Dior’s Hot New Signing is 14 Years Old. Is That Too Young to Model?
Meet Sophie Mechetner. She’s the new face of Dior, and has signed a two-year contract worth $265 000.
She’s also 14.
It’s raising a lot of controversy at the moment. Sophie is by no means the only model of this tender age – lots of models are signed by agencies and slowly nurtured, given test shoots and the odd casting ’til they are 16 and can commit to more work and independence. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s a good age to start modelling, let alone the way that Sophie has been thrust into the limelight so suddenly and so young.
Let’s look at the cold facts first. Sophie grew up in Israel, raised by a mother who worked three jobs to bring in around £1000 a month. She shares a tiny room with two siblings, and will help her mother with the money from Dior…As well as being excited to be able to purchase cornflakes more than once a month, a rare treat until now. It’s no wonder her story is being touted as a real life Cinderalla one.
She started modelling in Israel to help raise money for her family, and was sent to Paris for the shows. However, her age prevented her from being signed to any agencies. Many agencies are indeed shy representing such young girls in case it attracts negative publicity – plus they have to consider the extra work and responsibility involved – chaperones, advice, emotional support etc. So how did this 14 year old end up walking for Dior?
Well – she headed into the Dior flagship store with her chaperone – and who should she bump into there but Raf Simons, creative director of Dior? Upon hearing what had happened on her trip, he booked her at once for his Haute Couture shows, where she glided down the runway in a see-through white dress.
This is indeed a Cinderella story, a rags to riches tale starring a natural beauty who simply dreams of a better life and looking after her family being plucked from obscurity into ballgowns and riches.
Personally, however, I will always think that she is too young to model. Yes, that money will help her now – but what damage may be wreaked in the long term?
From my own perspective, modelling has both made me and damaged me. It bought me a flat, it gave me experiences many dream of, it taught me to conduct myself confidently and it’s shaped my personality into one I’m pretty happy with. However, my attitude to my body, my sense of self-worth and my bank balance are all completely dependent on bookings. I can still cry at the harsher rejections and I can still feel crushed and terrible about my body or face thanks to one person’s unthinking criticism – and I have the hide of a rhino.
I’ve seen confident people halved both in spirit and body and I’ve seen girls spiral into debts with agencies because the dream can turn into a nightmare pretty quickly. To deal with the uncertainty, the budgeting and the confidence-killing, I think you need to be at least 16 with a decent education behind you. Remember – modelling really isn’t forever – Sophie may be hugely successful now but people could be bored of her in four years. Who wants to be washed up at 18?
I’m not being overly dramatic there, either. I saw this model, Angel, shoot up to the upper echelons of the fashion world within weeks of her first Polaroid at the same age as Sophie.
Italian Vogue, Ten Magazine, Marc by Marc Jacobs campaign came fast and in quick succession. Yet as quickly as she shot up, she hurtled back down, was ignored by the agency and quietly dropped.
Perhaps if she hadn’t started at 14 she would have never had those experiences and the money she made, but really – imagine that level of rejection at so young an age. It’s brutal.
When I see young girls who I can see are going to shoot up into amazing looking creatures, I want to scout them but I generally stop myself. Those girls might harbour dreams of becoming doctors or astronauts, and with one or two words from me I could alter their concept of themselves and ambitions forever.
I have a final word here. I’m with Model Alliance founder Sara Ziff in asking why a 14 year old body and face is deemed fitting to sell clothes to grown women? Susan Scafidi, head of Fashion Law at Fordham, says it’s all about the body. Younger girls have not yet fully developed, so they do not have curves that will alter the lie of the dress or distract from the garment. That’s a bit of a depressing thought, isn’t it. What happens if and when Sophie develops these ‘distracting’ curves?
I think Sophie’s face is dreamy – utterly beautiful, a mix of ethereal beauty with a strong facial structure. She’s got an innocent face that hints at a steeliness within, which makes for the perfect catwalk scowl. I bet that right now she feels as though she’s walking on Cloud Nine. But the idea that she has suddenly found riches from rags, that she is now saved from a life of poverty is incorrect. Her success may be fleeting, and the rapid rise to fame at such a delicate age could be damage her forever. The two years to wait between 14 and 16 is not a long wait, but it would give her the opportunity to develop strong foundations that are needed to survive the modelling industry.
What do you think? Is 14 too young to start modelling, or am I wildly overreacting?
If you want to know more about Sophie, I recommend this Fusion article to fill you in on more facts: