In 2006 Tarana Burke founded the Me Too movement to help survivors of sexual assault begin to heal and realize that they are not alone. Then social media picked up the movement with the #MeToo and spurred it into the national spotlight. In 2017 the women of Hollywood utilized the #MeToo movement to share their stories and elicit change in their workplace. Ever since stories of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged predatory behavior shone a spotlight on sexual harassment in Hollywood, industries from politics to sport have been convulsed by allegations of abuse. Fashion is no exception (Jarvis, 2018). The fashion world, according to industry veterans, is rife with sexual misconduct for reasons built into the business. Models are usually minors when they enter the field, a highly sexualized adult world with little supervision and no job protections (Abelson et al, 2018). And the very nature of models’ work involves the marketing of seduction. At times, they are asked to dramatize sexual behavior they may not yet have experienced in real life. They regularly undress in front of colleagues and often appear scantily clad, sometimes with no clothes at all, to sell everything from watches to lingerie (Abelson et al, 2018).
It is an industry, the models told the Spotlight Team, where the sexual and financial exploitation of teenagers is almost routine. Nearly 60 percent of models interviewed by the Globe said they had been touched inappropriately during work-related situations, the violations ranging from unwanted kissing to rape. Yet, for decades, victims of sexual misconduct in the fashion world have struggled to be heard and taken seriously (Abelson et al, 2018). “As somebody who has been on set, helped on set, been to shows both in the audience and backstage, etc. the things people say and do when other people are watching is bad already, so I can’t imagine what happens with big photographers and models when they’re alone.” states Lauren Mcdermott, a third year Parsons student. “It’s been well known for decades that sexual abuse of models is a pervasive problem,” Sara Ziff said, speaking on the issue to New York Magazine for their February 5, 2018 issue. Ziff, a model, filmmaker, activist, and executive director of the Model Alliance continued, “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.”
“In fashion, you could be in a room with six abusers at once. They’re all covering each other’s backs,” reveals veteran casting director James Scully. “Unfortunately, that’s why I had to start calling people out, and will continue to do so if I have to, because that was the only way to break the cycle.” Scully, a former bookings editor at Harper’s Bazaar and an advisory board member of the Model Alliance, became known as the modeling industry’s whistleblower after he publicly accused Lanvin and Balenciaga for mistreatment of a non-sexual nature in 2017 (Felming, 2017).
Internally, the fashion industry is proving slow to embrace the collective mood of reflection and re-evaluation that the red-carpet blackouts signify in the film community. While Condé Nast International and major brands have cut ties with the named photographers for the foreseeable future, a root-and-branch overhaul of an industry that the Vogue cover girl Edie Campbell described in an open letter to Womensweardaily as “too accepting of abuse in all its manifestations” has not been instigated. “The ritual humiliation of models, belittling of assistants, power plays and screaming fits … we have come to see this as part of the job,” wrote Campbell (Cartner-Morley, 2018).
Emboldened by the #MeToo movement, more than 50 models spoke to the Globe Spotlight Team about sexual misconduct they experienced on the job, from inappropriate touching to assaults. Some are seeking to expose serial predators and those who enable them. Others are demanding new legal protections and calling for radical reform of a youth-obsessed industry they say has left them feeling exploited, treated like “meat” and “clothes hangers,” and, in the words of one model, “pimped out” by their agents. Collectively, these models — predominantly females, although also males — made credible allegations of sexual misconduct against at least 25 photographers, agents, stylists, casting directors, and other industry professionals. In many instances, Spotlight reporters verified the accounts with third parties or examined records such as e-mails (Abelson et al, 2018).
Too often, modelling agencies have been in thrall to the photographers and brands with whom they work. Some insiders claim allegations of harassment have circulated for years. Says one agent: ‘Everybody knew, and nobody really wanted to do anything.’ One 28-year-old west London-based model recalls being sent to a test shoot in Milan. At dusk, the photographer suggested they go to his apartment for some final pictures. Once there, he became increasingly angry when she refused to pose topless. ‘He was shouting and said that I was unprofessional.’ She left in tears; the next day she received a torrent of texts saying, ‘I’m going to ruin your career — you’ll never work again.’ He was wrong — she subsequently modelled for major high street brands such as Asos and Topshop. But when she told her agent, they simply asked why she hadn’t done as he said. Supermodel Edie Campbell alluded to this in an open letter published in Women’s Wear Daily in November. ‘Pranks, sexually explicit jokes, suggestive comments,’ she wrote, ‘these all slide under the radar in a “fun” and “creative” industry like fashion. Please note the irony of tone.’ Sex sells so shoots are often knowingly suggestive (Jarvis, 2018). “I have spoken to more than a dozen working and former models and heard myriad stories of abuse.” Alice-Azania Jarvis of the Evening Standard recalls, “They include tales of groping, propositioning and of bullying when models refused to go topless or nude. In one instance, a photographer told a model, ‘I want to rape you’. In another, a model was asked to spit on her breasts. In yet another, a model posed nude for a world-famous photographer who said the results would not be published — only to find the image displayed in an exhibition of his work”.
“If people really understood what goes on behind the glamour of the industry, they would be mortified,” said Abbey Lee, an Australian model who, despite having been fondled on sets, describes herself as “one of the lucky ones”. In contrast, by the time Lenka Chubuklieva was 17, she said, an agent had repeatedly groped her, a photographer had thrown her on a bed and kissed her, and another photographer had masturbated in front of her and threatened to ruin her family in Ukraine if she told anyone. Supermodel Carre Otis wrote about her personal experiences saying, “By the time I started working as a model at 15 years old, I was already deeply conditioned to ignore harassment and related behaviors. I had never been educated or taught that I could say no, that my voice mattered, or that it could be possible to work as a model without regularly enduring sexual harassment. I also knew that there were no protections for young models, and that if I were to speak up, I would likely lose my job. Frequently, the same men who were perpetrating abuse against me were the ones who signed my paycheck. While I may have been young, I understood the unfortunate truth of my job: that in order to stay employed in the modeling industry, I needed to keep my mouth shut and ‘take it.’”
The heinous abuses of power don’t just affect female models. When model RJ King was 18, he said, he was sent by his former agency to a photographer’s Manhattan apartment to be considered for an upcoming job. There, with no one else present, the photographer casually offered him beer and drugs and then sexually assaulted him while he was changing his clothes, King said. The incident, King said, left him wondering: “Is this what the industry is like? Is this what I’m going to continue to have to face?”
Models careers are made by their agents, industry veterans they trust to protect them. But that isn’t always the case. Some models said their agents gave them drugs and alcohol, withheld earnings, coerced them into sexual relationships as teenagers, failed to inform them that photo shoots would require nudity, encouraged them to sleep with photographers to advance their careers, and sent them to sets with known predators, among other transgressions (Abelson et al, 2018). Abuses can also occur when models are posing for major brands and magazines. One model said that during a shoot she was called a “whore” and “hooker” by a Dior executive, and a teenager who resisted going topless for German Vogue said the photographer suggested that a male model forcibly have sex with her to “loosen her up.” (Abelson et al, 2018). “Everyone is trying to take advantage of you,” the model said. “At one point I was like, do I really have to do this to succeed? Do anything?”
Many people outside of the fashion industry don’t realize how much sexual harassment is ingrained in the culture of the fashion industry. This can most obviously be seen in a recent interview with Karl Lagerfeld. Lagerfeld is a German creative director, photographer, and fashion industry icon. Currently, he is the head creative director for Chanel as well as Fendi. In an interview with E! when asked if #MeToo and #Time’sUp has affected his work, he said, “Absolutely not. I read somewhere that now you must ask a model if she is comfortable with posing. It’s simply too much, from now on, as a designer, you can’t do anything. As for the accusations against the poor Karl Templar [creative director at Interview magazine], I don’t believe a single word of it. A girl complained he tried to pull her pants down and he is instantly excommunicated from a profession that up until then had venerated him. It’s unbelievable. If you don’t want your pants pulled about, don’t become a model! Join a nunnery, there’ll always be a place for you in the convent. They’re recruiting even!” (Swertlow, 2018).
Numerous models said they have felt pressured to take topless or nude photos by people who could make or break careers. Declining such requests, or rebuffing sexual advances, can harm a model’s prospects (Abelson et al, 2018). Photographers such as Patrick Demarchelier wield enormous influence because they not only take pictures, but also often select which models will appear in magazines. As a result, models desperate to make money, or at least make a name for themselves, can become easy targets for men with connections to prestigious brands (Abelson et al, 2018).
“People say, ‘Why didn’t these men or women just say no?’ This sentiment completely misunderstands the dynamics of power when you’re in that situation,’ says Edward Siddons, 24, who while modelling was pressured to pose nude and had his bottom slapped by a fashion consultant on a shoot. ‘Saying “no” means you need to be able to afford to pay your rent if that job gets pulled. It means being able to take up a different line of work if your career is effectively killed by being blacklisted or being “difficult”. There are economic barriers to saying “no” — it isn’t just about “strength of character” or “courage” (Jarvis, 2018).
In the immediate aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal last fall, Cameron Russell, a model who grew up in Cambridge, Mass., took to Instagram to protest the widespread mistreatment of models with the hashtag #myjobshouldnotincludeabuse. Within two days, Russell had collected hundreds of accounts of sexual misconduct. Some of the alleged predators were painfully familiar to Russell: They had victimized her in the early years of her career. Russell began posting models’ accounts on her Instagram page — keeping victims anonymous and redacting the names of the accused — and asked others to share their stories.
“The last 48 hours has been devastating,” Russell wrote on Instagram at the time. “We know what is happening in fashion. We tolerate it and ignore it and excuse it every day. We all know who the perpetrators are, and we continue to work with them. STOP. Advertisers and magazines, stop hiring these people. Agencies, stop sending them talent. Stop today. Do not wait until lawyers get involved. Do the right thing because the wrong thing is horrific.”
“The power of social media has really shaken the fashion industry.” explains Instagram user @ralufornow, a Seattle native model that utilizes instagram to manager her own image and career, “Models are able to represent themselves and market to their niches without feeling like they need to fit into the mold of an agency.”
Social media has also given models the power to freely speak out against the abuses they have suffered in the industry. “A month or so ago I started posting models’ anonymous stories about photographers on my Instagram stories and I got a lot of threats and one of them (with at least 20 accusations, some from friends of mine) even sent me a cease and desist. And people wonder why victims are afraid to speak up” @ralufornow shares.
Another Instagram account that began to post model’s stories of abuse is @ShitModelMgmt. While looking for ‘gossip’ the account manager didn’t anticipate that in digging for petty dirt, she would soon find herself buried in hundreds of direct messages containing serious allegations of sexual harassment and rape. Overwhelmed and upset by the nature and volume of these stories, @ShitModelMgmt decided to use her platform to start publicly naming the photographers, stylists, agents, and other industry professionals who’d allegedly acted sexually inappropriately toward models. She posted screenshots of the direct messages she received in her stories (with the permission of the accusers). There were stories of modeling agents turning a blind eye when their clients reported harassment, tales of late-night photo shoots in photographers’ apartments, nonconsensual nudes, underage bookings, unwanted touching, and promises of fame. As @ShitModelMgmt kept receiving stories, certain names were mentioned more than and once patterns of bad behavior began to emerge.In the end, she received approximately 300 different names from around the world (Petrarca, 2018).
In her own words, @ShitModelMgmt says she was motivated to share them partly by her own experiences with harassment. “I know how easy it is to be taken advantage of in this industry and not know what’s happening; you think it’s your job,” she added, declining to go into more detail. “I want all these agencies and photographers to know: You cannot get away with this anymore. It’s 2018, and I’m so tired of it.”
As of March 2018, the account @DietMadisonAve has publicly named 17 alleged harassers in the advertising industry — all of which were shared with the account via direct messages. According to an interview with @DietMadisonAve in the Times, eight of the 17 men named have since lost their jobs (Petrarca,2018).
Another Instagram account @FashionAssistants, started posting direct messages detailing stories of abuse — particularly emotional abuse from higher-ups in the industry. “We are not here to ruin people’s careers, but to highlight the fact that each assistant and intern is a human being just trying to get experience,” the account’s moderator told the Cut.
Two weeks after Russel created #myjobshouldnotincludeabuse, Vogue and its parent company, Conde Nast, banned Terry Richardson — a prominent photographer who had been dogged in the media for years by misconduct allegations, including exposing himself to models and pressing his genitals on a model’s face — from shooting for its magazines. Richardson, who is under investigation by the New York City Police Department, has denied any wrongdoing (Abelson et al, 2018). “It’s interesting and frustrating that now people want to finally pay attention,” said Rocha, a Canadian model who began speaking out about Richardson’s behavior roughly a decade ago after, she says, he pretended to have an orgasm as he photographed her. There are “people at the top who no doubt have heard these stories for the last 20 years,” she added, “and haven’t done anything.”
Bruce Weber, 71, famous for his sexually charged photos, was accused of pressuring two male models, Jason Boyce and Mark Ricketson, to touch their genitals. Mario Testino, 63, was accused of inappropriate advances, including groping and masturbation, by 13 male assistants and models in a New York Times exposé that also saw further allegations against Weber. Lawyers for both Testino and Weber have disputed the accounts (Jarvis, 2018)
Other outed perpetrators include photographers Andre Passos and Seth Sabal, who often did test shoots that models usually pay for themselves to build their portfolios, and Karl Templer, who has worked with companies such as Coach, Zara, and Tommy Hilfiger (Abelson et al, 2018). Greg Kadel, a photographer who often worked with Victoria’s Secret, was also accused of multiple accounts of harassment and abuse. Victoria’s Secret said the brand is conducting an internal investigation into the allegations. The lingerie company also cut ties with another photographer named in the report, David Bellemere, after several of the Angels reportedly complained of his behavior on set (Munzenrieder, 2018)
Patrick Demarchelier, one of the industry’s top lensmen who was Princess Diana’s unofficial personal photographer, was accused of groping on set and making suggestive comments. One of the photographer’s former assistants also claimed that she felt pressured into sleeping with him in order to keep her job. Demarchelier, now 74, denied the allegations, telling the Globe, “People lie and they tell stories. It’s ridiculous.”
However, these stories seem to have grains of truth to them. Russell’s Instagram posts led one of Demarchelier’s former photo assistants to write in October to Vogue editor Anna Wintour about relentless advances by Demarchelier beginning when she was a 19-year-old intern, according to an email reviewed by the Globe. As his subordinate, she told the Globe, she eventually gave in to his sexual demands, feeling that she could not continue to reject him without endangering her position. When she did resist, she said, he would later berate her on the job. The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, urged Wintour to prevent Demarchelier from having access to other young women. “It hurts my heart so much to think of how many girls, many my own daughter’s age who have had to fend off or give in to his advances because I didn’t speak up at the time,” the woman wrote in another email that was circulated to a modeling group. “I remember many test shoots with teenage girls where Patrick’s team of assistants (including me) was dismissed for the day only to find naked photos of the girl in the darkroom the next day.”. Other men mentioned in the story also denied the accusations, though the Globe‘s investigative team reports that they verified the accounts with third parties and through other means, like e-mail archives. One photographer insisted some sexual encounters were consensual, and others said models may have misunderstood the touching and positioning that can be part of their jobs. But models say these are merely justifications for widespread abuses that have been part of the business for decades (Abelson et al, 2018).
Over the years, there have been various efforts to protect young models. New York, for example, passed a law in 2014 that classifies models under 18 as “child performers,” raising the bar for how often they can work and in what circumstances. But industry insiders, and a report last summer from the New York State comptroller, say there is little enforcement of the law, and no similar national or international regulations. As a result, New York’s law would not have helped models like Ritland, who at age 16, while working overseas, found herself in a disturbing photo shoot for an Italian brand (Abelson et al, 2018).
Modeling agencies aren’t protecting these girls; they care more about the money,” said Carolyn Kramer, a former co-director of the Marilyn Agency in New York who now owns a Provincetown art gallery. “If you’ve got a $30 million exclusive Ralph Lauren worldwide contract available to you as a model agent, but you’ve heard rumors about the photographer being a scumbag, you’re taking a booking. You don’t care about the model. . .. I was complicit. I own up to it.” (Abelson et al, 2018). Former Calvin Klein chief marketing officer Kim Vernon offered an opposing view about sexual misconduct: “I’m aware that it has happened in the industry and I believe all these recent measures to discuss and expose and correct the behavior are extremely important. . . . I don’t think brands have knowingly turned their head the other way.” (Abelson et al, 2018).
In December 2017, several models testified about sexual harassment and financial exploitation before the New York City Commission on Human Rights, which is expected to release a report in March addressing their concerns. Because models are independent contractors, they are exempt from workplace protections that cover most other employees. As a result, modeling can be tantamount to indentured servitude, with young men and women going into debt because their agencies charge them for rent, travel, copies of photos, and even the privilege of being listed on the agency’s website. “Models are in a loophole area where they’re not protected by any of the laws carved out to help artists,” said Shivani Honwad, an attorney who works with a firm, Law on the Runway, that represents numerous models. “Modeling agencies are dictating if and when to pay models.” (Abelson et al, 2018).
Worldwide, the fashion industry is slowly working to protect models from harm and grant them more rights as workers. Paris-based conglomerates LVMH and Kering — responsible for major luxury brands including Dior, Fendi, Gucci and Alexander McQueen — created a new ‘model charter’. Along with requirements that models under 18 be chaperoned, it specified that in cases of nudity or semi-nudity, models never be alone without their consent with ‘a person linked to the production or a photographer’ and that brands provide a changing area during shoots and shows. Condé Nast has also revealed a new code of conduct including a ban on models under 18 and the prohibition of alcohol on set. Nudity or ‘sexually suggestive poses’ must be agreed in advance (Jarvis, 2018).
In the UK a new body, the British Fashion Model Agents Association (BFMAA), has been set up by agencies including Premier, Select and Storm, with the industry’s main trade group, the British Fashion Council (BFC). A committee of members of the media, designers, photographers, stylists, agencies and models is drawing up a charter to ‘protect and give a voice to models’, which will be unveiled at London Fashion Week. The BFMAA has also set up a confidential helpline to give advice to models (Jarvis, 2018).
In the US, New York State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, a Democrat, is pioneering a so-called ‘Models’ Harassment Protection Act’ to extend workplace protections to models who, as independent contractors, occupy a grey area in employment law (Jarvis, 2018). The Council of Fashion Designers of America has moved to address an issue that has long affronted models’ dignity. For the first time, models will be entitled to private changing areas backstage, a departure from an industry-wide norm in which models are required to change out of their catwalk outfits and into their own clothes in the same backstage area used by designers as a post-event meet-and-greet area and for media interviews. The CFDA has partnered with the advocacy group Model Alliance to provide working models with a respectful and safe working environment (Cartner-Morley, 2018)
While the industry slowly works to reform itself, many models, encouraged by the Me Too movement, are taking matters into their own hands. Social media sites such as Instagram gave survivors a safe place to speak out, and from there their voices are growing louder, and more defiant.
A New York organization called Model Mafia is encouraging models to create their own reforms. At a December meeting, models discussed having Uber-like reviews of photographers, writing scripts of “friendly one-liners” they could use to firmly rebuff photographers who proposition them, and creating a “buddy system” that would allow inexperienced models in uncomfortable situations to call more seasoned models for advice (Abelson et al, 2018).
#Metoo has encouraged communication between photographers and models, according to @ralufornow “Since sexual harassment is subjective to the victim, photographers may not know they’re doing something to make their model uncomfortable. It’s really important to communicate boundaries and expectations, and I feel like the movement has increased awareness of this for both models and photographers.”
“Policy changes alone will not change the industry’s culture or empower vulnerable individuals to come forward with complaints. We have seen codes of conduct come and go,” said Sara Ziff, founder of the nonprofit Model Alliance, which recently helped introduce a proposed bill called the Models’ Harassment Protection Act in New York. “Voluntary standards without meaningful education, proper complaint mechanisms, and independent enforcement are not going to work”. Supermodel Carre Otis chimes in with similar sentiments saying, “It is imperative that the industry recognizes and submit itself to an independent monitor or neutral third party that works to protect the rights of all people working in the modeling industry; an industry-controlled initiative is definitely not going to be the solution. In addition to industry codes of conduct, robust awareness-raising efforts, training initiatives, regulations and compliance enforcement mechanisms are needed in order to prevent these abuses from happening in the future.”
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