THE REALITIES OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY.
You know it, I know it, my mum knows it – fashion can be a bitch. Maybe the Devil truly did wear Prada? Or maybe the Devil simply carried around a Contax camera and was called Mario Testino. Or Terry Richardson. Or Bruce Weber? Priding itself on liberalism and unconventionality, the fashion industry has never seriously taxed itself with all those irritating ethics and morality issues. In a society desensitised to the naked form, drugs and drinking, the lines of professionalism are being constantly blurred. But by gosh, don’t dare to speak out about that! You don’t want people to assume you to be prudish do you?
The epitome of success for a fashion model is the ability to entice. Be something, someone that people desire. You are groomed to get almost offended if someone doesn’t want to have sex with you, or at least find you sexually appealing. Nudity on Tuesday, stimulating seduction on Wednesday. Can anyone truly be shocked that the lines of acceptable and unacceptable treatment have been shaded in grey. Edie Campbell rightly points out that “pranks, sexually explicit jokes, suggestive comments — these all slide under the radar in a “fun” and “creative” industry like fashion,” which like many creative industries, gives its creative geniuses the justification to perform acts of sexual indecency.
“the fashion industry has never seriously taxed itself with all those irritating ethics and morality issues”
So here we arrive at Mario Testino, the 63 year old photographer who stands to be one of the most well recognised photographers in the world. Admired not only for his talent, but also for his charm, he has been a favourite to Vogue, the English royal family and the likes of fashion empires such as Burbery and Dolce and Gabbana. He is a God like figure to anyone who operates in the industry. An industry in which it seems sexual harassment is a constant reality.
Recently, 13 male assistants and models who worked with Testino told the Times that he “subjected them to sexual advances that in some cases included groping and masturbation”. It has been mentioned by former assistants that Testino regularly hired young men whom he subjected to these sexual advances. Model Ryan Locke deemed Testino rather notorious amidst the industry. It seems the notion of ‘tightening one’s belt’ in his presence was commonly mentioned upon the announcement of booking a job with the photographer. I should mention that this comment circulated because the man seemed to regularly experience the need to slide his hand down mens pants.
At the bottom of the food chain, male models seem to be particularly vulnerable to exploitation. But it is this constant reminder that they will never attract the star status of their female competitors that pushes them not to pass up work, no matter whom it may be for. It is common knowledge that certain players have bad reputations. But it is also common knowledge that if you pass up a job with said players, you’re an idiot who will never succeed. Agent Gene Kogan reported to The Times that “It was general practice to give a model a heads-up about a specific photographer who we knew had a certain reputation. But if you said you were not going to work with someone like Bruce Weber or Mario Testino, you might as well just pack it in and go work in another industry.”.
“it seems sexual harassment is a constant reality.”
Accusations of rape drift round, sexual assault convictions fade and victims continue to suffer through this conundrum between success and safety as the fashion industry keeps churning. The cycle of blame and oblivious delegation of responsibility at play continue to circulate between brands, agencies, photographers, clients and models. Brands delegate the responsibility of models safety to the agencies, the agencies hold the brands responsible for the photographers they hire, the photographers justify their actions through the corrupt perceptions of the industry and the needs of the client. And who supports the models whose “youth and eagerness for a measure of stardom made them disinclined to complain” the Times explains. Girls as young as 14 end up alone in a male photographers studio in their underwear. Young men are covered up with barely a towel alone in a hotel room with a widely recognised male predator. All in the name of success.
Consider, you’re standing there alone in a room with a photographer who has the authority to make or break your career. He asks you to take your top off, followed by your pants, you start to feel uncomfortable. He asks you to touch yourself, your mind starts to race, you could say ‘no’ but everyone would think you are prudish? This is fashion, doesn’t anything go? You would never work with him again or anyone on that level for all that matter, and your career would probably be down the drain. Or do you just do what he says. What choice would you make? And why is this even a decision that is necessary?
Written by Sophia Doak