwalk regular, credited with revitalising Australian Vogue and who, until last May, enjoyed private tours of the Sistine Chapel with Louis Vuitton and cosy dinners with Naomi Campbell.
“Everyone had your back, as opposed to stabbing you in it,” she claims of her time at Vogue. But a whispering campaign has already begun.
Clements freely admits to being called “the Devil wears Witchery” (a reference to an Australian clothes chain) during her Vogue reign.
She threw a chair and protested, “But I am Vogue!” when she was fired, it was claimed. Not so, said the married mother of twin teenage boys. “I said, ‘You’re kidding. And then I said, ‘I can’t believe you see me as the problem as opposed to part of the solution.’”
Yesterday, Clements was forced to deny that her book was motivated by bitterness over her sacking and replacement by an arch-rival from Harper’s Bazaar. “It’s not a revenge book, it’s not bitter at all,” she told CNN. “The whole tone of the book is about motivation for young people in the industry.”
She admits she did little to challenge the anorexia-inducing obsession with size-zero models while she had the chance. “I did consider myself to be part of the problem,” Clements said. “You are one part of the industry and you can choose the girls to shoot. But you are not in charge of the runways, the casting directors and how designers choose to present their clothes.
“As opposed to blowing the whistle on the entire industry, this is a portion of it I’m talking about. But the whole industry is complicit in a way.”
Clements has exposed the dark heart of the fashion business, argues Caryn Franklin, the broadcaster and style expert. “Models are young vulnerable women who, to remain in employment, believe they have to self-harm in this way,” she said. “Starvation to fit the dress is encouraged even directed by adult players who have become desensitised to the unhealthy dynamic they are supporting.”
Franklin, who co-founded All Walks Beyond The Catwalk, with model Erin O’Connor, to promote a broader range of sizes within the industry, added: “Catwalk fashion produces the worst extremes in unacceptable bullying because so much is at stake. These people have normalised this way of behaving. If they hadn’t, they couldn’t sleep at night.”
Others have tried to force a change in attitudes. In 2009, Alexandra Shulman, the UK Vogue editor, wrote a letter to major international designers complaining that the tiny sample design sizes they sent were forcing magazine editors to shoot them on models with “no breasts or hips”.
A year later she said there had been little change due to a “blindness” among the design elite. Ms Shulman was not available yesterday to lend her support to her former colleague.
The British Fashion Council declined to implement a ban on “size- zero” models at London Fashion Show events but agreed a charter preventing under-16 models and promised to make food and drink available in “healthy backstage environments”.
Ms Franklin, awarded the MBE for services to positive body image, fears Ms Clements will be silenced. “Money drives everything. Regimes looking to maintain power at all costs, have to ignore or squash dissenting voices. The fashion world is no different.
“There will be new outrage at the vulnerability of these young models but the book will not change the dynamic. Today’s emerging creatives will, with help from All Walks. Change will come with new blood.”
For all the publicity it has attracted, Clements’ book is still seeking a UK publisher and is only available on Kindle. But she is determined her voice will be heard and warns her critics that the internet is sweeping away the fashion world’s traditional pillars, including monthlies like Vogue.
“Readers are voting with their feet,” she said. “There are many more places now to get your fashion information. I think you are going to see a change away from the super-skinny model.”
Model behaviour? Starvation kills
Balling-up bits of tissue and swallowing them to give that “full” feeling is as ingenious as it is foolhardy. Size Zero models may demand zero calorie diets, but that cannot mean zero harm.
Fatigue, irritability and skin problems are early signs of the harm caused, leading later to organ dysfunction. Starvation kills.
Kirstie Clements’ disclosures will surprise no one – least of all in the fashion world. Modelling is a lonely profession which strips those who enter it of their autonomy and leaves them waging a war against their bodies.
Six years ago, when a similar row about the risks involved broke out in the UK, research by psychologists at City University, London, revealed how despite their earning power and status as icons of beauty, models felt control of their lives had been wrested from them.
They were ordered about by clients, used as clothes horses and valued for their looks rather than skills. That left their bodies as the only arena over which they had control, fuelling the obsession with weight.
When they were put forward for a job, there was nothing they could say or do, no way they could improve, except by dieting. UK models are now required to have a “good health” certificate from a doctor specialising in eating disorders before being allowed to ascend the catwalk.
Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor
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