The fashion world was braced for renewed criticism yesterday for encouraging women to endanger their lives by shedding pounds and trimming waists to a virtual vanishing point after it emerged that a rising young model from Brazil has died from complications arising from the eating disorder anorexia.
The collapse on Tuesday of 21-year-old Ana Carolina Reston, who had modelled in Japan and for Giorgio Armani, has already caused a storm of public hand-wringing in her home country.
However, it is likely to provoke fresh soul-searching in all the main fashion centres of the world.
It was the death in August of another young Latin model, Luisel Ramos from Uruguay, that first cast a spotlight on the industry for allowing models essentially to starve themselves in the quest for the "perfect" form. Ms Ramos died of heart failure during Montevideo's annual fashion show.
The industry finds itself charged not only with neglecting the health of the models but, through them, encouraging young women to take weight-loss regimes to hazardous extremes.
It was partly in response to the first tragedy that Spain stunned the fashion world one month later by banning models from the runways at the Madrid fashion show if they were below a certain level on the so-called BMI or body-mass index, which measures weight against height.
The death of Ms Reston will put additional pressure on other fashion show venues to follow suit. Madrid barred any models whose BMI was below 18. The World Health Organisation suggests that anyone with a BMI less than 18.5 is underweight and that a person with an index nearing 15 is on the point of starvation. When she died, Ms Reston's BMI was just 13.5, her doctors said.
Grieving for her daughter, the model's mother, Miriam Reston, has already started to campaign for reform while urging mothers of aspiring young models to protect them. "Take care of your children ... no money is worth the life of your child, not even the most famous brand is worth this," she told one Brazilian newspaper yesterday. Ana Carolina succumbed to a generalised infection caused by anorexia.
Brazilian girls, inspired by the international success of some of their own countrywomen, notably Gisele Bundchen and Adriana Lima, may be particularly susceptible to the call of the fashion world and steering them clear of danger will not be easy, she acknowledged. Of her own daughter's stubbornness she remarked: "She would reply, 'Mummy, don't mess me around'."
Some of Brazil's newspapers have taken up the cause for change in the industry as a tribute to the model. "Dictatorship of skinny look kills a model," blared the front-page headline of O Dia, a national tabloid.
The debate on outlawing so-called "zero models" had already erupted in Britain in time for last month's London Fashion Week. While no official action was taken this year, pressure is certain now to increase on the organisers to consider a ban for next year.
This week, Armani became the first leading fashion designer outright to support ejecting super-skinny models from all the main fashion shows. "I have never liked thin girls and I have never made them go on the catwalk," he asserted.Reuse content