On Both Sides of the Atlantic Fashion Faces the Future

summer-llamas.jpgThree cheers for Concha Guerra, Vice-Consul for Economics and Technology Innovation for the Community of Madrid and Leonor Perez Pita, director of Madrid’s “Pasarela Cibeles”, Spain’s top fashion show. Reacting to protests against the gaunt image projected at last year’s Cibeles, they announced this week that new health guidelines would be enforced for screening models participating in this year’s event. As part of an integral plan to address a growing epidemic of anorexia and bulimia in Europe, models participating in future editions of Madrid Fashion Week will now be screened according to an acceptable body mass index. Application of professional medical criterion has eliminated 30% of the models expected to work the catwalks of Cibeles, including supermodels Kate Moss and Esther Canadas. Elite, and other top modeling agencies worldwide are up in arms, wailing that they are victims of scapegoating, but Guerra and Perez Pita stand firm for a new healthy image for Spanish fashion.

Cibeles is the third largest fashion event in Europe, on par with Paris and just behind New York and Milan. In fact, the mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti, has spoken in favor of Guerra’s decision and may introducing similar measures for Milan fashion shows. London is monitoring the industry and public feedback to events in Madrid and initial scoffing has given way to serious consideration of implementing changes there.

Cibeles isn’t the first Madrid event this year to question the way the sector does business. In June of this year, Camper, Mango and sixteen Spanish designers collaborated with Greenpeace to produce a show of non-toxic” clothing in the Circulo de Bellas Artes intended to call attention to the need to substitute toxic chemicals used in textile and garment manufacturing processes. The show was a kick-off for a major awareness campaign aimed at European Union legislators working on new legislation controlling the use of toxic substances.
greenpeace nontoxic madrid.jpgConcha Guerra, Spanish designers and Greenpeace should consult the New York City telephone directory and give eco-model Summer Rayne Oakes a call. Oakes has not only forged a modeling career in New York. She has also traced textile industry benzene contamination all the way to the sludge in treated sewage. Although a Cornell University graduate, Summer decided that the fashion runway was the best bully pulpit for preaching responsible fashion. In addition to modeling, she is currently co-producing and hosting Style Trek, a television show that “connects the low-key lives behind eco-conscious brands to the fast-paced frenzy of the fashion industry.” Summer is also working with New York market research consultant Alex Jutkowitz to develop strategies that could connect sustainable initiatives with demographically targeted consumers.

concha.jpgI think that Guerra, Perez Pita, and the Spanish designers who support their healthy image mandates for Cibeles understand the concept of consumer demographics very well. The fashion world has turned its back on both the realities and the fantasies of the buying public for too long. I always notice that when fashion designers step out from the wings to accept accolades for their increasing bizarre collections that they are wearing chinos or blue jeans, a classic blazer or a comfortably large sweater. Not one of them is a candidate for an anorexia clinic. They don’t, personally, project the image of the half-dead socialite junkie. Their country houses show up in design magazines with state of the art kitchens and a dining table that seats at least twenty people. All this while the models that strut their collections on the runway snort coke instead of eating to maintain a skeletal profile. That Concha Guerra used the power of her position to call the fashion world on the carpet is worth celebrating. The Community of Madrid and the director of Cibeles could make social consciousness a part of their yearly planning. Cibeles 2007 could highlight working conditions in clothing factories worldwide and 2008 could be the year to set environmental criterion for fabrics utilized by participating designers . Meanwhile, 2006 is a landmark year for Madrid, Cibeles and the industry. May Concha´s aspirations for Cibeles inspire fashion professionals around the world.
Jenni Lukac
*images first to last: eco-model Summer Rayne Oakes; Greenpeace “Non-Toxic” Fashion show; Concha Guerra

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