Just four months after announcing its commitment to end the practice of hiring models under the age of 16, Vogue magazine has violated its word — for a second time.
The latest model for whom Vogue ignored its own rules is 14-year-old Brazilian Thairine Garcia. Garcia, who will turn 15 this December, last week shot an editorial for Vogue Japan with photographer Sharif Hamza. (Hamza was the photographer responsible for Vogue Paris' infamous 2011 spread featuring child models dressed and made up to look like much older women.) Garcia's editorial is understood to be for Vogue Japan's December issue. Further details about the unpublished spread are not yet available.
American model Ondria Hardin, who is currently 15, was also shot by Vogue China for its August issue.
Following months of media scrutiny of the issue of underaged models in fashion and the conditions of their labor, Vogue magazine this May announced a new six-point pledge regarding the well-being of the models it hires. Point 1 was, "We will not knowingly work with models under the age of 16." Vogue further pledged to ask that agencies not send models under 16 to Vogue, and said that its casting directors would card prospective models just in case. Condé Nast, which publishes Vogue, announced the commitment would affect all 19 international editions of the magazine. In an unprecedented show of unity, the editors-in-chief of all of the world's Vogues posed together for a photograph to announce the new manifesto, which Vogue called its "Health Initiative."
The Vogue initiative marked the first time that any major publication had attempted to set an age limit for its models. Various fashion weeks around the world have set 16 as an age limit for runway work, with mixed success — New York's ban is regularly flouted, Paris' is strictly enforced — but in any case, fashion week is just a couple weeks out of the year. A lot of modeling work happens the rest of the time. There are many reasons why the mostly unregulated modeling industry can be an inappropriate working environment for a child (and why it's problematic for any 13-year-old to be working essentially full-time in any field). Given that the modeling industry's reliance on child labor has been linked to everything from financial exploitation, to interrupted or abandoned schooling, to eating disorders — not to mention that it contributes to an unrealistic beauty ideal for the adult women who are the main consumers of fashion's imagery — the prospect of a publication setting an age limit for print work was potentially revolutionary. If only it had been observed.
Garcia and Hardin have both been working regularly since they were just 13. Hardin was 13 when she shot the fall, 2011, Prada campaign and has worked extensively for clients all over the world, including the magazines W and Lula. Garcia has been on the cover of V magazine, and has shot an astounding 11 consecutive editorials — including two covers — of Brazilian Harper's Bazaar. Garcia appeared on the cover of Vogue Italia in April, just before Vogue announced its new commitment. This September, despite a voluntary ban on hiring models under 16 for runway work in New York promoted by the Council of Fashion Designers of America, Hardin and Garcia each walked for seven designers. Brands who hired the two underaged models include Anna Sui, Marc Jacobs, Marchesa, Oscar de la Renta, Peter Som, Thakoon, Theyskens' Theory, and Yigal Azrouël. (Garcia is pictured at the top of this post walking in the Theyskens' Theory show.)
Although Vogue technically announced it would not "knowingly" work with models under 16, Hardin and Garcia are two of the most high-profile (and successful) underaged models currently working. It seems hard to imagine that Vogue wouldn't know their true ages — even if its casting director didn't, as Vogue instructed, card the girls. How disappointing that Vogue's commitment to the health of its models should prove to be so short-lived.