After a week of back-to-back controversies, fashion designer Michael Costello is now in the hot seat after Chrissy Teigen threatened legal action against him.
On Friday, Teigen took to Instagram to defend herself after Costello shared screenshots that seemed to show her bullying him in 2014. Since then, Costello says, he’s suffered from “suicidal thoughts.”
Teigen wrote on June 18: "He just released a statement where he didn't at ALL acknowledge how fake the dm's were, & now claims to have emails that don't exist,” referring to anachronistic design and tech features within Costello’s screenshots that would have been impossible given the timeline. She continued: “Michael, you are now causing actual pain to people who are trying to better themselves. Enough. Or this WILL go further. Not here, but an actual court of law.”
On Saturday, Costello re-opened his Instagram account to share a post defending his claims against Teigen. He wrote: “The fact that Chrissy Teigen and her crisis team are working so hard [...] to come out against the DM’s she sent me [...] only proves that she is the same bully she has always been, despite her fake apology to the public.”
While it’s unusual for designer-celebrity relationships to implode so publicly, this one has delivered allegations for a whole week, from bullying and accusations of racism to the resurgence of six-year-old drama and “fictional” screenshots. If you feel like you need a guidebook just to understand who did what, here’s a recap of all that’s happened over the last week.
How did it all start?
On June 14, former Project Runway contestant Michael Costello took to Instagram to share that Teigen allegedly called him “a racist” back in 2014, posting screenshots of an alleged conversation where Teigen said: “You will get what's coming to you.” Costello claims Teigen texted him directly: “Good! racist people like you deserve to suffer and die.” Costello explained that Teigen’s comments occurred after an alleged photoshopped comment surfaced of him writing the N-word to address Maxie James, a designer accusing him of ripping her off back then.
“As a result of what Chrissy Teigen did to me in 2014, I am not okay...To this day, I am still not able to recover from the years of trauma I have experienced,” adding that since then, he’s been allegedly pulled off projects at the last minute, and says Teigen and stylist Monica Rose have pressured brands to avoid working with Costello.
In his statement on Monday, Costello wrote that he’s wanted to set the record straight for years and showed screenshots where he attempted to contact Teigen to explain that the comment was allegedly photoshopped. The post has since been deleted.
Costello’s accusations came after model Courtney Stodden shared that Teigen also allegedly bullied them when they were a teenager (at the time, Stodden was 16 years old and Teigen was in her mid-20s), inciting backlash against Teigen, who left Twitter in May 2021 after issuing an apology for the bullying she inflicted on Stodden. On June 14, Teigen issued a second apology in a lengthy Medium post, writing: “There is simply no excuse for my past horrible tweets.”
What happened between Maxie James and Michael Costello?
After Costello’s post, designer Maxie James took to Instagram stories to share her side of the story. James claims that Costello is “playing victim,” suggesting that his accusations hide his past behaviour, revealing that she believes Costello ripped off her “Royale” dress — a one-shoulder turtleneck dress with a low cut — in 2014.
In an Instagram post she published back then, James claimed that her “Royale” dress was inspired by Anthony Vaccarello’s fall 2012 collection, and that Costello first released his “Diana” dress of a similar shape in 2013. In 2014, she first started selling her “Royale” dress through her brand Ella Elisque.
In the post, which has since been deleted, she wrote that Costello later released a “mini” version of the “Diana” dress, which she claimed Costello’s team “purchased from me, renamed as the ‘mini Diana’ dress, and posted on their page passing it as their own.”
Since then, tensions seemed to have continued. On Monday night, James shared that the two had a violent encounter at a fabric store in Los Angeles in 2015, where Costello allegedly called her racial slurs again and broke her phone. “One thing about karma boy! It always finds a way back,” she wrote on her Instagram story that has since expired.
She also commented on an Instagram post by Fashion Bomb Daily on Tuesday morning, writing that “He [Costello] was getting black listed for calling me the N-word twice, once online and once in person, he was able to get his PR team to turn it around and claim “photoshop.“ She continued: “But then a year later, I see him in a fabric store, and he calls me the N-word to my face, we had a whole fist fight in the fabric store and everything.”
These events allegedly took place around the time the alleged photoshopped comment from Costello using the N-word surfaced, later triggering Teigen to call Costello “a racist.”
Refinery29 has reached out to Maxie James but has not heard back at the time of publication. We’ll update this story as we get more information.
So, who else is upset with Costello?
Michael Costello has also been accused of body shaming by singer Leona Lewis and Real Housewives of Atlanta star Falynn Guobadia.
A day after Costello accused Chrissy Teigen of bullying, singer Leona Lewis took to Instagram stories to share her own story. The Bleeding Love singer said that Costello allegedly refused to give her a dress to walk at an L.A. Fashion Week show because of her size.
“I was so embarrassed and deeply hurt," Lewis wrote on Tuesday. "Because I didn't look like a model size, I was not permitted to walk in his dress. I had to sit in the audience and was asked by the press why I didn't walk in the show. I remember having to come up with excuses as I was so humiliated by it all.”
Costello took to Instagram to apologize to Lewis, writing: “I don't take accusations of body shaming lightly," he posted. "If I have hurt you in 2014... I want to apologize to you.”
But he also took the opportunity to share his side of the story, writing that he was surprised to hear of these allegations since “you've continued to wear me, tag me, and asked for another dress even last month.” On Wednesday, the designer shared a statement with Insider, where he revealed that he only got seven days of notice to dress Lewis and she allegedly wasn’t happy with the options presented for her.
“If Leona has been harbouring misunderstandings and hurt all these years, I wish she would've talked to me directly," Costello told Insider. "My team was open in communicating with her team. Even a year later in 2015, she posted herself in one of my dresses on her Instagram.”
Lewis later went back on Instagram to thank her fans for the support and to accept Costello’s apology. “Michael, thank you for your apology, I wish you healing and that you feel better. For now today is a new day, spread love," she wrote.
On Thursday, Guobadia shared on Instagram that Costello ended her modeling career.
Guobadia claims that she was cast in a Michael Costello LA Fashion Week show when she was 23 years old, adding that when she showed up to the event having bought underwear Costello’s team allegedly asked her to get, she was shut from the show.
“I see Michael and his sister talking in a corner and looking at me with this look on their faces as if I was the scum of the Earth,” she wrote. “Then, in front of all of the models and his team, they come over to me and say, ‘Someone was supposed to call you. We don’t need you for the show and have nothing for you to wear'.”
As of yet, Costello has not responded to Guobadia’s accusations.
Why is Chrissy Teigen threatening Costello now?
On Friday, Chrissy Teigen and her team shared a post on Instagram defending the model against bullying accusations by Costello.
The post claims that Teigen was “surprised and disappointed by Michael Costello’s recent attack” and that the screenshots shared last week by Costello were “fictional.”
Teigen and her team also shared screenshots of DMs and comments Costello made on social media over the last few years complimenting the model. The post also claims that the screenshots shared by Costello could not be from Teigen because they have the wrong handle for Teigen’s account and include features that were not available on Twitter back in 2014 like videochat and blue-to-purple gradiant font.
“Chrissy has acknowledged her past behaviour and the pain she has caused but she will not stand for anyone spreading false accusations to further demean her name and reputation,” her team wrote.
While Teigen insists this situation could end up in court, Costello is firm on his story that Teigen “has continued to close doors to my career” and has “nothing left to say.” He also announced that he’s taking a break from social media “for my mental health.”
In the era of celebrity social media apologies and fake news, this type of “he said-she said” is not new. But as it continues to unfold, it’s clear that we’re still in the midst of a reckoning over how social media platforms are shaping pop culture beyond the usual celeb gossip, unearthing painful conversations around mental health, racism, bullying, and harassment.
Refinery29 has reached out to Costello but has not heard back at the time of publication. We’ll update this story as we get more information.