Yesterday we brought you the disappointing news that the mayor will continue to fund the British Fashion Council, despite their flip-flopping around the size zero issue. In the second of our special articles in the lead-up to London Fashion Week, we talk to Eleni Renton, founder of Quintessentially Models - the ‘ethical’ model agency - who is working to change the shape of the fashion industry and its attitude towards size zero models.
Hello Eleni! Tell us a bit about yourself, and how you came to start your agency.
I've had over 10 yrs experience in the industry, some pf which was spent at Premier Models, looking after the likes of Naomi Campbell. I wanted to set up an agency that had an ethical approach to booking models. In the industry, there can be the attitude that girls are 'on their own' – little pastoral care for the models in what can be a highly-pressured and stressful career. One year ago I set up Quintessentially Models to try and change this.
Tell us more about your ‘ethical’ model agency.
When we were thinking about setting it up, it was around the time the Model Health Inquiry was going on, and there was clearly a need for looking after models in a more thorough way. Here, we make sure the one hundred and twenty girls on our books are properly looked after – we make sure their BMI [body-mass index] is healthy, we don’t have any under sixteen year olds – and we make sure they have certain resources to call on. These include a whole range of things to make sure the body and mind are catered for, such as access to a counsellor, personal trainer, financial advice and so on. These are things that most agencies don’t provide, but we believe its better to invest in these things now to ensure the models don’t experience problems later on.
How different is this experience than the one that models might have at another agency?
I think it’s very different. I think our girls are happier. The career can be a very stressful one, with pressure, international travel and a lot of competition. Our agency makes sure these pressures are eased as much as possible.
Let’s talk about the British Fashion Council and the size zero issue. Why did they back away from implementing the recommendation?
There’s a lot of pressure in the industry from certain designers and professionals who think clothes look better on very thin girls, and I think the BFC are scared of losing money from these parties. The thing is, this is detrimental in the long- run – the girls are less healthy, and the industry stays the same, instead of anyone actually taking a stand. The BFC have a free reign at the moment, and no one is challenging them.
There was a claim that practically a size zero ban would be difficult to implement. Do you think this is true?
I don’t think this is the case. For London Fashion Week, it wouldn’t be that difficult to implement at all. One of our girls went for a medical the other day, and it only took one hour. I don’t see how it would be so very hard to arrange a one hour appointment for the girls working at the Fashion Week. There are ways of the checking of models to work – there just needs to be pressure in the right place to ensure this happens.
What about model’s privacy? There was some suggestion of concern from the BFC that this would infringe on a model’s private life.
I think Erin O’Connor also said this, and it’s a little disappointing. Lots of jobs require medicals, or drugs tests, for example some city jobs, and this isn’t considered an infringement of privacy. There are still choices – if you don’t want to be medically checked out in this way, then the job is not for you.
The BFC claimed that they are not a regulating agency, and that it’s not their job to regulate the industry, although they did ban under-16s from catwalks. Would you agree with this explanation of the situation?
I think someone has to regulate the industry! At the end of the day fashion is a great industry, but like any industry there are issues that have to be regulated. Some people in the business are more powerful than others, and can make more important decisions, and unfortunately some people abuse their power. I think it’s very sad when people do that, and we do need a board to regulate what goes on internally. This is not happening at the moment, and it’s a shame that the BFC didn’t step up in this instance.
And how does this reflect on the rest of the industry? Are things changing for the worse?
I think globally, people do want things to change, but someone is going to have to take a stand, otherwise this era of very thin models will continue. I think it was Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, who said models seem to have lost their joy, and I’d agree – the supermodels of the 90s were not so thin, and there was more emphasis on healthy lifestyles and exercise and so on. I don’t see why this can’t be the case again.
London Fashion Week runs from 14th-19th September.