Ready To Wear: Eating disorders exploited?

The Model Health Inquiry is a valiant attempt at improving the health prospects of the young women on the London catwalk. But it fails fully to address the impact that images of unusually slender females may have on those prone to eating disorders outside the industry. Leave that to the legendary photographer Oliviero Toscani (below), whose billboard campaign featuring the naked anorexia-sufferer Isabelle Caro duly hammers the message home.

In a week when the spectre of this unnerving image has cast a long shadow over the emergence of even the most vivid shade of pink (yes, that again) at the Milan collections, Toscani has proved himself, once again, the archetypal enemy within.

The objection that this is nothing more than an advertisement for the fashion company Nolita, and therefore hypocritical and even exploitative, will no doubt bounce off this legendary anti-hero like all the other flak he has attracted over the years. This is, after all, the man who once merrily described Claudia Schiffer as "canned meat".

The idea that a woman could be persuaded to buy designer clothes by images of another woman in a cream cashmere sweater, say, seemed nothing short of idiotic to this particular fashion marketeer.

Toscani is, after all, the son of the Corriere della Sera documentary photographer Fedele Toscani, who was responsible, most famously, for the image of Mussolini's corpse suspended from a meat hook. Oliviero, then, certainly comes from extraordinary, and far from obviously fashion-friendly stock.

While his ability to touch on the issues that trouble society is well charted, Oliviero Toscani is by no means the only person working in the industry to have made a career out of biting the hand that feeds. The London-based photographer Nick Knight makes no secret of funding his highly provocative private projects - including, incidentally, taking the first pictures of the then size-16 model Sophie Dahl - with the proceeds of his lucrative advertising projects for everyone from Lancôme to Dior.

Even fashion designers themselves have been known to follow this route. Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons has not only continually challenged our perceptions of what women may or may not want to wear but has also opened "guerrilla" stores, not in Paris or indeed Milan, but in Krakow and, most recently, Beirut, closing them after a year at the most - in other words, as soon as they become busy, or even just known.

And then there's Miuccia Prada and her decidedly rebellious tendencies. True, Prada designs are unlikely to cause quite as emotional response as Toscani's work, but the bulbous skirt shapes and curved lines of the latest collection do seem to be addressing a similar issue, if rather more politely.

s.frankel@independent.co.uk

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