As the uproar continues over sexual harassment in industries stretching from entertainment to media to finance, the fashion world has remained relatively on the sidelines — until now.
On Saturday, The New York Times published a long-rumored story about alleged harassment of male models by the photographers Bruce Weber and Mario Testino. Both men, via statements their lawyers gave to the Times, vigorously denied the allegations made in the story, although Condé Nast and Condé Nast International both said Saturday that they would be severing ties with the two photographers — at least, for now.
The Times’ story comes several months after model Cameron Russell created an Instagram account on which anonymous individuals posted stories about their mistreatment in the industry. Last October, Terry Richardson was dropped by the leading fashion magazine publishers — but only after years of allegations surrounding his behavior — while model Jason Boyce filed a lawsuit against Weber in December claiming the photographer harassed him. Weber has denied those claims, as well.
In November, 27-year-old British model Edie Campbell penned an exclusive letter for WWD to the fashion industry in which she said, “We operate within a culture that is too accepting of abuse, in all of its manifestations,” going on to admonish the mainstream media for its silence about the sexual abuse suffered by male models, which she described in her letter as “more complex.”
Now male model Christopher Cates, 33, has come forward with his own story detailing a shoot with Weber on his Instagram account — and a call for other male models to step forward in a moment he has dubbed #MenToo. “On behalf of everyone who’s been affected, here we are, we’re right here,” he writes exclusively for WWD. “We want you to see us. We want you to know who we are. We want you to know our stories. We want you to know you’re no longer in control.”
Cates, 33, is originally from Memphis and has been a model since age 21. Early on, he became a technical fitting consultant to American Eagle Outfitters and since then has added other technical clients including Under Armour and a few start-ups.
“Overall, I’m continuing to educate myself as an artist in an industry that embraces individualism,” he told WWD. “There was a point early in my career when I became jaded by the industry and began to distrust its overall intentions — focusing on an individual’s exterior rather than the whole self. If it weren’t for my ability to approach the industry from the inside, I’d probably still be a bit weary. Thankfully, that isn’t the case and in fact, I have a lot of respect for an industry that’s willing to open the doors for many who’ve had to fight social norms. It may be riddled with its own struggles but I genuinely believe the fashion industry has the ability to enact powerful change.”
Here, Cates’ letter:
Men, in an industry run rampant with sexual abuse, our idleness has been its own form of complicity. It’s time to stand up.
Here I am, I’m right here. I want you to see me. I want you to know who I am. I want you to know my story. I want you to know you’re not alone.
In February 2006, I got my first job as a model. A photographer found images of my first test shoot online and booked me for L’Uomo Vogue. I’ll never forget pacing on my patio back in Memphis as I talked to him on the phone. He detailed my future trip to Miami with all the bells and whistles and it’s safe to say, at 20 years old, I thought I’d made it.
Located on a sprawling private compound, this was no small shoot. It was a handful of guys from all over the country, but nonetheless, we were all in the same boat. As we waited for the crew to set up, one by one we were called upstairs into a bedroom with a balcony overlooking the ocean. I’ll never forget how cool and collected I wanted to be as my name was called. In reality, I was equally nervous and excited for my opportunity. Once in the room, the photographer asked me to shut the door behind me and told me to stand against the wall so he could shoot me in the natural light. (I’m not sure if you can imagine what it feels like to be shot by a famous photographer but, simply put, as my first job, I figured I could only go up from here.) Within seconds, he asked me to take off my clothes and I immediately went from excited to questioning my existence — I’d never been so exposed in my life and, to be quite honest, I was shy and unprepared. Regardless, with the weight of the room, I obliged as one can only hope for the best in such a scenario. I mean, considering his experience, there must be a formula to this madness.
Unfortunately, as bright as the room was by an overexposed sun, an eclipse took hold in the form of his alternative motives. He put down his camera and stood directly in front of my raw form and proceeded to lead me through his infamous “breathing technique” to calm my nerves; all while making me more nervous and afraid. He told me to place my hand on my chest and breathe in and out as I feel my heartbeat. Soon, this turned to him placing my hand on his chest and his hand on mine, telling me to breathe with him as we felt each other’s heartbeat. As we breathed together, he placed his thumb on my forehead before slowly moving it down my face, stopping on my mouth, causing me to immediately stop breathing and (slightly) pull away. (It’s a conundrum in that I wanted to escape the situation but I was also paralyzed with fear — at this point, I knew exactly how much of an impact he could have on my career.) This was clearly not something I was interested in and I can only assume he could see it on my face; after all, fear is palpable. Thankfully, he backed away, picked up his camera and began to shoot me in the natural light. Still exposed, I could breathe again. After a few short minutes, he told me I could get dressed and head back downstairs to wait for the actual photo shoot. “Oh, and Chris, send up the next guy.”
Fast forward to a few months later when I was in Manhattan and signed to a legit agency, VNY. This same photographer was in town for the summer and wanted to see me in his offices. My agent sent me along but with one contingency, “If he asks you to take off your clothes, tell him you’re not allowed to.” Once in his beautifully designed office, I was ushered into an elevator, which took me to his private quarters. Inside, we cordially sat on his couch, where he made enticing promises of lucrative jobs to come. He asked if he could take a few pictures of me and, of course, I happily obliged until the elephant in the room revealed itself and he asked me to take off my clothes. I politely turned down his offer thanks to the protection of my agent — and oh, how quickly the conversation turned from future modeling prospects to acting. “Chris, you should pursue a career in acting. You have the look and charisma but unfortunately, you’re not as tall as a lot of the other models.”
I’m sure it goes without saying, I never saw him again. In fact, I’ve never seen the photos from the L’Uomo Vogue shoot as the story never made it to print.
This is my #METOO story and I’m confident I’m not alone.
We’ve been silent for far too long. We’ve allowed our fear of retaliation to stop us from taking action or spearheading change. We’ve continued to turn a blind eye and by doing so, we’ve allowed countless others to be subjected to sexual abuse; we’ve quite literally allowed those with a career of questionable behavior feel supported.
What does that say about me? What does that say about you? When do we take responsibility for our surroundings and start talking about it? The answer is now.
No longer can we pretend we’re impervious to sexual abuse. In fact, due to our inability to talk about it, one could argue we’ve become more susceptible to mistreatment. We’re so damn strong, we sometimes forget what it means to be vulnerable and how much more powerful we become when we allow ourselves to be more sensitive and aware. It’s imperative for us to forego the stigma we’ve been hiding behind and be transparent with our own experiences.
Many of you may feel as though you have a lot to lose by speaking out. You’ve built an impressive career and developed strong relationships — you’ve fought hard to get to this place in your life and the idea of opening up about your past seems dangerous or futile. Well, I have good news for you: It’s not as scary on the other side as you’d imagine. When I first shared my story, I genuinely felt as if a dark shadow was going to start following me. It’s only been a short amount of time and already I’ve been witness to just how powerful our stories can be. I can’t begin to tell you how many people have reached out to me with support and a willingness to share their own heart-wrenching stories, and if you decide to open yourself up and give freely, you’ll quickly find yourself in a world of peace and unimaginable good fortune. To be fair, I’m not trying to insinuate a lack of detractors but quite frankly, if my career ended tomorrow due to speaking out, I would wear it like a badge of honor and I suspect you would too.
If you’re a strong, confident man and you consider yourself to be honorable, prove it. If you’re unbelievably vulnerable and afraid of what’s to come, remember, you’re not alone. If you’ve been fortunate enough to move throughout the industry without ever succumbing to such horrors, I implore you to reach out to those who have and educate yourself for the greater good. There are people hurting all around you, stand up and say something; do something. Nothing will ever change if we don’t stand together and force each other to take a hard look at the world we help create. This conversation isn’t going away anytime soon, which means you’re either with us or against us.
On behalf of everyone who’s been affected, here we are, we’re right here. We want you to see us. We want you to know who we are. We want you to know our stories. We want you to know you’re no longer in control.
We’re stronger together. #TimesUp #MENTOO