STILL STANDING: It seems Mario Testino is still dealing with business fallout over allegations of exploitation and harassment by male models and assistants.
The famed fashion photographer’s creative agency, Mariotestino+, has shuttered operations in New York after launching little more than a year ago under the leadership of Brigid Walsh. She left the company in March, according to an online profile, but could not be immediately reached for comment. A total of three people have left the New York office.
Testino’s main office in London remains open, although the client-facing teams have been restructured, according to a spokesperson.
The Instagram account for Mariotestino+ has been silent since January despite nearly 25,000 followers. Testino continues to do commercial work, but it’s unclear for whom. His business is also overseeing book, exhibition and social media projects for his mariotestino.com, miramira.tv and Mate.pe brands and works on projects in Testino’s native Peru.
According to Companies House, the official register of U.K. businesses, Testino’s company Amaazing Ltd. remains active, and this month it named James Kahuri, financial controller at Mariotestino+, as company secretary. Suki Larson, the agency’s chief executive officer since 2013, remains in her post.
Testino first launched the agency in 2007 as Higher & Higher and in 2013 re-branded it under his own name, with Larson at the head. He is one of the best-known and most prolific fashion and campaign photographers, and his agency has worked with dozens of brands over the years, from Burberry and Carolina Herrera to Vogue and Mercedes-Benz.
Much of his editorial work came to a sudden halt in January after The New York Times published accusations by 13 male models and assistants that Testino had acted inappropriately toward them, including claims of come-ons, groping, masturbation and aggressive coercion on and off-set.
The model Ryan Locke who worked with Testino on a Gucci campaign in the Nineties, called him “a sexual predator” in the article. The story also included more than a dozen misconduct accusations against photographer Bruce Weber, although no charges have been brought against either photographer.
Some brands and publishers moved quickly to distance themselves from both men, after decades of turning a blind eye to on-set harassment. Michael Kors and Stuart Weitzman said they would no longer work with Testino on ad campaigns and Condé Nast said it would no longer commission any work from Testino or Weber.
Other brands such as Burberry and Ralph Lauren suggested they planned to cut ties with the men as well, citing companywide commitments to the security of people they work with.
Weber “absolutely” denied the claims against him, including those made in a harassment and discrimination lawsuit by a former male model, while legal representatives of Testino questioned the reliability of his accusers.
A spokesman for Weber declined requests for comment.
In February, The Boston Globe highlighted “credible allegations” by more than 50 models against Patrick Demarchelier, David Bellemere, Greg Kadel, Seth Sabal and Andre Passos, as well as stylist Karl Templer. The accused photographers and Templer have denied any wrongdoing.
“I’m blocked in America [from working]. It’s so unfair,” Bellemere said Friday. “The clients in America are saying they are waiting for the situation to be clarified. Clarified? There is no legal action. There is just this [Boston Globe] article referring to some talk. How can it be clarified?”
Bellemere said one major media company in the U.S. is “blocking him” and that is also the case with a major modeling agency. He said he tried to meet with both companies but to no avail. He does have an upcoming shoot with Flaunt magazine, which he has worked with for 15 years. “Every time I shoot I think it is my last one so I try to do my best,” Bellemere said. “It’s incredibly despairing compared to the level I had reached after all those years.”
In Europe, people are more willing to work with him once they find out there has not been any legal action taken. Bellemere said he recently shot Cindy Crawford in Rome for an upcoming issue of Vanity Fair Italia. A French swimwear company has also hired him for a shoot, he said.
Trying to organize an auction to benefit a nonprofit that helps victims of rape and abuse, Bellemere said none of the well-known photographers he has approached for donations have come through yet. He said, “I’d rather not say who they are. It could be bad publicity that I don’t wish to them, as I love their work.”
Bellemere’s attorney Eric Morain of Carlara Lamaze Rasle & Associates said Lyon police officials continue to investigate the model Yann Labrosse for allegedly using various fake social media accounts to impersonate Bellemere and solicit nude images from models including minors. A court date is expected to be set later this year in France, Morain said. In February, police officials confirmed an investigation was underway.
Labrosse did not respond to requests for comment Friday. He is no longer represented by the Mademoiselle agency in France. He was dropped two years ago because “he was not available enough,” according to Laetitia Boisgontier, who works on the commercial side of the agency.
Reached Friday, Passos declined to comment. Demarchelier’s studio did not respond to a request.
Kadel said in a statement Friday, “Presently, I do not have any pending projects as a result of the false allegations in the Boston Globe. However, I found a lot of support for me in the industry notwithstanding the article and hope to have some projects in the future.”
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