The fashion industry, like the entertainment industry before it, is having its murky underbelly exposed, with countless models coming forward with allegations of sexual assault and harassment. Murmurs of the mistreatment of models have rumbled through fashion for some time, from Caryn Franklin's early features outing photographer Terry Richardson as a serial predator, to James Scully's commitment to raise awareness of the substandard conditions in which young, vulnerable models are forced to work, as well as model and activist Cameron Russell's Instagram account, where she shares anonymous stories of sexual abuse within the industry.
Last month, British model Edie Campbell penned an open letter to WWD, condemning key players in the fashion industry for their complicity in allowing abuse to take place and not speaking up when it happens. “We have a problem: We operate within a culture that is too accepting of abuse, in all of its manifestations," she wrote. "This can be the ritual humiliation of models, belittling of assistants, power plays and screaming fits. We have come to see this as simply a part of the job.”
The first model to accuse Weber, who has been globally revered throughout his career (he received the Isabella Blow Award for his contribution to the industry at last year's Fashion Awards), was Jason Boyce. Filing a lawsuit to the Manhattan Supreme Court, he detailed his experience of a casting session at the photographer's studio back in 2014. During a press conference in LA, Boyce and his attorney stood side by side with the second model to come forward with accusations, Mark Ricketson.
"The two described "casting-couch" photo shoots with Weber in which the photographer told them to remove their clothes and touch themselves, then took his hand and guided their hands to their genitals or to his own," USA Today states. Both men described the event's impact on their mental health, citing depression and anxiety following the encounter.
They also made this key point during the press conference: "There is no safe place to go. If you wanted to work, you did what you were told." And that's the problem with the swarm of men who have recently been toppled from their positions of power. It's not just the assistants who see the assaults taking place, or the agencies that set up meetings with known predators. It's the silent assumption that if you speak out against what has happened, you'll be blacklisted, never to work again.
In a recent YouTube interview, Alexa Chung, a former model, in response to the question "What's the one thing [in the fashion industry] that really is as bad as people say?" stated: "Photographers being creepy. There's always just a little bit of a transaction – it can't not be...that power dynamic is always going to be weird." While it's still difficult for models to feel safe in voicing their experiences of abuse, these most recent accounts are unfortunately just the beginning of what's to come, as rumours circulate about other fashion giants who have abused their positions of power.
As yet, neither Bruce Weber nor his team (including his wife and agent, Nan Bush) has responded to the allegations made against him. How will the industry evolve in light of these ongoing revelations? We hope with accountability, and with the safety of models at the forefront. May the industry rally in support of those who come forward, and strive to change the way it operates with immediate effect.
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