The models auditioning for New York Fashion Week were undeniably thin. But it was only after the fashion industry started worrying about too-skinny models that casting agent James Scully began asking their age. Most, he found, were under 16.
"Things are very seriously wrong at this moment," Scully said.
As another round of runway shows kicks off today, fashion insiders are again taking up the cause of emaciated models, this time with a new target to blame: youth.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) hosted a panel discussion on Tuesday night on changing the standard model "sample size", part of the health initiative it started after the death three years ago of a model with an eating disorder.
Spain and Italy adopted mandatory weight guidelines at the time, but the CFDA opted instead for voluntary measures that put the focus on nutritional and emotional counselling.
Since then, some models have been removed from the runway to focus on eating and living well, said CFDA president Diane von Fursternberg.
Tuesday's panel, The Beauty Of Health: Resizing The Sample Size, initially focused on whether increasing the size of sample garments used in fashion shows and magazine photo shoots from 0 to 4 would result in healthier models. But designers, models and agents agreed that part of the problem was the dominance of very young models.
"You can't address the sample size 0 without addressing age," said David Bonnouvrier, head of DNA Models.
Among the CFDA guidelines was a recommendation that models under 16 be kept out of fashion shows, and models under 18 kept out of fittings or photo shoots past midnight. Those guidelines clearly haven't stuck and remain voluntary.
The current youthquake happened as runway tastes moved from Brazilian bombshells such as Gisele Bundchen to Russians and Eastern Europeans, such as Natalia Vodianova, who previously disclosed her weight struggles, Scully said.
When scouts first fell in love with the very angular, narrow Eastern bloc look, those girls were ill-prepared to be away from home in the high-pressure, competitive fashion world, added DNA's Bonnouvrier.