Dozens of male models and assistants who worked with photographers Bruce Weber and Mario Testino have come forward with claims of sexual harassment, misconduct and sexual abuse.
Bruce Weber, now 71, is renowned for his racy advertisements for brands such as Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch. He is also famous for having created music videos for the likes of Madonna and Pet Shop Boys, some of which verge on what could be described as ‘soft porn’.
Mario Testino, 63, is also renowned for his decadent, if not debauched, photographic style. He went on to photograph members of the royal family, even taking the last official portraits of Princess Diana before her tragic death, and receiving an OBE from the Queen.
At least 15 current and former male models claim Bruce Weber had subjected them to unnecessary nudity and coercive sexual behaviour, while 13 male assistants allege sexual harassment from Mario Testino, including accounts of the photographer groping them and masturbating in front of them.
Since the allegations, publishing powerhouse Anna Wintour of Vogue US, announced she and publishing firm Conde Naste will not be working with either photographer “for the foreseeable future”.
Some of the tactics the photographers’ used to lure their subjects into sexual behaviour are most disturbing. Some of the men allege Weber would ask them to undress and to touch themselves so that he could lead them through so-called ‘breathing exercises’ while the photographer guided their hands with his own to specific body parts.
“I remember him putting his fingers in my mouth, and him grabbing my privates,” model Robyn Sinclair told the New York Times. “We never had sex or anything, but a lot of things happened. A lot of touching. A lot of molestation.”
As with proclivities common in the film industry, the fashion industry has had its share of stories of sexual harassment raised in the past, but these have often been brushed to the side due to the insistence that the industry is one which works to sell sex and seduction for the sake of consumerism. In the case of incidents occurring on behalf of photographers such as Weber and Testino, any quiet talk among industry folk was often met with a crude joke and simply considered as normal.
“It was general practice to give a model a heads-up about a specific photographer who we knew had a certain reputation,” said former model agent Gene Kogan to the New York Times. “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,” added Kogan.
While reporting on sexual harassment and misconduct in the fashion industry is about as redundant as reporting on nihilistic behaviour in big league sports – everybody knows it ‘just happens’ – it is something that urgently requires addressing. For far too long, people of authority in these industries, and many of those with famous clout, have abused their positions of power, and indeed abused those they have considered powerless and inferior to them, often for selfish sexual gratification.
It was only a matter of time before the fashion industry would come under scrutiny, and that the misconduct and abuse of key players within it would finally come to light. Antonino Tati