Rome fashion designers send mixed signals in skinny model debate

At one show a model, clad in a super slim gown, tossed a tape measure onto the catwalk. At another show a 6-year-old modeled a T-shirt bearing the slogan "I love diet."

The gestures during the four-day couture this week show that for Italian designers the debate on modeling standards is still open.

A fashion manifesto initiated by Giovanna Melandri, government minister for sport and youth, and signed in December by representatives of the Italian fashion chamber called for regulations on age and weight for models participating in the myriad of fashion events held in this country year round.

It came in the wake of a 21-year-old Brazilian model's death from anorexia in November. At the time of her death the 1.72 meters tall (5-foot-8 inch) model weighed (40 kilograms) 88 pounds.

The code bans models under 16 years of age from the catwalk and requires models to present a health certificate before auditioning for a show. The code also carries a promise from designers to add larger sizes to their collections. At present many collections are shown in size 6-8.

The new fashion code aimed at both designers and model agencies, however, is self- regulatory.

"Nobody is forced to do anything," said Stefano Dominella, head of Rome Fashion and a co-signer of December's document, during this week's couture showings. "It is meant to take the heat off designers, often blamed for the fascination with being skinny, and at the same time to make them more responsible," Dominella added.

Although several of the more than 30 designers showing their colorful summer wears attempted to squeeze voluptuous models into skimpy styles, the majority opted to stick with a slim silhouette.

"Ever since its birth, fashion has been synonymous with slender," said Frida Giannini, designer for Gucci, as she accepted an award from the city of Rome Sunday, for her fashion talent.

The petite 34-year-old Rome-born designer, who succeeded Tom Ford as creative director of the high end fashion company in 2006, acknowledged having diet issues herself as a teenager, tipping the scale below 45 kilograms (99 pounds).

"Sins of youth," she called them, in answer to a reporter's question after the ceremony.

Rome-based designer Renato Balestra, who recently returned from a show in Washington D.C., says he has no time for super skinny models, reports AP.

"I never use bags of bones," said Balestra, after his much applauded show Tuesday. However, he said he was against penalizing a model for her health.

According to Melandri, who also attended the Rome shows, the medical certificate was included to define the line between skinny and sickly.

"The idea is to recognize the boundary and not cross it," Melandri told reporters at a news conference to introduce the Rome high fashion week.

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