Sashaying down the catwalk in their billowing patterned dresses and asymmetric coats, the models on the Balenciaga runway were the talk of Paris Fashion Week last weekend.
But it wasn't the eye-catching outfits that were on everybody's lips.
Instead, the audience found themselves staring at the girls themselves: stick-thin, with emaciated limbs, protruding collarbones and a haunted look in their eyes. And sadly, still typical in the world of fashion.
There was something in particular that had shifted the world's focus onto this particular catwalk.
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Days before, the luxury fashion house found itself embroiled in allegations of exploitation and cruelty towards the young women who attended a casting call for the show.
Catwalk casting agent and industry veteran James Scully, who has worked with designers Stella McCartney and Tom Ford, fiercely criticised Balenciaga in a shocking post on the photo-sharing social network Instagram in which he accused the label's casting directors of treating girls like cattle at a meat market.
An investigation by the Daily Mail has found that, accidental or not, abuse is rife in the fashion industry. Pictured above, three models walk in Fashion Week events around the world
'I was very disturbed to hear from a number of girls this morning that... they made more than 150 girls wait in a stairwell, told them they would have to stay over three hours to be seen and not to leave,' he wrote.
'In their usual fashion, they shut the door, went to lunch and turned off the lights to the stairs, leaving every girl with only the lights of their phones to see.
'Not only was this sadistic and cruel, it was dangerous, and left more than a few of the girls I spoke with traumatised . . . They refuse to be treated like animals.'
Scully accused another fashion house, which he didn't name, of trying to 'sneak in' 15-year-old models (the minimum legal age is 16) to its show, adding: 'Too many of these models are under the age of 18 and clearly not equipped to be here.'
His claims sent shockwaves through the modelling world.
Leading figures including the supermodel Helena Christensen and Joan Smalls, one of the world's highest-paid models, lent their support to his campaign to name and shame brands and individuals who mistreat models, many of them vulnerable teenage girls.
British model and Vogue cover girl Edie Campbell, 26, said the purported behaviour at the casting was, sadly, nothing out of the ordinary.
'It's also probably not the most shocking example I've heard,' she said. 'I have witnessed a lot of upsetting things. I've seen girls be told to run laps around the studio.'
'The problem with fashion is that it is a very informal industry. Boundaries are crossed and it allows people to behave in ways that would not ever be accepted in any other 'work' environment. Because the girls are desperate for work then they are easily exploited.
London-based model Rosalie Nelson, 25, has been modelling for six years and says she's lost count of the times she's faced abuse
'It is also a closed system. If you speak out, you are faced with the threat of never working again. And that is why what James is doing is so brave and should be applauded.'
Balenciaga was quick to distance itself from the allegations. In a statement the French fashion house said it had made 'radical changes' to the casting process and had stopped using the accused agency.
It had sent out written apologies to the models and added: 'Balenciaga condemns this incident and will continue to be committed to ensuring the most respectful working conditions for the models.'
For its part, the casting agency branded Scully's remarks 'inaccurate and libellous', insisting the girls were not locked in and that the darkness was due to a power cut.
But an investigation by the Mail has found that, accidental or not, abuse is rife in the fashion industry.
Leading British models have revealed they regularly suffer degrading and humiliating treatment at the hands of casting directors, agencies and photographers.
While some recount emotional manipulation and bullying, others claim to have endured physical and even sexual abuse at work.
Among the horror stories are the model who was drawn on with a permanent marker to show which parts of her body were 'fat'; the model who was made to run around a studio in stiletto heels until she collapsed; the hopefuls kept in a room for ten hours with no food or water; the models who had their hair hacked off without their consent.
Then there's the appalling story of the model who has permanently lost feeling in her toes after being made to stand all day in shoes that were too small.
And at a time when the fashion industry claims to be turning its back on super-skinny models, several of the women we spoke to confessed they had been ordered to lose weight — including a size 6 model weighing just 7½st who was dropped by her agency for being 'too curvaceous'.
Casting director James Scully (pictured) accused two casting agents from Balenciaga of 'abusing' models in Paris
The revelations will certainly be eye-opening for the tens of thousands of youngsters (32 per cent of teenage girls in the UK, according to a recent survey) who are desperate to break into modelling.
Forget glitzy parties, jet-set lifestyles and glamorous photoshoots — the reality of this apparently alluring world is, it seems, very different from its glossy exterior.
London-based model Rosalie Nelson, 25, has been modelling for six years and says she's lost count of the times she's faced abuse.
'I've had chunks of my hair cut off without being asked if it would be OK,' she explains. 'I've been stabbed with needles and pins; my skin has been cut and pulled by clips.
'I've been to castings in London where there are hundreds of models and only a handful of chairs provided. Sometimes there will be a water dispenser or vending machine, but often there is nothing.
'I've been on shoots for up to ten hours where no food is provided. The underlying message is always that you shouldn't eat.'
One of her worst experiences came in 2014 at a major UK modelling agency — which she won't name — where Rosalie, a size 8, was told to lose weight if she wanted work.
'I did exactly that and lost over ten kilograms and two inches off my hips,' she says. 'When I returned to see this agency, they said I was making progress but they wanted me to "get down to the bone".
'I couldn't imagine becoming any thinner. I felt physically and emotionally drained.
'If I had been younger and more naïve, I might have pushed myself too far and caused more harm.'
Thankfully, Rosalie had the strength to walk away — and left not only the agency but high-fashion modelling for good.
Charli Howard, also 25 and from London, who has modelled for Harper's Bazaar and renowned photographer Rankin, has had similarly horrendous experiences.
Rosalie said that one of her worst experiences came in 2014 at a major UK modelling agency — which she won't name — where she, then a size 8, was told to lose weight if she wanted work
Rosalie had the strength to walk away after being told to lose weight — and left not only the agency but high-fashion modelling for good. Rosalie said that many models fear speaking out because of the industry they're in
Rosalie warned that models need to ' have thick skin and a strong heart and mind' to work in today's industry
'Nothing fazes me any more,' she explains. 'I've heard it all: inappropriate behaviour from men, horrible comments towards them on set, girls being told to lose weight when they are clearly anorexic.
'You become almost blasé — as though that behaviour is just 'part of the job'. But humiliation, bullying and degradation are not part of the job. Some people know they can get away with cruelty, because girls' hopes and dreams rest on their shoulders.'
In 2015, Charli — then between a 6 and 8 dress size — hit the headlines when she wrote an open letter to her former agency, accusing them of dumping her for being 'too big'.
'I refuse to feel ashamed and upset on a daily basis for not meeting your ridiculous, unobtainable beauty standards,' she declared.
'I am a human. I cannot miraculously shave my hip bones down just to fit into a sample piece of clothing or to meet "agency standards".
'I have fought nature for a long time — existing on nothing but energy bars and hot drinks — because you've deemed my body shape too "curvaceous".'
Charli, now signed to Muse Models in New York and a healthy size 10, says she has found an agency which supports and respects her. Others have not been so lucky.
In 2015, Ingrid Marsh, a 45-year-old mother from Crawley, West Sussex, spoke out about the horrific treatment to which she claims her daughter, 19-year-old Scarlett Gray, now a catwalk model for designers including Gucci, Prada and Valentino, was subjected to by her agency.
'I was shocked to receive a phone call from my daughter in a very distressed state,' Ingrid explains. 'Apparently her hips had grown by a couple of centimetres. This happens to 17-year-old girls — it's called puberty.
'She was prodded and pinched in an effort to point out areas where she should lose weight. There is very little fat anywhere on my daughter's body. The area that was being pinched was, in fact, hip bone.'
Size 8 Scarlett, who was already underweight for her 5ft 10in frame, quit Elite, her agency at the time, in despair.
He said the casting agents, Maida Gregori Boina and Rami Fernandes, were working for Balenciaga (pictured) and traumatized models, who told him about it afterward
Others report equally appalling behaviour. Mature model Amy Harber, 43, says she has had agents 'write on me with permanent marker to indicate where I am "fat" and need to lose weight', as well as having her portfolio thrown in the bin during a casting.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, other UK models claim they have been: Locked in rooms at auditions and castings, on one occasion for three hours; forced to work until they were so exhausted they fainted; and 'fat-shamed' by agents who refused to call them by name.
When one group of models, weak after several hours without food or water, ordered a pizza to the studio where they were auditioning, the casting director called them 'pigs' and sent them home.
Tellingly — and tragically — what unites these girls is their fear of speaking out, above all naming those responsible for such heinous behaviour.
'Models are afraid of speaking out because they worry they will lose work,' says Rosalie Nelson. 'Speaking out against the industry you work in is dangerous.'
Even when models have been cast for that all-important job, however, there's no guarantee the abuse will stop.
Charli Howard says agencies and designers often manipulate models with money.
When she lived in Paris at the start of her career, her agency took 70 per cent of her earnings, leaving her almost destitute and dependent on them for work.
Source : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4303058/Models-reveal-ugly-truth-fashion-industry.html