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'Everyone passes the buck': despite #MeToo, fashion has a way to go

Industry insiders say progress has been made but problem of sexual abuse has not gone away



Some of the fashion industry’s most feted photographers, including Mario Testino, Bruce Weber and Patrick Demarchelier, have lost huge contracts as a result of #MeToo – despite their denials of sexual exploitation allegations.

Yet two years after the movement began, sources have told the Guardian that while significant progress has been made, there are still “repeat culprits” at work.

The #MeToo movement prompted hundreds of accusations of harassment and assault against well-known industry figures, casting a shadow over a world where the accused appeared to have been hiding in plain sight. It prompted assurances from all echelons of the industry that practices would be revised, but there are those who argue that the problem has not gone away and there is still a long way to go.

“Some big names have disappeared but there are still photographers who are big flirts and really push it,” says Cyril Brulé, the chair of France’s National Union of Modelling Agencies and founder of Viva Model Management. Reports of photographers harassing models on Instagram for dates, becoming obsessed with their private lives and being aggressive to get the shots they want are among the complaints still being received.

While Brulé says his team will not allow models on its books to work with some photographers and briefs them on what is not acceptable, he says it is difficult to achieve widespread control, especially when some of the brands booking the offenders are often small, new companies who “have no idea” about their reputation.

Vanessa Friedman, the fashion director at the New York Times whose January 2018 investigation named Testino and Weber – who have both denied the allegations levelled against them – said: “We are at a reflection point and it isn’t easy or simple and I think it is going to take a lot of wrestling and mistakes and reminders.”

Having found during her research that everyone “passes the buck”, Friedman is resolute that all parts of the industry need to identify their complicity.

“The modelling agencies say it’s the brands who book the photographers, the brands say it’s the stylists responsibility because they want to work with [certain] photographers, the photographers say it’s the agent’s responsibility as they should be protecting the models ... if every part of the supply chain, which is complicated and convoluted, doesn’t take responsibility for their own actions and space, then it isn’t going to change,” she said.

Friedman’s team was not alone in exposing alleged abusers. In October 2017, the model Cameron Russell took a stand when she shared stories of abuse from more than 60 models on her Instagram account with the hashtag #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse. Harrowing accounts dated back years and ranged from suggestive and uncomfortable language to models being raped on set.

The Boston Globe’s spotlight team early last year revealed the names of 25 fashion industry professionals who had been accused of sexual misconduct. It spoke with more than 50 models, 60% of whom said they had been “touched inappropriately during work-related situations, the violations ranging from unwanted kissing to rape”. All of the men accused denied the allegations against them.

Since the #MeToo movement began, there have been a number of safeguards put in place to prevent sexual abuse as well as structures to support alleged victims. In early 2018, the owners of Vogue, Condé Nast, released a set of guidelines for photoshoots that prohibit “sexual advances or propositions” and “any type of sexual activity or contact”.

The Model Alliance (MA) – formed by the model Sara Ziff in 2012 – received more than 100 calls to its hotline between October 2017 and July 2018 reporting sexual harassment and assault, and in May 2018 launched The Respect Programme, a legally binding agreement to protect models and end sexual harassment within the industry.

Meanwhile, in September 2017, the LVMH and Kering published the Model Charter, which became a central mandate in making “models [feel] that the clients were caring about them for the first time”, according to Brulé, who helped draft it. But, he adds, the charter’s own hotline was dropped as it was not used – from what he perceives as a continued fear from models of being blacklisted by brands.

Jeni Rose, the senior vice-president of IMG Models, who also consulted on the charter, said the #MeToo movement presented an “opportunity for us to extend these protections beyond our own client base and to encourage the professionalisation of the industry as a whole”.

“Our conversations with industry stakeholders like LVMH, Kering and Condé Nast have led to tangible measures to protect talent – a first for the industry, and an important step toward ideological and behavioural change.”

She adds: “We have heard that a greater awareness of and attention to standards has percolated throughout the industry and models’ work environments, and that talent feel more empowered to call out behaviour that might have previously been ignored.”


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