Whatever happened to France’s much-hyped clampdown on skinny models?

France was meant to have tightened the rules around ultra-thin models back in December 2015, but the much-hyped law has still not come into force and time is running out. What happened?

Whatever happened to France's much-hyped clampdown on skinny models?
Photo: AFP

In December 2015 a change of law in France made headlines around the world.

In a bid to fight against anorexia the government introduced two articles in its health bill, both of which won the backing of MPs.

Firstly ultra-thin models in France would need a doctor's certificate proving they are healthy before they are allowed to take part in fashion shows.

The bill stipulates that models must obtain a medical certificate stating that their health, “assessed in particular in terms of body mass index, is compatible with the practise of the (modelling) profession”. 

Breaches of the law would be punishable by up to six months imprisonment and a fine of €75,000 ($80,500).

The lawmakers also included an article that forced magazines and websites that alter images of models to “make the silhouette narrower or wider” to be labelled retouchée (touched up).

An earlier draft of the bill had caused howls of protest in the fashion industry by proposing that a minimum body mass index (a measure of body fat based on height and weight) be imposed for models.

In the end parliamentarians agreed to let doctors make the call on whether a model is too thin, taking into account a range of criteria, including age, gender and body shape.

But once the headlines had been written, shared and digested and the law welcomed by those organisations involved in tackling eating disorders, it all went quiet.

And over a year later, no model has been forced to present a doctor’s certificate and anorexia, which has a high mortality rate, continues to impact on between 30,000 to 40,000, mostly young people, in France.

The decrees have still not been published in France’s Journal Officiel, where all new laws must be published when they go live.

The delay is worrying the man behind the bill, Oliver Véran, who said the laws have been blocked for “technocratic reasons”.

“I deplore it,” he told Europe 1 radio.

“I do not want to see this law passed but never enforced,” said Véran. “If the delay goes on, the decrees will never be published by the end [of François Hollande’s presidency].”

According to France’s ministry of health the delay appears to be due to the fact that the two articles still need to be passed through the European Commission, France’s state council (Conseil d’Etat) the ministries of labour and health and a body called the Council of Orientation of the Conditions of Work (COCT).

Véran is optimistic they may finally come into force in the spring, but with presidential and legislative elections in May and June, time is running out for France to make that statement.

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Paris exhibition celebrates 100 years of French Vogue

A new exhibition in Paris will tell the story of 100 years of French Vogue - from the post-war 'New Look' of Christian Dior through the sexual liberation of the 1960s to the dangling-cigarette waifs of the 2000s.

French Vogue celebrates 100 years
French Vogue celebrates 100 years. Photo: Thomas Olva/AFP

But as well as celebrating the magazine’s storied history, the exhibit comes at a time of turbulence for the publication.

Just last month, it was confirmed that its editor of 10 years, Emmanuelle Alt, was out and wouldn’t be replaced.

She was not alone.

Looking to cut costs, owner Conde Nast International has axed editors across Europe over the past year, and put international Vogue editions under the direct control of global editorial director, Anna Wintour, in New York.

New York-based Anna Wintour now has overall control of French Vogue. Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Like much of the media industry, Vogue is struggling with tumbling sales and ad revenue in the digital era.

But the latest twist is also part of the endless push and pull between New York and Paris going back to its early days.

“The whole history of French Vogue is one of back-and-forth with Conde Nast in New York – growing more independent for a while, then being reined back in,” said Sylvie Lecallier, curator of the new exhibition, “Vogue Paris 1920-2020″, which opened this weekend after a year’s delay due to the pandemic.

The Paris edition was often the loftier, more bohemian sibling to its more hard-nosed New York version.

But it was also the hotbed in which much of 20th century style and womenhood came to be defined.

“Paris was the place to hunt out talent and content and bring it to New York,” said Lecallier.

The exhibition charts the evolution from art deco drawings of the 1920s through the erotic image-making of photographers like Helmut Newton in the 1960s and 1970s.

Its last peak was under editor Carine Roitfeld in the 2000s, who brought back a provocative Gallic identity by ridding the newsroom of foreign staff and becoming a fashion icon in her own right.

Her successor, Alt, was a quieter presence, though she still oversaw key moments including its first transgender cover star, Brazilian Valentina Sampaio, in 2017.

But internet culture has created “a perfect storm” for Vogue, says media expert Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis.

“The first 80 years of Vogue’s life, it had the market to itself, it was the bible for fashion,” McCabe told AFP.

“But online today, there are so many other ways to get your information. Influencers, Instagram, YouTube — everyone’s a threat.”

In a world where new fashion trends can blow up around the world in seconds, it has become much harder for a monthly magazine to set the pace.

“It’s not that they can’t survive for another 100 years — but they will be differently sized,” McCabe said.

Vogue has tried to branch out into different areas, including events.

“I used to work for a magazine, and today I work for a brand,” Alt said on the eve of French Vogue’s 1,000th issue in 2019.

But the big money was always in print, and Vogue Paris sales are dropping steadily from 98,345 in 2017 to 81,962 to 2020, according to data site ACPM.

It is perhaps unsurprising that the new top job in Paris, redefined as “head of editorial content”, went to Eugenie Trochu, who was key to building the magazine’s online presence.

She declared herself “thrilled to be part of Vogue’s international transformation”.

For the curator of the exhibition, it is ironic timing.

“We had no idea it would end like this when we started work on the exhibition,” said Lecallier.

“Who knows where it will go from here.”

The exhibition Vogue Paris 1920-2020 is at the Palais Galliera in Paris’ 16th arrondissement. The gallery is open 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday and is closed on Mondays. Tickets for the exhibition are €14 (€12 for concessions and under 18s go free) and must be reserved online in advance.