In February, the New York Times published an explosive report detailing the sexual harassment many male models had been subjected to at the hands of world-famous photographers Mario Testino and Bruce Weber. Plus-sized supermodel Ashley Graham went on The View and recalled a photo assistant who led her into a closet and exposed himself to her when she was 17. Kate Upton took to her Instagram to condemn the behaviour of Guess Co-Founder Paul Marciano, claiming he “sexually and emotionally harass[ed] women”.
People were now feeling brave enough to call harassers out on their actions, but it didn’t stop there – Just like the Shitty Media Men spreadsheet created by Moira Donegan in October that exposed a range of allegations against men in magazines and publishing and its parliamentary equivalent made by an anonymous group of women in the UK, models now had the Instagram page @ShitModelMGMT. The account’s moderator – a 20-year-old anonymous former model – sent out a request earlier this year for some industry ‘gossip’ and found her inbox inundated with horror stories containing allegations of rape and sexual harassment in the fashion world. She began naming and shaming the photographers, stylists and assistants who had been accused of acting inappropriately.
One such message, shared by the Instagram account curator to The Cut, said: “I had a photographer record me in the shower after a shoot, without my permission or knowledge. Luckily I spotted the camera.” The stories all seem to follow the same pattern: shoots taking place in a photographers’ apartment rather than at a studio, underage bookings and nude shoots that hadn’t been previously agreed, agents turning a blind eye once distraught models fed their stories back.
This Insta page isn’t the only industry exposer. Eight days after the Weinstein scandal broke, model Cameron Russell started the Twitter hashtag #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse for fashion folk to share their harassment stories, and the ones she posted – 75, all with names blurred out – showed how often photographers had sense of entitlement over the bodies of models, as if predatory behaviour should be expected.
Among those named and shamed were the untouchables: Terry Richardson, Bruce Weber, Mario Testino. But only in a post-Weinstein world has this been able to happen – Terry Richardson’s behaviour has long been called into question with little results. Back in 2001, model Liskula Cohen walked out of a Vogue shoot after being told by Richardson to simulate sex on a man whilst naked. Richardson was also naked, and none of the men present were models or actors, just friends of the photographer.
Richardson’s behaviour has long been public knowledge; validated by the fact he incorporated much of it into his work. At his Terry World exhibition in 2004, many pictures portrayed models fellating ‘Uncle Terry’ – among those was his young intern at the time, who was seen performing the sex act inside a bin with the word ‘SLUT’ plastered across her forehead. Furthermore, many women spoke out against his unprofessional and abusing actions; stylist Anna del Gaizo claimed he pressed his penis into her face in 2008, Jamie Peck told Jezebel he asked her to take her tampon out so he could play with it in 2010. Richardson himself even once said: “It’s not who you know, it’s who you blow – I don’t have a hole in my jeans for nothing.” Yet, despite these stories he continued to be classed as a renowned photographer and continued to work with the likes of Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair. In 2013, he directed the Miley Cyrus video for ‘Wrecking Ball’.
But the industry is finally catching up. Post-Weinstein, Richardson was dropped by many of his long-time collaborators, with Condé Nast cutting all ties. Companies began publishing codes of conduct – including Condé Nast, whose list includes a recommendation that “a model should not be alone with a photographer, makeup artist or other contributor participating in a Condé Nast shoot”.
In January, Louis Vuitton’s artistic designer Kim Jones incorporated a giant, red-lettered print-out of the LVMH code of conduct in his Paris show. The code had been drawn up by the luxury conglomerate in partnership with the Kering group – which owns the likes of Gucci and Bottega Veneta – and is full of instructions on how to keep models safe, such as “a comfortable temperature should be maintained to safeguard the model’s health in the case of nudity or semi-nudity” and “brands must not hire models under the age of 16 to participate in shows and shootings representing an adult”. Because that’s a large part of why the fashion industry is such a hotbed for predatory behaviour – most models start their careers around 14 years old but are treated like fully-fledged adults, left to navigate the industry alone and never being walked through the proper protocols.
It’s a move that’s been approved by even the most revered models. David Gandy told the Guardian that, while he hasn’t been abused himself, he has a lot of strong opinions on why it’s been able to thrive in the industry for so long. “You’re put in situations in the fashion world that you probably shouldn’t have to deal with at that age. Unfortunately, there are powerful people and predators that want to take advantage… I don’t think most agencies protect their models enough at a young age. The agency has to say ‘until the model is of age, we have to be present in the room’, and I personally don’t think that happens enough.”
And Gandy is right – as with the Weinstein scandal, the fashion industry needs to call into question not just the harassers, but also those who are witness to it, who allow it to be perpetuated, and who say nothing. As Guardian columnist Zoe Williams said, “It is stretching credulity to think that scores of models could have been abused without editors and agents ever being made aware.” Behind one powerful person are scores of people who made them powerful, ready to protect them.
The problem with the fashion industry is, much like Hollywood, there’s no HR department that models can take complaints to. In October 2017 The Model Alliance – fashions answer to a union – introduced the ‘Models Harassment Protection Act’ to protect models at shoots, holding brands and magazines liable should harassment occur. In January of this year they put forward a ‘Proposal for Sexual Respect in the Fashion, Entertainment and Media Industries’, in which they argued for the creation of an appropriate code of conduct, as well as a “neutral non-profit arbitrating entity that would guarantee accountability”. Essentially, this entity would function as their HR department, meaning that models could present their complaint and be assured it would be looked into fully and impartially.
There has long been a heavy lid on the fashion industry but things are finally changing thanks, in part, to social media. It has allowed models to share information between themselves and hold people accountable without fear of being outcast from the industry. This network allows them to look out for each other – who to keep an eye out for, who to avoid altogether. And, most of all, it shows them all that they’re not alone.