Miro models make fashion statement on immigration

As if skinny models were not causing enough controversy in the fashion world, a Catalan designer has been sending undocumented immigrants from Senegal down the catwalk.

The eight male models, who had landed on Spanish shores in rickety wooden canoes and were recruited from the streets of Barcelona within weeks, paraded through a set decorated with a battered cayuco - a mock-up of the flimsy vessel used by thousands of Africans to undertake the perilous voyage to Spain.

Antonio Miro's aim was to express solidarity, but the designer's gesture yesterday has stoked controversy about the fashion industry's uncertain grip on concerns in the real world.

Using clandestine immigration as a spectacle to promote clothes was "unfortunate" and "frivolous", Abdulaye Konate, chairman of Spain's Senegalese Immigrants Association, said. "Where there are cayucos there cannot be parties and laughs. Every day there are mothers who weep for their sons drowned in the sea."

Mr Konate said he failed to understand what the designer was trying to convey. "If it's to give work to these men, this is not the best way to help them. I cannot consent to what he has done."

Miro mounted his show as a total theatrical experience. The invitation card to the presentation of his winter collection in Barcelona's historic shipyards, now a maritime museum, took the form of an immigrant's application for residence. To complete the misè-en-scene, the Cameroonian footballer Samuel Eto'o - who plays for FC Barcelona - attended the show as guest of honour and watched intently.

The designer said his intention was to draw attention to the tragedy of illegal immigration. "The models were thrilled to parade down the catwalk and have their photos taken with Eto'o," he said. The designer recruited his models via the Catalan Association of Senegalese Residents. They were paid a "token sum".

It is not the first time Miro has provoked criticism. Last year he staged his show in Barcelona' s notorious Modelo prison - the scene of numerous horrors during the Spanish Civil War - and employed prisoners among his models. He remains in contact with them, he says, collaborating on a bag collection that helps prisoners raise funds to combat Aids.

At the show, the pale tone of the clothes was upstaged by the models, but perhaps not in the way Miro had intended. "We chose these pale tones, to contrast with the black," he said.

The anti-racism group SOS-Racism welcomed the show. "It's good that NGOs aren't the only ones to denounce the condition of immigrants who arrive in canoes," its spokesman Javier Perez said. Some 3,000 Africans are estimated to have drowned last year in the attempt to reach Spain.

Miro did not entirely break the mould, however - he also sent bare-chested skinny girls down the catwalk.

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