Models fight back: how fashion finally makes its #MeToo accounts
This month, as the world braced for the first face-to-face fashion month after Covid, some of the biggest names in the industry braced for a different kind of reunion. Just as models began strutting the New York catwalks, former supermodels Carla Bruni and Carré Otis flew to their own old-fashioned playground, Paris, to testify against one of the The world’s most powerful former fashion bosses, Gerald Marie, now accused of rape and sexual misconduct by at least 24 women.
Marie, 71, was once the European boss of Elite Model Management, the guardian of an exclusive industry that could make or break a model’s career. He was married to Linda Evangelista, one of the ultimate faces of the exclusive gang of supers who dominated the catwalks in the ’80s and’ 90s (they divorced in 1993); her agency launched the careers of Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford. The allegations, made by more than a dozen women – which he firmly denies – date back to the 1980s and 1990s, and technically escape France’s statute of limitations as they are over 20 years old. But these high-profile former models hope their stories will help encourage other victims, whose claims fall under the statute of limitations, to come forward.
“Enough is enough – I stand alongside the survivors of Gerald Marie,” said Bruni, one of the most notable models of the 90s and the former first lady of France. She was not a victim herself but is in Paris to support her friend and former model Otis, who leads the group of seven women testifying in Paris.
Their allegations read like a record of the original #MeToo outcry in 2017. Former models say they were raped by former fashion mogul; that they were sexually assaulted inside his office; a former journalist, Lisa Brinkworth, who claims she was assaulted by Marie while working undercover on a BBC talk about the modeling industry, which was later dropped. At the time, young models were taught to take “sexual harassment as a compliment,” former model Paulina Porizkova told reporters in Paris, as she stood in solidarity with the women accusing Marie. “As models, we weren’t paid for our talents. We praised our body and our face. Your body was not yours.
The testimony is called the second act of the #MeToo fashion movement, three years after the industry first claimed it was changing its ways in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Then, several leaders in menswear were the subject of allegations: Conde Nast – editor of Vogue and GQ – and fashion houses Valentino and Bulgari announced that they would stop using photographer Terry Richardson, who has long faced accusations of inappropriate behavior, including allegations (which he strongly denied) that he forced his penis on women’s faces. Later that year, photographer Bruce Weber was charged with assaulting two male models. The following month, Mario Testino was faced with similar allegations. Weber and Testino have both issued firm denials.
Such grotesque acts fell to the extreme of a larger culture of “pranks, sexually explicit jokes.” [and] suggestive comments, ”British model Edie Campbell wrote in a dazzling open letter around the same time. “It all goes under the radar in a ‘fun’ and ‘creative’ industry like fashion. Please note the irony of the tone.
Campbell isn’t the only Vogue covergirl to officially blame the industry for turning a blind eye to widespread abuse. Model Karen Elson – one of the industry’s most famous UK exports, with 35 Vogue covers to her name and campaigns for everyone from Alexander McQueen to Saint Laurent – has made it her mission to lift the veil on the “toxic” fashion industry. In May, she announced that she was quitting all of her modeling agencies and would now represent herself. “Magazines blame agents, agents blame customers, and no one wants to take real responsibility for the things we all know happen,” she wrote in a widely shared post on Instagram. last week. “We need to understand why the fashion industry allows so much toxicity and finally make positive changes for the better.”
She has denounced fashion for its “emotional abuse, harassment, pressure on body image and a workload that leaves them little time to rest and recover,” and accuses the industry of creating a “veil. of secrecy and silence “. Elson, who says she was previously approached by a model scout who tried to coerce her into having sex at a club in Paris, has set up Zoom mentoring sessions for young models on bullying, coercion and harassment and says she was “shocked” by the number of supermodels reaching out with “horrible” stories. “Although I enjoy my job most of the time, like many others, I have had to endure a lot over the past 25 years.
The industry is protesting that it has taken steps to change its security measures and codes of conduct. Parisian conglomerates LVMH and Kering, responsible for major luxury brands such as Dior, Fendi, Gucci and Alexander McQueen, have created a new “model charter”. Condé Nast has unveiled a new code of conduct that includes a ban on models under 18 and a ban on alcohol on set. And the British Fashion Model Agents Association was formed, with a confidential hotline to give advice to models.
However, industry insiders have insisted that most of these were just “public relations moves” and there have been calls for an independent international regulator. In a rare interview in January, Kate Moss – arguably Britain’s biggest name in fashion – admitted to having felt “terribly uncomfortable” on many of her early shootings. That same month, another model, Daisy Lowe, revealed that a famous photographer previously exposed herself to her in a “horrific” incident on set when she was a teenager.
“The fashion industry likes to say that when there is a scandal we will do better, we listen, we learn,” Elson said. “And it may be for a little while, but it always comes back to where it was.” Sara Ziff, the founder of the nonprofit advocacy group Model Alliance who encouraged Bruni and others to speak out against Mary, agrees. “Despite the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the fashion industry has largely escaped any serious scrutiny that has forced people in positions of power to change the way they do business,” she told The New York Times this week.
Can 2021 turn out to be a turning point? As all eyes turn to London for Fashion Week, which opens today, the case – and the accusations of models like Elson – will be the topic of conversation for f’rows and returning parties. finally after a forced interruption of Covid. The rise of social media, which gives models a voice, has been an important tool in opening up the industry – and freeing models to be more open about abuse.
But agencies and casting directors still wield extraordinary power, and many fear the cost of lifting their heads above the parapet. Fashion is an industry that deals with youth – many inexperienced young models may not have the confidence to speak up when something is wrong.
Certainly, for Ziff, this month’s testimony in Paris is not just about justice for Mary’s victims, but sending a message to all women in the industry – and beyond. “It’s about the fashion industry, but it could also have broader implications for how we think about women’s work. If we can’t get protections from child sex trafficking for some of the most privileged and visible women in the world, then where does this lead us? ”