How does an industry that produces some of the sexiest clothes and creates the most provocative ads (think Calvin Klein) deal with the #MeTooMovement without seeming hypocritical? Good question!
Our industry revolves around desirability and seduction. Models are asked to pose provocatively (often times naked), young girls are continually used in ad campaigns and laws had to be passed to keep models with BMI’s under 8.5 from walking the runway. As a result, the industry is struggling with their stand on the MeToo Movement.
Last October, a few courageous actresses shared their stories of sexual abuse at the hands of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, forcing him out of his company and into rehabilitation. The news hit home for the fashion industry, since Weinstein was a former owner of Halston (2007-2011) and married to Georgina Chapman, designer and co-owner of the brand Marchesa. Amidst the scandal and to save her company, she divorced Weinstein. The flood gates opened!
Fashion models, who previously felt victimized, were empowered to speak out – both male and female – about sexual assault and harassment that they suffered at the hands of some of the most famous fashion photographers in the business: Terry Richardson, Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier and Bruce Webber. These photographers worked with just about every top model, every fashion publication and countless designer ad campaigns. Of course, all are denying any wrong doing and are vowing to clear their names.
But you really do have to stop and think…why has it taken our industry so long to pull the plug on this type of behavior? Should modeling agencies take blame for not protecting these young women and men who they represent and knowingly throw them to the wolves? How could this behavior been kept a secret for so long? Is their a ‘bad-boy’ code that makes this acceptable?
So far, there have been no embarrassing resignations, no contrite statements. Some in the industry seem to be defending these photographers. An article in the February 5, 2018 issue of New York Magazine stated that Condé Nast agreed to institute a “Code of Conduct” that sounded suspiciously like workplace norms (“Recreational drugs are not permitted”). Vogue editor and Condé Nast artistic director Anna Wintour put the company’s relationship with these photographers “on hold.” Not exactly a firm stand on the issue. And unlike their counterparts in the entertainment industry, who came out in defense of their victims, some of fashion’s celebrities actually leaped to the defense of the accused. Kelly Klein (former wife of Calvin) posted on Weber’s Instagram “#istandbyhim,” and where his denial received 4,692 likes to his main accuser’s of only 846. Donna Karan added “Thank you for being the man friend partner artist photographer u are.” “Bruce is an incredible artist and inspiration,” said model Elaine Irwin. “In my experience he has always been absolutely professional, kind and respectful to everyone on his set.” “For me, working with Bruce has always been a joy,” Isabella Rossellini chimed in. “Bruce Weber is an artist thru and thru,” said Christie Brinkley. When Weber posted a picture of his dog the day after the Times article went up online, former CFDA executive director Fern Mallis responded with “paws,” “heart,” and “thank-you hands” emoji. Vogue editor Lisa Love sent him an “xx.” “It’s getting out of control this going after people saying they have been sexually harassed,” one model scout wrote on Instagram. “What a load of crap. I would be more than happy to send models for Bruce to shoot! Makes me nervous that I’ll get sued next! Ha ha.” Makes you wonder whether industry power-players are helping to cover-up these allegations due to their long-standing friendships or they disbelieve the victims?
In any other industry, heads would roll, but in fashion, people just look the other way. These young models (male and female) are thrown into a world of partying, drugs and sex. Many of them are in their early teen years. So who is there to watch over and protect models from such predators?
“It’s been well known for decades that sexual abuse of models is a pervasive problem,” says Sarah Ziff, a model, filmmaker, activist, and executive director of the Model Alliance. “It was always accompanied by this sneering sense of : “‘oh, models, beautiful people, they have it so hard,” she says. “The issue is not just the individuals who’ve abused their power, but also the industry’s enabling culture and lack of accountability, and the sense that this kind of predatory behavior just comes with the territory.” This one, they expected, would just as easily blow over. “No one’s nervous,” one agent at a top firm told me. “Everyone thinks they’re untouchable. Because it has been going on so long.” – According to the New York Magazine February 5, 2018 issue.
Models, just like actors, take on a new role for each photo shot. Just because they are getting paid to take sexualized photos doesn’t mean that they should be treated as sex objects. In the face of the #MeToo movement, why are all the allegations of sexual misconduct in the modeling industry not being taken as serious as those in Hollywood? Let’s hope that our industry can step up to the plate and start protecting models from sexual predators and abuse. Nobody’s job should include abuse.
Have you accounted abuse of any kind in the fashion industry? Share your story and help protect others.
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