The Model Alliance is calling on Victoria’s Secret to protect its models against sexual misconduct.
The organization, founded by model Sara Ziff, penned an open letter to the brand’s chief executive officer, John Mehas, to address the numerous alleged acts of sexual misconduct against models employed by the brand. “These stories are gut-wrenching and hit close to home for many of us who have encountered these kinds of abuses that are too often tolerated in our industry,” the letter reads. “We stand with the courageous women who have come forward and shared their stories, despite fears of retaliation or harm to their careers.”
The letter follows the charges against disgraced billionaire and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who was linked with L Brands’ coo Leslie Wexner and the multiple allegations against photographers Timur Emek, David Bellemere and Greg Kadel — all of whom have been employed by the brand. They have been accused of sexually inappropriate behavior toward female models.
A representative for Emek did not respond immediately to a request for comment. A source familiar with the situation said that Emek had never been hired by Victoria’s Secret, but he had attended fashion shows as a freelance photographer. Bellemere and Kadel denied any wrongdoing when The Boston Globe article was published. Victoria’s Secret led its own investigation and stopped working with both photographers. Reminded that Bellemere had been vehement in his denial, Ziff said, “We appreciate that these are allegations. We’re simply saying that with so many allegations against multiple Victoria’s Secret photographers and The New York Times reporting on the apparent connection between L Brands’ ceo and Jeffrey Epstein, Victoria’s Secret has a problem.”
Bellemere is in the midst of a legal battle in France with Yann Labrosse, a European model, who allegedly impersonated him online, soliciting models for videos and photography content for castings. Bellemere said via e-mail, “It’s a sad interpretation of what happened in reality. The guy impersonating me was using Victoria’s Secret to present what he was doing – nude castings.”
Bellemere said he was never given “any clear reason” from Victoria’s Secret as to why they stopped working with him. He also claimed that executives the company never accepted the requests for an explanation and a meeting made by him and his agent.
Kadel said via e-mail Tuesday that he never took legal action or met with Victoria’s Secret executives following the Boston Globe article in February 2018. “I have no further response at this time.” he said.
A Victoria’s Secret spokeswoman said, “We are always concerned about the welfare of our models and want to continue to have dialogue with the Model Alliance and others to accomplish meaningful progress in the industry.”
Claims that Epstein reportedly posed as a recruiter for Victoria’s Secret was also impetus for the group’s actions.
“I think we’re being very reasonable in asking Victoria’s Secret to address these concerns. I find it surprising that Victoria’s Secret has not expressed sympathy for the victims. They have not taken meaningful steps to address these concerns, nor are they working toward prevention. The Respect program offers them the opportunity to do precisely that,” Ziff said.
More than 100 models have signed the open letter, including Carolyn Murphy, Christy Turlington Burns, Doutzen Kroes, Edie Campbell, Gemma Ward and Iskra Lawrence, among others. The letter is also being supported by the Time’s Up Initiative.
The letter calls for Victoria’s Secret to support the Model Alliance’s Respect Program, an antisexual harassment program where companies are committed to requiring all employees — including agents, vendors, photographers and other contractors — to follow a code of conduct that protects models from mistreatment. Models are also offered resources to file complaints and instances of misconduct.
“We are calling on Victoria’s Secret to take meaningful action to protect its talent and those who aspire to work with the company,” the letter continued. “Victoria’s Secret has the opportunity to be a leader, to use its power and influence to bring about the changes that are urgently needed in our industry. Every day, fashion brands, publishing companies and agencies set the norms of what’s acceptable and what’s not in fashion. If Victoria’s Secret were to take a stand against these abuses and commit to meaningful change by joining the Respect Program, this would go a long way in helping our industry chart a new path forward.”
The Model Alliance has been in negotiations with Victoria’s Secret for several months, first meeting in November of last year, Ziff said. “We’ve had phone conversations, we’ve been in touch over e-mail and we have met in person.” she said, adding that that last meeting was several months ago.
As for rounding up all the signatures, that took a matter of days, Ziff said. “We invite all fashion brands, agencies and publishing companies to join the RESPECT program. But we see Victoria’s Secret has a real responsibility to sign on. We believe that they have an opportunity to be a leader and to chart a new path forward for the industry.”
The company has hired its first transgender model Valentina Sampaio. Representatives for Sampaio did not respond immediately to a media request.
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