Are #MeToo and Time’s Up in­spir­ing changes in the fash­ion in­dus­try?

Is the #MeToo move­ment in­spir­ing change in the Cana­dian fash­ion scene?

Fashion (Canada) - - Contents - By Is­abel B. Slone

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In Oc­to­ber 2017, The New York Times and The New

Yorker pub­lished ex­plo­sive ar­ti­cles de­tail­ing decades of al­leged sex­ual ha­rass­ment by former Mi­ra­max stu­dio hon­cho Har­vey We­in­stein. Shortly af­ter, women be­gan to share their own per­sonal sto­ries of ha­rass­ment, as­sault and abuse—con­gre­gated un­der the hash­tag #MeToo, a term coined in 2006 by ac­tivist Tarana Burke, Michelle Wil­liams’s plus-one at the Golden Globe Awards. A week af­ter the We­in­stein story broke, model Cameron Rus­sell be­gan post­ing anony­mous ac­counts to her In­sta­gram of ha­rass­ment and abuse suf­fered by women in the fash­ion in­dus­try. Bri­tish model Edie Camp­bell wrote an open let­ter to the fash­ion in­dus­try for WWD stat­ing, “We op­er­ate within a cul­ture that is too

ac­cept­ing of abuse, in all of its man­i­fes­ta­tions.” Most re­cently, The New York Times pub­lished ac­counts from models and pho­tog­ra­phy as­sis­tants al­leg­ing un­seemly con­duct from leg­endary fash­ion pho­tog­ra­phers Bruce We­ber and Mario Testino. (In a state­ment to the pub­li­ca­tion, We­ber said the models’ al­le­ga­tions were “un­true” and that he had “never touched any­one in­ap­pro­pri­ately.” Testino’s lawyer says the pho­tog­ra­pher re­jects the al­le­ga­tions and ques­tions the cred­i­bil­ity of his ac­cusers.)

The fash­ion in­dus­try ap­pears to be on its way to­ward a reck­on­ing as sig­nif­i­cant as the one oc­cur­ring in the en­ter­tain­ment world. In Canada, fash­ion is a small, tightly knit com­mu­nity in which most peo­ple are lo­cated on a spec­trum some­where be­tween first-name ba­sis and nod­ding terms. “I would say ev­ery­one is su­per­re­spect­ful and pro­fes­sional and lovely,” says makeup and hair artist Sab­rina Ri­naldi, who adds that she’s never en­coun­tered or wit­nessed any­thing un­to­ward on set. And yet mur­mur­ings of un­com­fort­able ex­pe­ri­ences still make the rounds. Ri­naldi ad­mits that she’s heard models share sto­ries about “creepy pho­tog­ra­phers” they worked with early in their ca­reers. And Bran­don Hall, cre­ative di­rec­tor at Suther­land Models, says: “Have I heard sto­ries? One hun­dred per cent.”

There is one case be­fore the courts now in­volv­ing a Cana­dian model who al­leges she was sex­u­ally as­saulted by Toronto-based hair­styl­ist and pho­tog­ra­pher Guido Di Salle. In De­cem­ber 2016, Di Salle was charged with one count of sex­ual as­sault. The trial is sched­uled for this April.

WHY HAS A CUL­TURE OF SI­LENCE PER­VADED FOR SO LONG?

One former modelling agent based in Toronto who wishes to re­main anony­mous re­mem­bers ru­mours cir­cu­lat­ing about We­ber’s mis­con­duct long be­fore the cur­rent al­le­ga­tions in­volv­ing model Ja­son Boyce, who claims that We­ber kissed him and forced him to rub his own and We­ber’s gen­i­tals. In the late 1990s, the agent says she worked for an agency that had booked a teenage male model to shoot an Aber­crom­bie & Fitch cam­paign. At the time, she says, she saw the agency di­rec­tor sit the model down and warn him never to go to a ho­tel room alone with We­ber, who was shoot­ing the cam­paign. Twenty years later, she now won­ders whether other agents knew the same in­for­ma­tion and had shared it with their tal­ent and whether they were pro­tect­ing models by giv­ing them a warn­ing nudge or pro­tect­ing We­ber.

His­tor­i­cally, fash­ion is an in­dus­try in which highly cre­ative tor­tured ge­niuses are not just tol­er­ated but cel­e­brated. “[Bad be­hav­iour] was seen as al­low­ing a kind of cre­ative en­ergy to un­fold. It was seen as push­ing the edges, be­ing sub­ver­sive and provoca­tive,” The

Wash­ing­ton Post’s fash­ion critic Robin Givhan told FASH­ION, some­thing made es­pe­cially clear by the sex­u­ally charged port­fo­lios of pho­tog­ra­phers like Terry Richard­son. (Models have been pub­licly ac­cus­ing Richard­son of sex­ual as­sault since 2010, but it has taken un­til this cur­rent cul­tural mo­ment for pub­li­ca­tions and com­pa­nies to of­fi­cially boy­cott his work. Richard­son ini­tially shot the Jan­uary 2018 cover of ELLE US— fea­tur­ing our cover star, Zoë Kravitz—but it had to be reshot at the last minute af­ter Hearst dis­tanced it­self from his work. And Condé Nast an­nounced that it won’t be work­ing with We­ber and Testino “for the fore­see­able fu­ture.”)

Lisa Bloom, the high-pro­file criminal lawyer who briefly rep­re­sented We­in­stein, is rep­re­sent­ing Boyce. Bloom told FASH­ION that once the law­suit had been filed, other male models reached out with sim­i­lar al­le­ga­tions against We­ber. “Some [models] said, ‘We thought this was some­thing we had to put up with in our in­dus­try.’ I said: ‘I’ve got news for you. Sex­ual ha­rass­ment is just as il­le­gal in the fash­ion in­dus­try as it is ev­ery­where else.’”

Hall says there’s only so much he can do as an agent when it comes to pro­tect­ing his models while they are on set. “At the end of the day, we can do all that we can, but if some­thing un­scrupu­lous [were to hap­pen] and we didn’t know about it, it’s sort of out of our hands,” he says. “When you hear sto­ries, you be­gin to de­velop an un­der­stand­ing, give pre­cau­tions and talk to models about what to do and what not to do when they’re in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions.”

WHAT CAN WE DO?

“In the last cou­ple of weeks, I’ve had over 15 con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple about how [#MeToo] is di­rectly af­fect­ing our busi­ness and how things will be treated dif­fer­ently than in the past,” says Ryan Green­wood, agency di­rec­tor at P1M. “Peo­ple are re­ally ex­am­in­ing things and be­com­ing fully aware of what they’re say­ing or do­ing.” He says that he’s al­ready see­ing stricter rules re­gard­ing so­cial me­dia be­ing en­forced on sets, and clients are be­gin­ning to add ze­ro­tol­er­ance ha­rass­ment clauses into their con­tracts. He also adds that in­di­vid­u­als need to share when they wit­ness un­pro­fes­sional be­hav­iour on set. Rather than sim­ply black­list­ing in­di­vid­u­als from their ros­ter, they should reach out to their col­leagues to warn them.

Bloom says that agents need to stand up for their models and that photo shoots re­quir­ing nu­dity should be dis­closed in ad­vance. She also sug­gests the for­ma­tion of a clear­ing house where peo­ple can go to re­port com­plaints with­out fear of re­tal­i­a­tion—es­sen­tially an HR depart­ment cre­ated to ad­dress the needs of the mostly free­lance work­force. Caryn Franklin, a di­ver­sity scholar, went one step fur­ther in an op-ed for The Busi­ness of Fash­ion, sug­gest­ing the for­ma­tion of an in­de­pen­dent trade union ded­i­cated to cre­at­ing a safe work­ing en­vi­ron­ment for its mem­bers and that pro­tec­tions for models be writ­ten into the law.

But per­haps the first—and most im­por­tant—step is to move past the de­nial stage. “I think for any in­dus­try it be­gins with a sim­ple recog­ni­tion of the prob­lem,” says Givhan. “The recog­ni­tion that some be­hav­iour is in­ap­pro­pri­ate and that cre­ative free­dom does not give you the free­dom to be­have in any way that you choose.”

If fash­ion is to rise up and meet the high stan­dards it sets for it­self, we all need to open our eyes, take ac­count­abil­ity for what we see and, most im­por­tantly, speak up.

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