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The fashion industry has been turning a blind eye to abuse for too long

A damning exposé accuses Patrick Demarchelier of sexual abuse. Another name in an already-long list – can we really believe the fashion industry knew nothing about this, asks Laura Craik

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By Laura Craik on

How many more? Friday’s damning exposé by The Boston Globe, the US newspaper whose in-depth Spotlight report in 2002 helped uncover the systemic sexual abuse of children by priests within the Catholic Church, is just the latest revelation in a string that have exposed the fashion industry as being as well versed as Hollywood in the dark art of turning the other cheek. Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington? Don’t put your daughter on the catwalk.

More than this, don’t send her on a fashion shoot with a male photographer. No, not even if he is a household name, seems “respectable” and has photographed Princess Diana. The Globe’s accusations against Patrick Demarchelier make for grim reading. Six models claimed unwanted advances, including that he grabbed their breasts and forced their own hands on to their genitals, with one then-teenage model claiming he asked: “Can I lick your pussy?” Presumably, this latter revelation proved too explicit to be detailed in the newspapers that have since picked up The Globe’s story, who opted for the more elliptical “he asked if he could perform a sex act”. God forbid newspaper readers encounter the word “pussy”, even if women encounter it, unsolicited in the workplace, all the time.  

Demarchelier, now 74, has adopted a Weinsteinian approach of flat-out denial. “People lie and they tell stories,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.” Noting that he is married – like that ever changed anything – he called the accusations “pure lying” by models who “get frustrated if they don’t work”.

This pathetic defence only adds insult to injury – the idea that these accusations are the work of “frustrated” women with some sort of grudge against the industry because their careers didn’t take off. Maybe their careers didn’t take off because the women didn’t acquiesce to these men’s demands; according to the model on whom he allegedly asked to perform “a sex act”, Demarchelier claimed he’d make her famous if she said yes. The Globe also detailed an account by model Lenka Chubuklieva (one of the few who waived her anonymity), who, at 17, experienced a photographer masturbating in front of her and threatening to ruin her family in Ukraine if she told anyone.


Do this and I’ll make you a star, baby; tell anyone and I’ll ruin you


For models trying to make it in the cutthroat world of fashion, alas, this egregious abuse of power is all too familiar. Do this and I’ll make you a star, baby; tell anyone and I’ll ruin you. Fashion’s equivalent of the Hollywood casting couch is having your breasts groped, your underwear yanked down or, if you are shooting with the disgraced photographer Terry Richardson, your face spattered with his semen. Rather than your predator appearing in a bathrobe in some private Hollywood suite, however, he will be hiding in plain sight. In what is surely a testament to the apparent untouchability of the perpetrators, these abuses didn’t always happen in hotel rooms, but in studios, usually surrounded by other people.

“If people really understood what goes on behind the glamour of the industry, they would be mortified,” the model Abbey Lee has said. Actually, they would be mortified, appalled and, above all, incredulous that, for so long, the industry itself appeared to turn a blind eye. It was in October 2017 that Terry Richardson was finally banned from working for Condé Nast, Hearst Magazines and Yoox Net-A-Porter Group, but rumours about his behaviour had circulated for years. In January this year, The New York Times uncovered allegations of sexual misconduct against Bruce Weber and Mario Testino. To this list, The Globe has added Demarchelier and Greg Kadel, as well as uncovering credible allegations of sexual misconduct against “at least 25 photographers, agents, stylists, casting directors and other industry professionals”.  

Clearly, the more stories that emerge, the harder it becomes to believe that nobody within the industry knew anything about it. More likely is that they turned a blind eye because these photographers were so commercially successful. Would they have continued to turn a blind eye were it not for movements like Time’s Up and #MeToo? Undoubtedly. Nobody wants to upset the apple cart, especially when the apple cart is loaded with money.

But, as the model Amber Valletta recently said: “You start taking one person down and the skies are going to fall.” And, boy, are they falling. Other models who have spoken out in recent months include Kate Upton, who accused Guess co-founder Paul Marciano of sexual assault; Edie Campbell, whose open letter to WWD criticised the industry for “turning a blind eye”; and Cameron Russell, whose #myjobshouldnotincludeabuse has allowed hundreds of models to anonymously share their stories on Instagram.

The question is: how much further will the sky come crashing down? When will the spotlight turn from individual photographers and stylists to brand owners? Only a cynic would suggest that, unlike photographers – who are ultimately expendable – brand owners are protected by the vast sums they spend on advertising in newspapers and fashion magazines. So, while it’s great that the British Fashion Council has just announced “privacy changing areas” for models (yes, during fashion month they really do walk around naked backstage in front of hordes of random men), and right that leading magazines have stopped working with those guilty of sexual misconduct, it’s not enough. Everyone who has bravely spoken out deserves huge respect. Their bravery shouldn’t be for nothing. The culture of abuse so deeply ingrained in the fashion industry, the music industry and the acting industry has to be eradicated. And that means valuing people over profit.


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Photo: Getty Images
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