Was Vancouver Fashion Week Serious with That Model Casting?

The event’s organizers posted a now-deleted casting call for models with size requirements considered unhealthy even for runway standards, sparking outrage from the local fashion community.

February 4, 2019

By Lucy Lau / Photo: Vancouver Fashion Week

After decades of parading almost exclusively young, white and rail-thin models on runways, fashion seems, ever so subtly, to be shifting. We’re seeing more non-white and plus-size bodies on runways than ever before (Victoria’s Secret notwithstanding), while some brands have taken even greater strides by featuring trans people, people with disabilities and other marginalized folks in their ads. Such steps have been miniscule in the grand scheme of things, to be sure, but are notable in that they’re the result of an increasingly difficult-to-ignore demand for diversity, body positivity and inclusivity in an industry that has long struggled to represent the audience it’s designing for.

Vancouver Fashion Week, however, appeared—briefly—to have missed the memo last week. On Wednesday (January 31), organizers of the biannual event, which claims “championing diversity as its greatest strength,” published a now-deleted open casting call on Instagram for its fall/winter 2019 showcase in search of female “petite models” between the heights of 5’5” and 5’8” and with a bust measurement of 29 to 31 inches, a waist measurement of 20 to 22 inches and a hip measurement of 30 to 32 inches. Let’s reiterate: VFW was looking for models between 5’5” and 5’8” with a waist measurement between 20. To. 22. Inches.

Let’s reiterate: VFW was looking for models between 5’5” and 5’8” with a waist measurement between 20. To. 22. Inches.

To put those numbers in perspective, here’s a short list of things with a circumference of 20 to 22 inches: one 320-gram tin of Jenny Bakery butter cookies; two 600-miligram bottles of Kirkland calcium-plus supplements placed side by side; the smallest part of a 12-year-old’s torso, possibly with internal organs removed. Not the waist of a healthy, full-grown woman between 5’5” and 5’8” expected to walk the length of a runway in potentially heavy, movement-restricting garments.

The casting call prompted outrage from the local fashion community, which took to the comments section to call the size requirements “unrealistic” and “insane.” One of those commenters was Vancouver-based model Lexi Redman, who described the numbers as “appalling.” “I’ve worked in the industry for seven years and those measurements are something I have never seen before,” Redman tells VanMag. “They were three to five inches lower than international standards, which are already so tiny.”

Zeenah Alsamarrai, another local model who commented on the post, says the advertised measurements were “shocking” given the preferred heights. “The industry has been moving toward more inclusive body types, slowly but surely,” she notes, “and it feels like Vancouver Fashion Week took that 20 steps back.”

Vancouver-based fashion stylist Jason Pillay says that, although he understands some designers craft clothing for specific models, he has never worked with someone who has a waistline of 20 to 22 inches. “No one should have to compare themselves [to others] to try and fit into a certain size category,” he states. “It sucks that this is still happening in the industry and it really reinforces the stereotypes around the fashion industry.”

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VFW responded by posting a now-deleted Instagram comment on Saturday (February 2). “We work with designers from across the world showcasing designs with a range of different sizings,” organizers wrote. “Whilst these are not our standard sizes listed above, we were looking to fulfill a designers [sic] certain specifications.”

The casting call and its comments were removed later that day, with VFW publishing an apology where it emphasized that it is “dedicated to diversity and inclusivity.” When contacted by VanMag, representatives for VFW issued the following statement: “One of the designers we’re working with for the upcoming season from a different market requested models of a specific size that understandably has caused some concern and frustration on social media. We realize we should not have allowed the model call to go out and are now working with the designer to ensure their specifications meet guidelines that ensure body positivity and healthiness.

“At Vancouver Fashion Week, we do have sizing guidelines for all of our designers who participate in Fashion Week,” they continue. “The social media post in question was a miscommunication of our values, which is why it was taken down. We want to make it absolutely clear that we support and champion models no matter their size, gender, ethnicity or background. We believe every body type is a cause for celebration and we welcome designers who encourage body positivity and who redefine what ‘beauty’ and ‘style’ mean in today’s society. We apologise for the offence caused as we truly strive to deliver a fashion week that is inclusive for all.”

It’s a perfunctory apology, one that follows an equally perfunctory one that came three days after the original casting call was published—during which time it collected nearly 200 comments, many of them expressing disgust and concern over the advertised measurements. The apology also comes after VFW attempted to publicly defend the casting call, which raises the question: In 2019, who exactly is VFW for?

The apology also comes after VFW attempted to publicly defend the casting call, which raises the question: In 2019, who exactly is VFW for?

Arguably not the models, the health of whom organizers seemed awfully quick to compromise in an effort to fulfill a participating designer’s “unusually small” size specifications, and not the general public, whose concerns—and desire to see models that are of a healthy, attainable size—remained unheard and unaddressed until the original post ballooned to hundreds of comments.

If the response suggests anything, it’s that VFW is catering explicitly to the global market—to emerging and established designers from far-flung locales who are likely paying a pretty penny to show their collections in Vancouver and are, presumably, requesting shockingly thin models to do it. If this is the case, VFW needs to do some serious soul-searching. Because for an event that lacks the intention of Eco Fashion Week (RIP) and the tradition of Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week—yet bills itself as the second-largest fashion week in North America and the fastest growing fashion week in the world—its so-called “diversity” is all it has. And it needs to do better.

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