On Tuesday, Karl Lagerfeld announced the stars of Chanel’s new spring campaign: the veteran model Stella Tennant, and newcomer Ondria Hardin. It all seemed ordinary enough.
Except for the fact that Hardin—who stands at 5’10” tall with a 24-inch waist and sunkissed flaxen hair—is only 15 years old. She ignited a controversy last year, when she appeared on the runway of Marc Jacobs’s fall show, openly flouting the CFDA’s astringent new health initiative, which requires that girls must be at least 16 years of age to walk in runway shows.
Hardin was only 14 years old at the time. “If their parents are willing to let them do a show, I don’t see any reason that it should be me who tells them that they can’t,” Jacobs told the New York Times of the issue. Months later Hardin appeared in Vogue China against the wishes of Vogue magazine’s own international health initiative, which has similar age guidelines.
Hardin’s agents at Ford weren’t available for comment on her actual birthdate, and it’s unclear if Chanel was aware of all of the controversy surrounding her age when they cast her. “She doesn’t look 15…She looks 18 or 19.” Karl Lagerfeld told WWD of Hardin’s more mature look yesterday in a brief news bit announcing the campaign. And it seems that the fuss over her underage status hasn’t stopped other brands like Miu Miu, Gucci, and Valentino, from casting her in their most recent spring 2013 shows as well.
But unlike many underage models on the runway, Hardin is American. She was born sometime in 1996 in North Carolina—a place she told Interview magazine is “fashionable in its own way, if you like cotton fields and horse pastures.” Discovered in 2009 at age 13, she flew under the radar in Prada’s fall 2011 campaign—wearing a collection that, appropriately so, offered a conceptualized look at youth.
Each season, Prada creates a viral art-house video that puts the brand’s advertisements in motion. For fall 2011 that entailed Hardin and the campaign’s fellow fresh-faced models Kelly Mittendorf (then 17) and Frida Gustavsson (then 18) coquettishly stroking their legs and unbuttoning their clothing for Steven Meisel’s camera. And all of this happened a whole six months before Hardin stepped foot on Jacobs’s runway. She’s since appeared in major fashion spreads for W, V magazine, and Teen Vogue.
All 19 editors of Vogue’s international titles banded together last May in an effort to set guidelines for the betterment of women’s health. The initiative was intended to not only protect models, but for the magazines to also act as, “ambassadors for the message of healthy body image.”
Their policies, which included rules about a model’s weight and, more pertinent to this case, age, were supposed to be followed by Vogue editions around the world. But Hardin’s appearance in Vogue China, and 14-year-old Tharine Garcia’s upcoming appearance in Vogue Japan’s December issue seem to be trumping the titles’ splashy crusade on unhealthy modeling standards. As The Daily Beast’s Robin Givhan wrote, “For the average woman, fashion continues to deliver a brutal, frustrating fantasy. But are the models to blame for women’s psychic battering?”