All eyes on models as much as clothes on Paris catwalks

by Anne-Laure MONDESERT with Thomas URBAIN in New York
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All eyes on models as much as clothes on Paris catwalks

Paris (AFP) - Paris fashion week begins on Monday with all eyes as much on the models as on what they are wearing.

French fashion's two biggest players, LVMH and Kering, said this month that they were banning ultrathin and underage models from their catwalks.

The two companies -- which between them control a raft of storied labels from Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton to Saint Laurent and Balenciaga -- have vowed to use only models 16 and older from now on.

The girls must also be at least size 34 (size six in Britain, 0 in the US).

Models must also have a medical certificate proving they are not overly thin and in good health, in keeping with a French law passed in May.

Although the pledge by the two conglomerates, which dominate the global luxury brands market, came in time for fashion weeks in London, New York and Milan -- which ends Monday --the sheer scale of Paris will show how much other labels follow suit.

"At the moment Paris is where the most shows are... and I was beginning to feel it was like the Wild West," James Scully, the American casting director, told AFP in New York.

Scully spoke out about the way models were treated during Paris fashion week last February, when many had to wait hours in a stairwell to try out for a Balenciaga show.

"The main reason I did it was the influx of models that were too young to be doing this and the fact that they were so disposable," Scully said.

"A lot of people really took notice."

- Models 'won't be messed around' -

He said he was cheered by designers who do not work for either Kering or LVMH who also seem to have got the message.

"I did have a few people reach out, designers that were trying to keep that going," Scully said.

But he said the "most important thing is having seen all the girls, they're not going to be messed around now."

And he defended the use of Kaia Gerber, daughter of former supermodel Cindy Crawford, who became a star of the New York catwalk despite having only just turned 16.

"A girl like Kaia is already with the best agency in the world and has a mother who has been through this. She'll be very protected," he said.

Saint Laurent's spring/summer show on Tuesday is likely to come in for particular scrutiny after an outcry in March over its use of very thin models in "porno chic" poses for an publicity campaign which drew the ire of France's advertising authority.

The ban on ultrathin models imposed by its parent company, LVMH, also extends to advertisements.

- Merry-go-round of designers -

This week will also see the opening of the first of two museum's dedicated to the brand's founder Yves Saint Laurent.

The timing is all the more poignant after the death of his longtime lover and the label's co-founder Pierre Berge earlier this month.

Another museum in Saint Laurent's memory is due to open in Marrakesh -- the Moroccan city that he and Berge loved -- next month.

But it is the latest twists in the merry-go-round of designers -- and the new wave of "refugees" from New York -- that is likely to dominate discussion on the catwalk front rows.

Altuzarra, Thom Browne and Lacoste will show their spring/summer collections in the French capital rather than their usual berths in New York, following Rodarte and Proenza Schouler this summer.

The biggest changeover, however, is the British designer Clare Waight Keller's move to Givenchy, with many wondering if she will carry over her very feminine, hippy-dippy look from her six years at Chloe.

Her replacement at Chloe, the French designer Natacha Ramsay-Levi, makes her debut this week, while former Dior stalwart Serge Ruffieux takes his first bow at Carven, as does Olivier Lapidus at Lanvin and Richard Rene at Guy Laroche.