Dying to be skinny

For the past year, a number of fashion trade groups have been trying to clean up the industry’s image by pushing designers to use healthier, heavier-looking models.Now, an ad campaign from an Italian label, Nolita, has done the opposite, using images of an emaciated 27-year-old woman, nude, with the line, “No. Anorexia.” Double-page spreads of the ads debuted Monday in major Italian newspapers along with prominent downtown billboards in cities such as Milan, Naples and Rome, coinciding with Milan’s fashion week. The ads will run in national French newspaper Liberation next week.

By using stark photos of a longtime anorexia sufferer, the ad campaign cranks up the volume on a debate that many in the industry had tried to keep muted. Luisa Bertoncello, managing director of Nolita’s parent company, Flash&Partners, says she too was “shocked” when she first saw the photos, but proceeded with the campaign because it laid bare a hypocrisy that she says still lurks in the fashion world.

“If you don’t think there is a problem with some of the models working in our industry, then you have blinders on,” she said in a telephone interview. “The fashion industry glorifies sickly thin models and it has to stop.” Flash&Partners has received no requests to pull the campaign, Ms. Bertoncello added.

However, the campaign has already alienated some of the very people who champion the cause Nolita is trying to embrace. And it has also stirred up controversy over whether the brand is raising awareness about anorexia, or possibly profiting from it.

“This girl needs to be in a hospital, not at the forefront of an advertising campaign,” said Fabiola De Clercq, founder and president of ABA, the Italian association against anorexia, bulimia and obesity.

Ms. De Clercq, who says she suffered from anorexia for more than 20 years, called the ads “useless and dangerous.” She said the campaign “glorifies a woman who is sick and could lead others to be sickly thin because of all the attention.