“We needed a new code”

The Charter published by Kering and LVMH last September is designed to improve the working conditions of models throughout the fashion industry. Casting director James Scully, whose desire to raise awareness about the plight of models played a key role in creating the Charter, talks about its impact and its future.

James Scully
Casting director

Just to set the scene, could you give us a historical perspective as to why the industry came to need a Models’ Charter in the first place?

It isn’t the business of 20 to 30 years ago, when we had just two collections a year and we didn’t need regulations because we all followed codes that weren’t on paper. Today, we have six collections a year, plus men’s, women’s, and children’s shows. The industry has become so much bigger and now moves so much faster that things were ultimately going to get out of control. And it did become like the Wild West. The constant desire for new, ever-younger models – and doing everything twice as fast as before – simply wasn’t sustainable. People were getting normalized to abusive behaviors. We needed a new code for this new world of constant change.

The Charter has marked a turning point. How would you describe its impact?

To start with, I think that everyone was freaked out. But once the idea of the Charter began doing the rounds, people thought that it was fair and it was needed – that it was time to bring on a set of new codes. Kering and LVMH have been handing out the Charter at castings and fittings – and I think that’s amazing. I think both groups have made a real contribution to improving the industry. Personally, I have been surprised at how quickly people have started following the rules and have decided that actually they weren’t bad. And I think that’s because we held a mirror up to the industry. Things happened that wouldn’t have been allowed before, but some people felt they were above the law. I believe the Charter has reset the business on a human level.

Three Fashion weeks after the launch of the Charter, what tangible changes have you noticed?

Along with Kering and LVMH, a lot of brands have been distributing the Charter, so that every model had an idea of their rights, while other houses have established their own codes of conduct. So, it’s now becoming industry-wide, thanks to the lead given by Kering and LVMH. Models have also noticed changes in behavior towards them – designers have been adjusting their fitting and casting times, food and water has been available for the first time, and generally people have been nicer to them. Since the very first season, models have been telling me how drastically the mood and treatment has changed. Model agencies are also starting to participate, and they seem quite pleased. Things like the frequency of health certificates, the model size and the amount of chaperoning needed for under-16s has taken a lot of adjustment –  but I think they have come around.

Given its broad acceptance, do you think the Charter is now in its final form?

No. For the moment, I see it as a constant ‘Work In Progress’ and that we’re getting close to a charter that is fully realized for its time. Ultimately, I hope we do get to a point where it won’t need to be changed much because it establishes the status quo. But even after only two seasons, there are things that we can definitely expand and improve. As casting directors, we have been talking about models’ ages and a standard size, for example. Personally, I think we could increase the size range – which would be healthier and would also lead to there being few full-time models under the age of 18.

Finally, what’s the main takeaway for the industry from the Charter?

We can’t do this without models. They sell our product, they create a world, and they are supposed to inspire the designers, the brands, the stylists, and the public. I think that people have sometimes forgotten just how important they are, and have also forgotten that often we are not dealing with adults. Once someone is made up, you treat them as an adult – but often they’re kids dressed up as adults. That shouldn’t be the norm in the business and that’s not the way to treat a child, or any human. I think the Charter has made some people in the industry take a step back and think about their motivations, which is something that we had lost. We should be nurturing models’ careers more, and therefore the business more. And I believe the Charter is a step in the right direction.