Too much too young? Teenage model sparks fashion age debate

Fourteen-year-old model Sofia Mechetner sparks debate over whether modelling under the age of eighteen is too much too young.

PARIS, FRANCE (OCTOBER 2, 2015) (REUTERS) – Amid the chaotic last minute rush typical of a catwalk show, a teenager sits quietly backstage as a hairdresser styles her.

Living the life many young girls around the world dream of, Sofia Mechetner is opening the Paris fashion show of one of the world’s most famous labels, Dior.

She is 14 years old — an age some feel is too young to be working in a cutthroat industry.

“I feel ready and I am not alone, I am being looked after, closely,” the Israeli model said.

“They are treating me really nicely here … They help me. So the fact that I am 14 years old is not really an issue.”

Mechetner, who used to help her mother clean houses to make ends meet, was catapulted into the limelight in July when she opened Dior’s haute couture show wearing a sheer white dress.

Her appearance drew criticism and stirred the debate on where to draw the age line in fashion, an industry often criticised for using skinny models.

Her walk down the runway last week (October 2) was the second time she opened a Dior fashion show.

“Before she started with Dior, she was cleaning houses with her mother so if she is not too young to clean houses, I don’t think she is too young to walk on a show,” Mechetner’s agent Rotem Gur said.

The use of young models in fashion is not new. Kate Moss was scouted at 14 while Naomi Campbell was 15.

Celebrity offspring have also modelled young — Romeo Beckham, son of soccer player David Beckham, starred in a Burberry campaign at 12.

However there have been industry moves to change things, notably during the biannual catwalk shows.

The British Fashion Council (BFC) says designers contracted to London Fashion Week must use models aged 16 or over.

“We think that’s really important, we work closely with the agencies, if there’s a young girl that’s here for the first time, they’ll certainly … be chaperoned,” BFC Chief Executive Caroline Rush said.

New York has similar age guidelines.

“The important thing is that we don’t encourage young girls to be too thin,” said designer Diane von Furstenberg, who is also President of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

“And in terms of the youth, we encourage not to have girls under 16 on the runway.”

In Italy, the head of the National Chamber of Fashion, Carlo Capasa, said: “We don’t use models under the age of 16.”

In Paris, the focus this year has been on health. Pressure has mounted to move away from the ultra-slim look and in April, France passed a law banning excessively thin models.

French model and actress Aymeline Valade said many designer houses often used models without curves for fitting reasons.

“They don’t have time to perfectly fit the clothes and on a girl with curves, it’s hard to fit because it takes time, it takes at least 24 hours for a look,” she said.

“But a girl who has no curves, you can put the clothes on, they fall well and there’s nothing to do. And unfortunately the girls arrive the day before to do the show the following day and there are 30 looks. That’s not possible.”

Back in London, several well-known industry names put an age floor for modelling at 18.

“I think you should start modelling at 18,” said British model Neelam Gill, 20, who began her career with Burberry two years ago. “I cannot imagine going all around the world on your own (young). It would be so much pressure.”

Male model David Gandy, who has starred in campaigns for Dolce & Gabbana, said the pressure of the industry could be too much to take for younger models.

“You do get scrutinised, you do get disappointment and that’s very hard to take when you are 14 or 16,” the 35-year old said. “Eighteen you are a little bit more experienced but even at 18 … I was probably ready by 21, 22.”

Dior has not publicly commented on Mechetner’s employment and other powerful fashion houses have not shied away from using teenage models. Lily-Rose Depp, the 16-year old daughter of film star Johnny Depp, is the face of Chanel’s eyewear.

“I’m sorry to tell you that’s the way people want to see them (the clothes). The public wants to see them on girls like this. They can identify even if it’s not the same age group,” Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld said.

“That’s the girls of the moment. Fashion is about the moment.”