Where do we go from here?
After a spate of sexual misconduct allegations against several high-profile photographers, stylists and senior executives, the fashion industry is reconsidering the treatment of models and ways to strengthen their voices.
The recalibration underway has been triggered by investigative pieces by The Boston Globe and The New York Times that highlighted models’ accusations against Bruce Weber, Mario Testino, Patrick Demarchelier, Greg Kadel, Karl Templer, Seth Sabal, David Bellemere and others. Those stories followed the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, who has long been a figure in the fashion world, as well as allegations against Paul Marciano, cofounder of Guess Inc. All of the accused have denied any wrongdoing. Most recent has been the departures of senior executives at Nike Inc. and the chief executive officer of Lululemon, Laurent Potdevin, for behavior the companies said was not up to their standards. The momentum is bolstered by the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up, and more recently the Hollywood-sparked “Ask More of Him.”
Fueling what some consider to be the-victims-are-always-right spirit, more allegations seem to be made nearly daily. Last month an anonymous list called “S–t Model Management’s Blacklist” was posted on a Google spreadsheet that contained some 300 names of people in the fashion industry who were advised to be avoided by models because they had allegedly acted sexually inappropriately in the past. Names listed without an asterisk were a warning, since they had only been named once. But those with an asterisk had been named over three times. The administrator took down the list March 6, reportedly due to concerns over her well-being and her family’s safety. Before doing so, she said these names were simply allegations told to her over direct messages. The blacklist contained some well-known names, including photographers, stylists and designers. Some compared its feel to the “S—-y Media Men” list created by Moira Donegan. The advertising world has its own with @DietMadisonAvenue.
Fashion firms already have moved to institute safeguards for models. After Kering and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton issued a charter for models in the fall, Condé Nast and Tapestry Inc. — parent of Coach and Kate Spade — in January released ones of their own for photo/video shoots and fashion shows and presentations with the intention of safeguarding those who work with the companies. Calvin Klein is expected to issue a new policy handbook soon.
Among the procedures in Tapestry’s policy are that models who appear in fashion shows, campaigns and presentations must be at least 16 years of age, unless promoting children’s products, and all models under 18 must have a parent, guardian or chaperone with them. Closed sets are prohibited and at no time should a model or others be left alone on set with individuals linked to the production, i.e., photographers, makeup artists, stylists, etc.
A spokesman for Ralph Lauren Corp., said, “Our highest priority is ensuring our employees and outside partners feel welcome, safe and can perform at their best. For many years, we have had stringent antiharassment policies and practices in place. Most recently, we have extended our Fair Treatment Policy to cover third parties, as well as requiring antiharassment training focused on respect and inclusion in the workplace for all of our employees globally. In addition to our enhanced policies and trainings we are also taking steps to create a dialogue about harassment with formalized discussions with our employees.”
Leading executives in the industry were willing to share specific suggestions to improve the treatment of models, including some that have already been put into practice. Elite Models is working on a code of conduct and empowering its models to give them a voice. IMG Models already has a program called Model Prep, which used to meet twice a year, and now meets monthly to allow its models to discuss the challenges they’re confronting and offers them guidance, support and resources to cope. According to an internal document, obtained by WWD, IMG has an antiharassment policy and monitors casting hours and conditions, among other things. “No one should have to endure a hostile work environment or unwanted sexual advances. We advise our models to speak up if they feel uncomfortable, call us immediately and/or remove themselves from the situation,” according to the document.
Other companies chose not to comment about potential changes that could improve working conditions for models by not responding to requests, citing travel plans, work commitments or just declining comment altogether, including executives from Michael Kors, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Victoria’s Secret. Also declining were The Lions Model Management, Ford Models, Juergen Teller, Peter Lindbergh, Law Roach, Bon Duke, Viviane Sassen, Petra Collins, Women Management, Marco Tenaglia, Tyra Banks, Marilyn Agency, Nigel Barker, Mario Sorrenti, Elliott Sailors, Karla Welch, Lauren Hutton, Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen and Sante D’Orazio.
To be sure, the frenetic nature of the fashion industry, which is only getting blindingly faster, can affect the mood on set. Stylist and Love magazine founding editor in chief Katie Grand noted how the average number of pictures on a commercial shoot has jumped from six to 20-plus or even as many as 50. In addition, production teams are often shooting behind-the-scenes photos, video and interviews.
“As our jobs become more and more about content, there is more stuff that’s crammed into a day,” she said. “It doesn’t lead to happy, unstressed people. If you’re working on a big show, there are millions of euros at stake. There are reputations, big egos and very little sleep with a limited amount of time to do stuff. People don’t behave as they would in a normal situation. They shout, they get upset. People can be irrational in those situations, which I don’t think is particular to the fashion industry. But you just can’t behave like that any more. I mean, you shouldn’t have behaved like that anyway. Of course, some situations are ridiculous and some people are asking crazy things, but everyone needs to stay calm and be mindful of others.”
Others preferred to not be identified in discussing some of the reasons the industry has become so dehumanized. In this instantaneous age of fashion, where followers often lose interest from one minute to the next, designers and brands “cycle through models” in their own version of fast fashion. “It’s almost like cheap labor. They’re not looking at someone as a person, but as someone who fills a ridiculous dress size,” one executive said.
One well-connected photographer suggested that absolute power has led to an absolutist system of fashion. “The same people do all of the work, who have been working since the Eighties. Not only is it extremely boring, but it creates monsters (such as those older photographers who have been abusing their power for decades). Because the entire system is supporting those 10 people and allows them to do as they wish.”
The genre could use a reset, the photographer continued. “Make fashion photography about fashion again, instead of about sexualizing women and fetishizing women’s bodies. Fashion photography in a lot of circumstances has evolved into soft-core pornography. Clothing should be the focus, not the person wearing the clothing. À la Comme des Garçons in the Eighties or Ann Demeulemeester in the Nineties. If someone wants to look at half-naked women there are a lot of other places in print and online to do that.”
Research is pretty consistent in showing that sex appeal doesn’t translate to higher sales, according to Rebecca R. Ortiz, Ph.D., assistant professor of advertising, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. The trend has been moving away from sex appeal for the past two or three years, she said. “In fashion, it’s happening more recently in a reflection of the movement.…With the Super Bowl, there was very little sex appeal or any nod toward gender-related issues. Brands right now are scared, they’re afraid of making a mistake or stepping out of line. They’re trying to figure out what are these new lines of cultural acceptance.”
As people become more conscientious about what’s happening on sets, Sam Shahid, owner of Shahid & Co., expects fashion shoots to shift to the “more conservative” and “less creative.” “There will be a lot less freedom to express yourself, for a while anyway,” he said, adding that rather than photographers barking orders like, ‘Move to your left,’ they’ll say, ‘Turn to the left please.’ And they won’t scream out, ‘Pay attention.’”
WWD reached out to dozens of modeling executives, photographers and stylists about initiatives and ideas that would help to better protect models and improve their working conditions. Here’s what they had to say.
Inez van Lamsweerde
For at least 10 years, Vinoodh [Matadin] and I have always said that we would only take pictures of people who are 18 and up. We feel that models will have to have finished their education, have lived a little bit and experienced certain things in order to be able to project all these different types of women we ask them to project in a photograph or a video.…There are some girls, who are younger than 18, who are either child actors, or the daughter of a celebrity. If it’s a profile of them or their name is in there, we’ll say “OK, bring your mom, your chaperone or your teacher.” Being firm on the age limit would be number one for me.
When I look at the incredible women we meet every day who are models, celebrities or whatever, in my eyes, they’re perfect. We feel they are so beautiful, we are so inspired by them or you want to be them. When I see, let’s say, Gisele walk in, I’m like, “Well if I had your body, I’d be naked the whole time. Because I would be so happy with it.” Sometimes it’s really hard to imagine for people like us that they might not think they’re perfect.…To put yourself in their shoes and say, “OK, yeah, they’re a human being, a young human being. They might be shy. They might not be comfortable changing in front of everybody from outfit to outfit, or trying things on or being judged.” There are girls who are very different and have no problem being naked around everybody the whole time. They’ll walk naked to the bathroom in Pier 59 or whatever. Not everyone is like that. We need to ensure there are private dressing rooms or a way of being private — the way we do with actresses. When we have actresses we are shooting, oh my God, there’s a green room, you name it. There’s a scented candle, flowers. I think the same thing should be for a model. They are as much a human being as an actor.
Ivan Bart, president of IMG Models
Now more than ever, individuals’ voices are being heard. We’re seeing a true shift in perception and power. The only way our industry will succeed in creating safer and more inclusive work environments is if we all hold each other accountable in preventing unacceptable behavior. It takes a village. Our clients have always and continue to have a direct line to their manager and our IMG Models executive team. We are diligent in ensuring they know that if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe in any way, shape or form, they should come to us immediately.
Diane von Furstenberg
The one thing when you’re a model is rejection is always a problem. It’s not a very pleasant situation, really, to be a model. You have to go and please and be accepted. And it’s all about rejection. When we started [the CFDA Health Initiative] a few years ago, we focused on health, because there was a lot of anorexia. We wanted to make sure that people weren’t asking for too thin [of] models. That was very, very important. The other thing that was very important that we had emphasized was diversity. Now with everything that is happening with abuse of power, and abuse in the workplace, it is important that we emphasize zero tolerance for unsafe environments and try to encourage everyone in our industry to report abuse in the workplace — for models, not just women, to not feel like meat. Today everybody is much more aware. With everything that’s happening, people can just say, “Well, I don’t think this is appropriate.” If you say that in a certain way, people will listen to you a lot more.
Katie Grand, editor in chief of Love, who worked on the Condé Nast charter
Underage models need their travel-to-and-from shoots taken care of. It would be better for everyone if the chaperone or parent with an underage model is on set there the whole time, so it can’t be their word against yours.…As a stylist, you are constantly looking at how the clothes are sitting. You tend to go in and touch clothes without chatting with the model. Today I’ve been superaware, “Are you OK if I adjust your collar?” Even if you’re not working with an underage model but someone who is under 25, they’re still young people in a very, very grown-up atmosphere or situation. As the adults in the room, you just need to think a lot more. I think people were just used to getting on with their jobs. Stuff like that I would previously go in and do because it was the quickest, easiest way to do it. With the recent accusations, it’s a responsibility to be supercareful. For a long time on Love shoots, we’ve had a separate changing area. Once the LVMH and Kering charter came out, I was kind of mindful that models need to change in private. There has to be more than one person in that changing area just so everyone’s happy. These are all things we should have been mindful of before. But you start working a certain way and you just carry on working that way. It’s a good to have had a check on these things.
Former model Michael Hager
There is a complete lack of mental health services in the modeling industry, which, you would think there would be. Models are under immense pressure both physically and mentally. With all the sexual assault allegations that are going on, a lot of these people are away from their families. They are not in their homes and [are] struggling to pay for their expenses. When a model gets paid, the agency takes a cut from the client, a cut from the model, a cut from the interest on cash advances, which they do a lot. The agency gets higher than market value rates on models’ apartments so the agency is making money in a lot of different areas. None of the agencies are offering any mental health services for their models. It would be very easy to contact therapists and different places to form alliances so that models could have access to free therapy. They take all of these fees out that they don’t ask to take out.…They’re willing to say you need to go and have somebody fix your hair or fix your body. But the positive implication of having somebody go through therapy and work through some of the issues that so commonly come about being a working model, they’re silent. There is no stance on health, nothing like that. We’ve seen in the past some top models like Daul Kim commit suicide and still, nothing.
David Bellemere, photographer
I would like to see the creation of an independent alliance to care for all aspects of the entire fashion industry and to work alongside alliances like the Model Alliance to investigate allegations of harassment or other workplace complaints. This new alliance would be funded by the industry itself to investigate independently. Where there are allegations of sexual assault or sexual harassment, it would work alongside organizations like [national abuse hotline] RAINN to take their guidance and advice on how best to bring about change, growth and healing for any victim.
I have begun to reach out to industry figures to take their advice and to listen to their opinions about how we can learn and grow from this movement, and how we can protect future victims and ensure safety in the workplace. We also need to make sure that trial by media, and publications misrepresenting facts, cannot destroy the careers of those who have not committed crimes.
The independent alliance should make random checks on shoots to ensure the safety and healthy working environment for those who are there. When a report of abuse is made to the alliance, filed by a stylist, model, photographer, makeup artist or anyone in the industry, the alliance would investigate this privately. When the allegations are proven, or there has been reason enough to list the name of the perpetrator, then this should be provided to all of the industry. We must also clearly define the difference between acts of rape, sexual assault, sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, abuse of power or position and unwanted flirtations. It is a dangerous situation we can find our society in if we do not make clear the difference between each of these acts. They cannot be combined under one hashtag. Organizations like RAINN are essential to being used here, and issues we could support, like everykitcounts.org, should not be ignored by us as a society who prefer to attack a singular “monster” rather than act to fix what is clearly a problem nationwide.
We must spread awareness of the facts and statistics, and what we can do to help — not only in the fashion industry, because this is not just present in one sector. There are 100,000 women who have been raped in America each year who do not have their kits tested. The platform and media attention we have for our voices now can be used to fix this problem, and we can move toward a future where we grow from our past mistakes.
Kim Vernon, president of consultants Vernon Company
Every brand and media company is going to pay a lot more attention to the overall creative process of working with photographers and talent in the industry. They absolutely are and they have to. It remains to be seen how all of this intent and commitment to better practices actually gets implemented. The most important part is determining how industry professionals get that implemented.
It would be great to create an independent third-body training group the companies can bring in and can hire or help fund it. They can train any employee — a designer, a producer, a stylist — anyone who would work for them on behalf of them — it’s almost like a driver’s ed course. You have to get a license. The modeling agencies need to have a very serious look within. A booker, all the way up to the president of the agency, shouldn’t be able to book and work with talent unless they pass a certain test. They have to go through proper training.
David Bonnouvrier, founder of DNA Model Management
I am really happy that this conversation is finally happening. But the major changes will happen when all the fashion brands, publishing companies, creative agencies and others will implement policies that they are accountable for, to protect the models. There is still a lot of work to do to provide all models with a safe and positive work environment. DNA has always taken every necessary step to protect its clients, the models, from being exposed to any form of harassment, verbal bullying, psychological pressure and sexual harassment, and provides them with a safe and healthy working environment. The reputation of the firm and its close relationships with all the major fashion brands and publications and key players in this industry have been a very powerful deterrent for those who could have been tempted to misbehave.
Bill Wackermann, chief executive officer of Wilhelmina
We are committed to making our models aware that we have a zero-tolerance policy to unwanted behavior from photographers and stylists. We’re sending out a release to models to sign so that they understand. They are to come back to us if they have any issues on a set and feel uncomfortable or they feel someone is acting in a way that is unprofessional. We participated — most modeling agencies did — in Condé Nast’s drafting of their procedures to create a safe work environment on set. Modeling agencies don’t handle the sets. Modeling agencies do offer an opportunity to chaperone depending on the set and conditions with underage models. Those procedures have been in place with our agency for a long time.
Photographer Katja Rahlwes
For models, there has to be an awareness program. It can’t just be that you are cast and you go on a shoot. It’s probably the only profession where there’s no introduction [to] anything. When you are working with a young model, who is on her third or fourth shoot, everyone on set is fully aware of what’s going on but her. For her, every day is a totally new and unpredictable situation. She is confronted with a lot of people she has never met before. She doesn’t know who is who, really, or what is expected of her. It’s funny, on a shoot, we might be 15 people and somehow we all know each other. But a young model doesn’t know anybody. I want to comfort her, and give her confidence so she can trust me and I can trust her. I tell her what we’re about to do, what’s the idea behind it. I’m not sure that everybody takes that time and has that compassion because time may be short.…There is an interface missing for them. Who do they have after a bad or good shoot? Who can they talk to? Who is advising them? Who can [listen] to them to help them understand their reactions or the reactions of others? These models are not in their hometowns. They’re living in a completely new environment. There’s no family, there’s nobody. “Union” might be the wrong word, but it seems there should be something that is created for them. Maybe there’s a union, but in a nice way, in a smart way.
Chris Gay, chief executive officer of the Elite World Group, which includes The Society Management
What Condé Nast has done is a step in the right direction 100 percent in terms of not employing minors. That needs to translate down to the rest of fashion, most importantly to fashion shows. We would significantly make a big change in our culture if we did do that universally, across the board.
Fashion for a long time has operated in this asymmetric power dynamic in terms of designers and brands that can potentially make your career, comparatively speaking, to the other side of the balance, which could be a 16-year-old coming from a different country. The thing is we need to do our best to even the balance. That is not only through education but also creating more of a system of accountability and balance.
I would like to see what Kering and LVMH have brought to the table [in creating a charter that addresses models’ well-being and calls for special rules for 16- to 18-year-olds.] People will follow along with the leaders in the industry.…Who is ultimately responsible for the models? The contracting party, the person who is hiring them is ultimately responsible for the environment they are placed into. But we all absolutely play a hand and a role and quite frankly, we all need to take responsibility. Brands need to be extremely careful about the level of access they allow for backstage photography. We should have greater controls or there shouldn’t be any from 10 minutes before or when talent is being asked to go into looks.
Seth Sabal, photographer
Have a model accompanied by a chaperone. Development boards should not send models to tests or castings without an agency representative present. All model agencies should have an in-house studio and hire a staff photographer. All models under 18 should be employees and paid salary, health benefits and be protected as children under the responsibility of the agency. Adult models should be offered similar to the above. In addition to model releases, there should be a document stating there was no sexual harassment/drugs/alcohol etc. on set signed by model(s). There should be zero tolerance for abusers or harassers. Establish a council for Creative Collaborators that takes on false accusations and holds accountable groups, bloggers and fake news to the letter of the law, with legal counsel and representation.
Robert Fairer, photographer
Regarding changes for models’ safety, I have seen this from three sides — as a photographer, as a recipient of unwanted attention and as a parent of a budding [male] model. Condé Nast has covered this quite well in their new guidelines for shoots. I think and hope that now with the high-profile cases in the media, this will be much less of a problem for models and indeed anyone who is having to deal with an abuse of power. I think they now know their voices will be heard if there is a problem, And I hope that abusers will reflect on their behavior knowing they will be called to answer for their behavior.
As with many problems in society, appropriate education is the starting point. Models, especially teenagers, need to be told what is fundamentally acceptable and what is not by parents and agents. They need to be given an outlet for voicing grievances…perhaps an independent body for less serious cases that can offer advice on escalating things [such as] the Model Alliance? I think there should be a representative for the model around, too, especially in the early stages of someone’s career — just for the avoidance of doubt. Appropriate changing facilities. Take a leaf out of the doctor’s surgery [book], where there are always three people in a room.
Ultimately, the model has to be responsible for [his or her] own well-being, but should be supported and protected by their agents who they are paying to represent them.
Modeling agent Hakim Felidj
Every agent needs to take care of young models, be behind them and know exactly what’s going on. In reference to all the problems we have heard of from casting directors or photographers, an agent needs to be careful before, not after. You need to advise your model, “Be careful. You have to take care. If you have a problem, call me right away.”
You cannot build a young model in two seasons. It’s a real job. You need to learn and know everything about this business. You see so many models for two or three seasons on the catwalk and after that, they have no campaigns, no good magazines. Nobody wants them anymore. It’s better to build a career over four or five years. It’s also good to be selective and to say “no” to some clients. If you manage your time well, maybe you can maintain your old job and your modeling. It will make you steady, and you will feel strong. Take Luca Lemaire. He was not all over fashion week. He worked on Raf Simons’ campaign [for Calvin Klein] and afterward he went to school to be an industrial designer. The thing is now he could have other activities than to be a model, but he is also a good model.…It is more interesting for a photographer or a client to have a discussion with a model who has some experience in life. It’s more respectable, also. It’s not that modeling isn’t, but it’s very limited.
Kim Fuchs, director of human resources, Next Management
We’ve had an internal guideline for years. Our bookers have access to that. With the latest attention around this issue, we’ve done some managers’ briefings, internal staff briefings, education for office management staff and we’ve sent a letter to our models with the overarching theme being, “Talk to Us.” We feel these laws have been in existence for many, many years, the culture of silence is something that is changing. In recent months, our theme is “Talk to Us,” if you have concerns, awkward moments or something you’re not comfortable with — we’re here to support you.
Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
There’s no doubt that advertising will change in response to all the recent allegations. Advertising always reflects the mood of the country, and it ebbs and flows over time. In today’s environment, marketers are going to be very cautious and very sensitive to the messages they send [out] in their advertising. It’s interesting in the world of fashion. There’s a desire to be provocative and alluring. The challenge, though, is right now all of that can really fall flat. Right now there are so many allegations in so many different places. The last thing a brand wants to do is push things right now, in terms of being provocative.
It will be interesting to see if this will translate to how brands perform. Some brands have a reputation for pushing things further. You wonder if all the current concerns will have an impact on the brand’s appeal in the market. I certainly think for brands that have historically pushed it, now is a bit of a tricky time. It’s just not the moment to continue to be out there, dialing it up. I think the challenge for brands is you still want to be distinctive and appealing. You just have to find a way to do it that’s very [respectful] of the environment we’re living in.”
Madonna Badger, chief creative officer and founder, Badger & Winters
The best photographers I’ve ever worked with were people who were respectful of models and saw them as talent. I think the industry has to change. Fashion and advertising together are real reflections of what’s happening in pop culture. The Millennial generation and Generation Z won’t put up with advertising that treats women as anything less than whole, human and strong.
In 2016, I made a pledge that I would never objectify women again in the advertising that I do. I started a movement called #Womennotobjects. There’s a web site that has research we did that sex doesn’t sell, or objectification doesn’t sell.
I would think the fashion industry, considering how expensive all these clothes are, would show women looking and being their most confident — directors of boards, ceo’s — instead of these ads where their legs are spread as far as they’ll go and they’re clutching onto a handbag.
It’s a mind-set change. If we all really believe that women are equal, then it’s time for all of us to start portraying women as equal in the ads we create. It’s really as simple as that. I think women’s equality [will move the needle]. Women coming forward and saying, “Don’t talk to me that way. I don’t want to be spoken to that way anymore. Stop treating me as a teenage sex toy.” That will be crucial for equality, and also the power these brands have.
David Lipman, owner of Lipman Studio
Responsibility has always been number one. I’m always concerned with everybody on set, especially youngsters. I think everybody right now is very concerned. When you have this type of media attention to this very tough situation, everybody should be concerned and everybody should do the right thing now. There are a lot of people who have done the right thing, and some who haven’t. I think we’re all going to be extra careful and extra alert, rightfully so. I think all eyes are going to be open every which way and I think codes of conduct are necessary. I’ve been saying for the longest time, we need more female photographers. We need a more female point of view. It’s the right thing. For whatever reason, it’s been a male-dominated business. If you look at directors in Hollywood, it’s a male-dominated business. There are a few great female directors, but it’s a male world.
Jason Kanner, founder of Soul Artist Management
It’s a [systemic] problem that really needs to start with everyone from model agents, agencies, photographers, their reps, studio managers, casting directors working from a place of kindness and transparency. As agents, we need to educate our models. We created a bill of rights we’re instituting. It’s important to educate the models about what’s inappropriate and appropriate, and give them a chain of command to report things. We represent about 200 models including influencers and celebrities. When the Harvey Weinstein news broke, it just seemed that this was going to hit every industry. The bill of rights came from a conversation with our booking table about what was coming and how to protect our clients going forward. We have been sending our managers to go on set to reintroduce themselves to clients when they are working with new models for the first time. The general conversation is we want to make sure these models are safe and they feel safe. There are models concerned about not having a proper dressing area or they can’t ask somebody, “Can I have a break?”
We’ve created a program called Soul Brothers, which is a takeoff on Big Brother, where a new face that comes to town gets paired with a model who has been with us for 10-plus years. They act as mentors to the new models. If they feel they can’t discuss something with me or my managers, there are peers they can talk to. Normally, when a new model would come to town, all of the business contacts were given to them in a model pack, teaching them how to use the trains, ATMs, the gyms, etc. This is much more detailed to let them know we are available 24 hours a day, and their big brother is available.