US designers will 'watch' skinny models - but stop short of a ban

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The Independent US

The American fashion industry has circulated guidelines to designers and catwalk organisers on how better to identify eating disorders among models intent on achieving near-skeletal body profiles but which stop short of barring severely underweight women from the catwalks.

The guidelines were adopted last week by members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, led by the designer Diane von Furstenberg, and are being issued before the next New York Fashion Week, which opens on 2 February. They come after the deaths from malnutrition of two models in South America.

The measures are likely to be controversial for what they do not say. Most significantly, the group has chosen not to follow the example of Madrid and Milan which last year issued minimum height-weight ratios beneath which girls will be barred from their catwalks.

Instead, the group, which includes Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue in the US, offers ideas on keeping a more vigilant eye on models. They include scheduling fashion-show fittings during the daytime to give models more sleeping hours, urging designers to work harder at spotting models with eating disorders and improving backstage catering.

"It is important as a fashion industry to show our interest and see what we can do because we are in a business of image," Ms von Furstenberg said. "But I feel like we should promote health as a part of beauty rather than setting rules."

Nutrition experts are already expressing disappointment that the Council is not following the tougher example set first by Madrid. "Their response looks like a PR cover for a real problem," said Lynn Grefe, of the National Eating Disorders Association. "It's nothing we don't do already," David Bonnouvrier, head of DNA Model Management, told The New York Times. "I hope it will be successful... but we cannot dictate designers' choices. There will be a conscious effort to address this, but whether that will last is another issue."

Madrid stunned the industry in September when it decreed that models who fall beneath a certain body-mass level would be outlawed from its fashion show. Milan took a similar step.