Fashion's uncomfortable relationship with age has become even more tense this month over a 10-year-old model's French Vogue January fashion shoot. I was shocked when I saw the pictures. The heavily made-up Thylane Blondeau wears stilettos, stylised hairdos and grown-up outfits, posing provocatively. This shoot gets a 15-page feature in the issue, guest edited by Tom Ford.
One might garner from the over-the-top styling that the shoot takes aim at fashion's perverse worship of youth. But as a publication cited as the style bible and core of the fashion establishment, it's hard not to note the irony. A magazine that sets the standard is shedding light on the perversity of the standard: this time, did Vogue go too far?
Perhaps the shoot was a more innocent take on little girls playing dress-up, but judging by the wrath it is incurring, French Vogue has really put its foot in it this time.
A girl of 10 seems too young to be photographed like this, and I doubt she even understands the debate surrounding the media storm that her pictures set off. We are also reminded that, in fashion, age is a very relevant issue. Just look at 13-year-old actress Elle Fanning as the new face of Marc by Marc Jacobs' autumn campaign.
This isn't a fresh debate. The industry commonly employs girls of 14 and 15 for adult fashion shoots, campaigns and catwalks, and has done so for years. Do you remember Brooke Shields, aged 14, making the cover of Vogue in 1980? What about Britney Spears' over-sexualised Lolita image at the start of her career? Spears further stoked the fire with a David LaChapelle Rolling Stone cover showing her in her underwear with a Teletubbies toy. People were outraged. This issue ceases to be just about fashion, celebrity or pop stars; it is a wider, more serious debate.
People can argue creative licence, and there is artistic merit to juxtapositions, but sometimes these images don't come across as edgy and just appear to be poor taste. To me, this French Vogue shoot smacks of creepy child beauty pageants, only better dressed.
More images of Thylane have spread online since she appeared on ABC's Good Morning America, and her extensive modelling portfolio has been highly criticised by the public.
Thylane's mother, Veronika Loubry, a French television presenter turned fashion designer, has leapt to Vogue's defence. Her father, Patrick Blondeau, a former professional soccer player, has largely kept quiet. Parents' unions, members of parliament and medical professionals have also condemned the magazine, Thylane's modelling agency and her parents.
A little closer to home, there are some reminders of the issue - although not as extreme. Walking past Lee Gardens Two every day, I see the Miu Miu campaign model who looks like a lamb dressed as mutton. She is 14-year-old actress Hailee Steinfeld, star of True Grit. As much as I adore those 40s sparkly tea dresses, I am not convinced by the use of a girl barely past puberty to sell them to me. Fashion worships youth and beauty - but where do you draw the line?Topics: Singles Vogue Britney Spears