Fashion Vets Raise Flags Over Runway Teens

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2010 fashion week might include underage or teenage models from the eastern bloc
CBS

At New York's just-concluded Fashion Week, the talk was as much about the look of the models as the look of the clothes.

At the showing of Calvin Klein's fall collection, there was an unusual sight - a triumvirate of supermodels from the '90s.

"Apparently it was 13 years since I last did the show," supermodel Stella Tennant said.

In fashion, where a miniscule size 0 is the norm and youth rules the runway, CK designer Francisco Costa brought back older, slightly curvier, though still-thin models.

"So what I was trying to do here is not really represent the past but encourage the future," Costa said.

The '90s were about womanly supermodels, but in recent years there's been an unhealthy trend: using very thin, very young, nearly indistinguishable girls to sell clothes, reports CBS News Correspondent Manuel Gallegus. Some are only 13 years old, according to fashion insiders who say age something most in the business disregard.

"The difference is that when I was around is that when they were maybe you know unhealthy they would be sent home," said model Kristen McMenamy. "Now it's a desired look."

Many models have been scouted from former Eastern Bloc countries. Far from home, these girls can lie about their age easily.

"It's fashion 'Don't Ask Don't Tell,'" said DNA Model Agency founder David Bounnouvrier, referring to the U.S. policy on gays serving in the military. "Don't ask her age, and she won't have to answer."

Age and work regulations do exist in the U.S., but it's rare that the rules are followed, Bounnouvrier said.

"They know when they are fitting somebody that's underage when they 15, it just has to stop," Bounnouvrier said.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America is concerned about the diminishing age, size and health of models. Powerful voices like Vogue's Anna Wintour and Victoria Secret model Doutzen Kroes are among the few to speak out.

"I don't do runway shows because I don't fit the sample size," Kroes said. "I might have fit when I was 11 or 12."

Agents and designers alike enable the unhealthy cycle for teen models, Kroes said.

"When you are so young and you get the pressure to lose weight, you'll do it because you're too young to make up your mind, to make the right decision," Kroes said. "That's why we have to change the age."

It's a concern that's been lost in the glamour of the business.