Italian fashion bosses scupper deal aimed at halting 'X-ray look'

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The Independent Online

Hopes that the Italian fashion industry was about to turn its back on the X-ray look and embrace a more rounded, Mediterranean model of beauty were crushed yesterday after the director of a top model agency heaped scorn on an agreement reached between the industry and the Italian government.

The so-called "Manifesto" was intended to prevent girls who suffer from eating disorders working as models. Aspiring models will be required to show a doctor's certificate declaring them to be healthy, taking into account their body mass index (BMI), the key index of healthy weight. The Italian industry had fiercely resisted efforts to impose an outright ban on models with BMI under 18, like that imposed in Madrid last September, and persuaded the government that self-regulation would do the trick.

But yesterday Mario Gori, the boss of the Glamour modelling agency, dismissed the agreement as "totally useless." "We are against any form of discrimination [against models] on the basis of size or weight," he insisted. "It's not fair to ask about BMI because it is affected by factors such as bone structure, which vary according to the person's constitution.

"If the BMI of 18 had to be respected as in Spain, not even Naomi Campbell, who has a BMI of 16, would be allowed to model. But I challenge anyone to say that Naomi is anorexic."

A leading Roman designer, Fausto Sarli, was equally dismissive, warning that the models themselves would cut up rough if they were sidelined. "If you try to stop well-paid models working, they will kill you," he said. "Among all the models, only two or three are really anorexic. They work for Armani, for Valentino: how are you going to throw them out?"

The deaths from anorexia of two South American models threw the fashion business into turmoil last year, as it tried to deflect the anger of politicians and others at its obsession with the skeleton look. But now the designers seem to have decided that attack is the best form of defence.

Nathalie Rykiel, sister of Sonia and director of the Sonia Rykiel group declared: "Fashion must be excessive.The woman who parades on the catwalk is the artistic vision of a creator. Let them express themselves freely. They don't exist to speak of reality but to transcend it. Fashion feeds on excess. Women of the street who follow fashion adapt it to their own bodies.

"The distance between the girls who exhibit and those who flip through the magazines must be the same as that between the hero of a novel and the reader. Fashion is not responsible for anorexia."

Cadaverously thin models reflect "the change in the position of the woman in society," she went on. "The woman of today is liberated, active. This dynamism returns to an idea of speed. We must eliminate everything that gets in the way of reaching this speed."

With such siren voices emanating from Paris, Milan is clearly terrified of giving in to those who would dictate healthy Mediterranean curves. Mario Boselli, the president of Italian fashion's governing body, said: "It's not true that only girls with BMI over 18 will be allowed to model. We were the first to declare our opposition to the Spanish solution."

Italy's Minister for Youth Politics and Sporting Activity, Giovanna Melandri, also attacked the "disinformation" spread by people in the fashion world "who don't understand." "The attempt," she said, "is to draw a line between thinness and illness, and say 'Basta!' to bad examples for youth." But she promised that there will be no bar based on BMI in Italy.

Meanwhile, yet another Brazilian has paid with her life for fashion's addiction to excess. Maiara Galvao Vieira dreamed of making it big as a model and her parents put aside enough money for her to enroll in a modelling course. But in her own mind she was never slim enough to make it. "She was always thin," reported the Rio paper Lisbety, "but in the final months she stopped eating altogether." Last Monday she died, aged 14, and weighing under six stone.