Stylist’s Fashion Director Arabella Greenhill explains why the fashion industry’s reckoning is long overdue
With the recent accusations of sexual exploitation and misconduct, involving heavy weight photographers Mario Testino and Bruce Weber, it is fashion’s turn to come under the spotlight for scandals that have been subdued and ignored for years.
The New York Times reported this weekend that fifteen current and former male models and photography assistants, who worked with Testino and Weber, have turned to the newspaper to share their stories of sexual abuse, harassment and predatory behaviour from people in positions of power.
Much like those allegations aimed at Harvey Weinstein, these may come as a shock to those outside the fashion industry. For those on the inside, however, abuse has, in some circumstances, common knowledge for too long.
Having worked both sides of the lens, firstly as a model in my late teens and now as Fashion Director for Stylist, I have had personal experience of being put in a compromising situation that made me feel hugely uncomfortable with an older male photographer.
As a young model starting out in their career building up pictures for my book, I did not know what was commonplace and what wasn’t when it came to test shoots for my portfolio. I was too young, too inexperienced, too vulnerable to know what to do. And if I did muster up the courage to tell someone – who would I tell? Would anyone believe me? What they even care? Would be agency be annoyed with me? Would they just replace me with someone else? Would this be my career over before it’s even started? Fortunately I was lucky and nothing happened to me, but I still remember the feeling of total vulnerability and helplessness to this day.
For photographers like Terry Richardson, whose images are so overtly provocative, sexual and sometimes shocking, the stories of his behaviour towards models had been well documented within the industry from names such as Coco Rocha, Jamie Peck and Gabriela Johansson. It wasn’t until October 2017 that publications and brands finally stopped working with the image maker, after a bombardment of harassment claims.
Similarly, Bruce Weber’s photographic aesthetic is so heavily based on nudity and sexual imagery that does it come as a surprise these allegations have finally surfaced? Weber’s most notable works are the Abercrombie and Fitch and Calvin Klein underwear campaigns. His photos often feature nearly nude male models, who after years of harassment, are finally coming forward to share their stories.
Perhaps the biggest shock is that the lid has been lifted on Mario Testino – probably the most famous and establishment-friendly fashion photographer in the world. The man who has shot countless royals including Princess Diana, Prince William and Kate Middleton’s famed engagement pictures and more Vogue covers than imaginable. The success of his career is unfounded in part due to his supposed ‘charm’, some has kept Testino fashion’s firm favourite for the many years.
For Weber and Testino, these were names you wanted to work with as a budding model – be that male and female and a photo assistant – they created images that have defined decades of fashion. If you had an opportunity to be on a photoshoot with them it could be a career defining moment. Stand up to them for misconduct and ‘bad behaviour’ fear ruining your career before it has even begun. In short, these were photographs you did not say no to, and even if you were to say no, who would listen?
The fashion industry, much like the film industry, has come a long way in the past year with spokespeople like the model Cameron Russell and casting director James Scully calling out injustices and harassment in the industry, but as whole we still have a long way to go. It is about time the fashion industry takes a stand on this and it is encouraging to see magazines and brands stop collaborating with these men. Any model trying to build a career should never be afraid to go to work.
Images: Rex Features / Instagram