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Prada’s recent show at Milan Fashion Week made headlines on Thursday thanks to the return of 26-year-old model Gemma Ward and the 150 tons of purple sand (try walking in that in heels!) covering the runway. Ward’s triumphant return was such a distraction that Roos Abels, the 14-year-old Dutch model who walked in the show, nearly went by without detection — until now. And so the conversation begins yet again among fashion industry insiders: How young is too young?
Although Roos has been seemingly quiet about her age, and has apparently even taken precautions to keep it hidden, a cached version of her Instagram account on Google seemingly confirms that she’s 14. The woman responsible for Roos’s discovery, Miuccia Prada, has an eye for discovering young, promising models and has brought many to the forefront of the fashion world over the years. Therefore, this isn’t the first time the designer has employed pretty young things. Four years ago, Prada cast 15-year-old Lindsey Wixson to be the face of Miu Miu’s 2010 spring campaign. One year later, the designer chose a trio of fresh-faced 16-year-olds: Kelly Mittendorf, Antonia Wesseloh, and Ondria Hardin for the Prada 2011 fall campaign.
But the Council of Fashion Designers of America has rules for fashion brands employing underage models and issued a ban in 2011 to keep models under 16 from the runways. Under the leadership of designer and current CFDA President Diane von Furstenberg (who was once called out for casting a 15-year-old), the council released guidelines for New York Fashion Week as part of the Health as Beauty and Diversity campaign, which even included checking IDs at the door prior to showtimes. And according to the Daily Telegraph, just as the CFDA encourages New York Fashion Week designers to hire models who are 16 and older, there are similar standards for London Fashion Week. But no such regulations exist in Italy for Milan Fashion Week where Roos made her debut.
The lack of standards is unfortunate, because, as the CFDA explains, “The industry’s hiring of prepubescent-appearing teenage girls as models of adult clothing sets an unrealistic standard; hips and breasts, the curves that define the female figure, are absent. Some models have difficulty maintaining the body ideal as they move into adulthood and run the risk of engaging in unhealthy eating behaviors that lead to eating disorders.”
It remains to be seen, but so long as Roos maintains a healthy outlook on her body and her diet, we might have just met the next “it” girl. But the tween’s emergence on the scene also sparks a conversation in the fashion industry that has laid dormant for too long. And hey, if one country or designer is following the rules, shouldn’t they all?