A POST-WEINSTEIN WORLD: Edie Campbell isn’t finished voicing her opinions about models, the fashion industry and professional life in the post-Harvey Weinstein world. Following her open letter to the fashion industry, published on Nov. 9 in WWD, Campbell took part in a question-and-answer session at London’s Dover Street Market on Monday night, hosted by Love magazine.
Campbell worked alongside Love’s editor in chief Katie Grand on issue 19 of the biannual title, where she addressed the sexual harassment allegations by some of the most successful names in fashion photography, what has been enabling that behavior for so many years, and how to promote a healthier working environment without compromising creativity.
“We all started checking perceived behaviors in our industries post-Weinstein. In the case of the fashion industry, everyone looked around and said: ‘It’s all Terry [Richardson].’ Well it’s not all Terry. That’s a cop-out,” said Campbell, adding that fellow models had reached out to her with stories “so horrific on a human level,” that she had to act. “I’m talking for the people who can’t cope, because you shouldn’t need to be made of steel to do this job,” she told Tim Blanks, who was conducting the Q&A.
After Campbell wrote her letter, The New York Times published an article spotlighting accounts of male models who have allegedly been sexually exploited by the photographers Bruce Weber and Mario Testino. Those events may have gotten the ball rolling by exposing some toxic issues, yet Campbell believes that “the ball hasn’t gotten very far.”
She described the intimacy and intensity of the process of shooting with a photographer, which puts models in a situation where they have to do as they are told and makes it difficult to define the boundaries between what is acceptable and what isn’t. “You can’t say you’re not comfortable with that, because it means that you are not comfortable with fashion,” she added.
Models’ young age tends to exacerbate the situation: “Every 17-year-old wants to please and act mature and grown-up. Maybe you’re 17, English isn’t your first language and you are the main breadwinner in your family. People don’t understand what it means to be young, on a payroll, given the opportunity to pursue your dreams and being told that this is what working in fashion is like.” She added that walking away from all that is not as simple as it might appear to be.
Campbell also discussed the nature of fashion, with its affinity for fantasy and tendency to put the creatives that it favors on pedestals and celebrate them as geniuses.
“People are protected by those who adore them, and you have to sign up to that adoration. This happens because fashion is a club, it’s a school trip and the people you work with become your friends — even though they are not really your friends — so it all becomes too personal, too messy. You feel the need to protect these people because you are part of the Testino clan, or whichever other clan there is.”
Her solution? A more professional code of conduct, and establishing a framework for what constitutes acceptable behavior on set.
Campbell cited the new Condé Nast model charter (which Grand helped to draft), which forbids the use of models under the age of 18 for editorial shoots as a good step forward, and also stressed the importance of having multiple people on set to create an atmosphere that’s more “settling and comfortable.”
“The argument that by having certain parameters on set will limit creativity means that person hasn’t done any great work. It’s a willful power trip to think that you always need to insert yourself in the picture,” added Campbell, pointing to other creatives, such as the photographer Tim Walker. “He is an example of someone who can create a wonderful world without polluting it. There’s hundreds of creatives whose fantasies are pure and whose sense of drama doesn’t have negative human impact.”
As a new generation of fashion creatives seeks change, Campbell said there needs to be accountability, apart from personal relationships or generous pay checks.
“Everyone who turns a blind eye is to blame. You watch this happen and walk away, it’s on you, as well,” she said, adding that she has been turning down jobs on the basis of what she’s been hearing about photographers’ bad behavior from fellow models.
“These people were my friends, as well, but I’ve been told these stories and I won’t work with them anymore. It would be shamelessly disrespectful to ignore what happened. I’m in a moral bind to not accept the big check that’s being dangled in front of me — because that’s what you do.”