NEW YORK, Sep 13 (Reuters) In the first big shows since it tried to address the problem of stick-thin models, the US fashion industry seems to have cast the issue off like last season's styles and the models still looked emaciated.
Before the fall shows in February, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the US industry's trade group, issued guidelines teaching models about nutrition, banning those under 16 from runways and offering healthy food backstage, with no smoking or alcohol.
But the issue failed to generate much controversy beyond the catwalks, and consumers did not spurn designers who used ultra-thin models, experts say.
''What a shame, that it was such a big deal last season, and now nobody seems to have noticed that the models have not gained an ounce,'' said David A Wolfe, creative director of The Doneger Group trend forecasters.
And The elaborate folds and puffy sleeves in many spring styles helped keep the issue under wraps in the shows at New York's Fashion Week, which concluded yesterday.
Now no one is even talking about it, Wolfe said, partly because the newest outfits show less skin.
''Longer hemlines are covering the toothpick legs,'' he said.
''The full skirts are covering the jutting hip-bones.'' Models have long been skinny but their weight became a hot topic after two Latin American models died of anorexia last year. Critics say fashion's obsession with waif-like frames leads young women to dislike their bodies.
Milan fashion houses responded by barring ultra-skinny and under-age models. But Milan remains the only city of the four world centers of fashion -- the others being New York, London and Paris -- to enact an outright ban.
WALKING CLOTHES HANGERS? Debra Bass, a fashion editor at the St Louis Post-Dispatch, said she had not expected much to change.
Designers have a certain look and ''the market supports that,'' she said. ''Until it starts becoming a financial issue where people stop buying their clothes because they're showing unattractive images, it's never really going to affect them.'' Hannah Davis, a 17-year-old model from the Virgin Islands, said designers seem to prefer the skinniest models.
''Basically, they want a clothes hanger walking down the runway,'' she said backstage at the Tracy Reese show. ''They want a girl that has no curves.'' Reese said she seeks models who are healthy. ''You don't want to hire somebody who looks hungry or like she's starving herself,'' she said.
Designer Zac Posen said the clothes he makes ''come to life'' more on women with curves.
''We design a collection that can work on a diversity of bodies,'' Posen said. ''It's not toothpick fashion.'' A wave of very thin male models, appearing in shows in Europe, may be poised to show in New York, Wolfe said.
''Practically every designer who thinks they're edgy is now using a pack of boys who really are as skinny as the skinniest girls,'' Wolfe said. ''I think by next year they will be here.
It's like an alien invasion.'' REUTERS AK KP0906