Journalist Eila Mell has spent many years writing about fashion, theater, and film and interviewing some of the biggest names in the fashion and entertainment industries. I caught up with Eila and she shared her views with me and Emily Sandberg about this years Fashion Week.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America’s efforts to ensure all models who work New York Fashion Week are over 16 years old wasn’t observed by all agencies. Last season, at least two agencies, Ford and Women flouted those guidelines, and models aged 14 and 15 walked for a number of top designers, including Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch, BCBG, and DKNY. What do you think about the disregard for these guidelines?
While I agree that the guidelines are important, they are not policy. I think the more important thing is to establish some sort of regulations to protect models of all ages.
Marc Jacobs was quoted in Time saying, “You have child actors and children who model for catalogs. What’s the difference between doing a commercial for peanut butter and being on a runway?” How do you feel about Marc’s stance on the use of models under 16 years old?
I agree with Marc Jacobs in principle that there isn’t much difference. In fact, I think that an underage model probably has to work fewer hours than an underage actor. My concern however, is that of supervision. Child actors have parents with them on a set. Are underage models accompanied by a parent? If so, I think it is much less of an issue.
Puerto Rican model Joan Smalls was New York Fashion Week’s top non-white model walking in 20 shows. Do you think this year was more or less diverse than previous years and why?
I think this season saw a lot of diversity. Not only did we see Joan Smalls, but Nyasha Matonhodze, Anais Mali, Jasmine Tookes, Sui He, Tao Okamoto and Liu Wen were some of the other fabulous models who were all over the runways. That said, if 20 was the most a non-white model walked in, it is nowhere near the 72 shows Julia Nobis walked for Spring 2012.
Crystal Renn recently lost a significant amount of weight prompting outcries of betrayal. On what side of the debate do you stand and why?
Weight is such a personal issue. I understand that for many Crystal Renn represented beauty at any size. However, if she wanted to lose weight I don’t think anyone should criticize her. Only she knows what’s right for her.
What do you think about the work The Model Alliance is doing?
I think the work Sara Ziff and the Model Alliance does is fantastic. Why shouldn’t models have their rights protected? The things they are working toward, such as affordable health care and protection against sexual harassment are things that are commonplace in other work environments.
Fashion editor Suzy Menkes took the industry to task over the public soap opera of designer replacements at various fashion houses. How do you think this has effected public opinion of the fashion industry?
I don’t think it had any effect on those who don’t follow the fashion industry. For those who do it’s an interesting topic of conversation and speculation. Who will replace them? What will the transition be like? Overall, I don’t think it will change anyone’s opinion of the industry.
There has been much discussion of late about the use of ‘tribal prints’ in designer collections. Do you think western cultures need to be more sensitive when referencing Aboriginal or Navajo design, for example, or do you feel the appropriation of such design is exploitative?
I do think that there needs to be sensitivity when referencing a culture that is not your own. That said, I don’t think that designers are trying to appropriate another culture simply because they are inspired by it.
Do you agree with the assertion that New York City is the epicentre of fashion and why?
I don’t think any one city is the epicentre of fashion. I do think New York has certain advantages, such as being the first to show during Fashion Week. In addition, New York has the wonderful Garment Center, an invaluable resource for the industry.
Follow her at @eilamell