The age at which a model should begin their career remains one of fashion’s most controversial subjects. The continued push for regulation and more protective labor laws has somehow been at odds with what’s happening on the runway, where teenage stars such as 17-year-old Kaia Gerber are the norm. Today’s announcement that Kering, the luxury group behind Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga, among others, will only hire models over 18 to represent adults on its runway shows and photo shoots could change all of that. As one of the most powerful forces in the industry, Kering has the ability to enact change at a scale few can match, something its chairman and CEO, Fran?ois-Henri Pinault, acknowledges. “As a global luxury group, we are conscious of the influence exerted on younger generations in particular by the images produced by our Houses,” he said in a statement. “We believe that we have a responsibility to put forward the best possible practices in the luxury sector and we hope to create a movement that will encourage others to follow suit.”
Set to go into effect during the Fall 2020 shows next year, the new policy stands in stark contrast to the way many brands cast shows and campaigns at present. The focus on launching new faces on an exclusive contract has led many newcomers, who may debut at a prominent show one season only to fade into obscurity the next, towards a dead end. These short-lived careers make for a hazardous work environment, as do the countless outside factors: on-the-job harassment, eating disorders, and financial mismanagement among them. Even from a strictly business perspective, the move towards an “older” workforce makes sense. “In our view, the physiological and psychological maturity of models aged over 18 seems more appropriate to the rhythm and demands that are involved in this profession,” said Marie-Claire Daveu, Kering’s chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs.
Kering’s roster of brands will have several months to adjust to the new guidelines, but the success of that may depend on how many of its contemporaries adopt similar initiatives. The joint model charter that was established between Kering and LVMH in 2017 helped lay the groundwork for a new set of rules that included restrictions on age and the assurance that anyone between 16 and 18 must be accompanied by the presence of a chaperone and meet their school’s attendance obligations. The collective effort has helped to improve standards in the modeling industry across the board. By that same token, New York Fashion Week’s over-18 policy only came after the CFDA and Vogue united to pledge to only hire models who fit the bill. Any effort to ensure lasting change on the runways in Europe will take more than one luxury group, but only time will tell if Kering’s peers are ready to get on board.