In the wake of last weekend’s show of solidarity by Hollywood stars at the Golden Globes for #TimesUp, a new defense fund devoted to supporting victims of sexual harassment, numerous allegations against fashion photographers Bruce Weber and Mario Testino were published on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times. Fifteen former and current male models who were interviewed recounted shoots and castings in which Weber would lead them through breathing exercises and tell them to undress and touch themselves wherever they felt their “energy” going. Also in the article, thirteen male assistants and models accused Testino of sexual misconduct, including having their buttocks grabbed, being masturbated on, and being rubbed by his erection.
Both photographers denied the allegations, but Condé Nast moved quickly to announce that it would stop commissioning both of them for the time being, with Anna Wintour issuing a statement that read in part, “Even as we stand with victims of abuse and misconduct, we must also hold a mirror up to ourselves—and ask if we are doing our utmost to protect those we work with so that unacceptable conduct never happens on our watch.” The publisher also announced a new code of conduct it began working on after the accusations against Harvey Weinstein last fall to go into effect this month, including a minimum age of 18 for models and a recommendation that models not be left unaccompanied with photographers, stylists, or other team members.
In the lengthy Times article, a number of models—including Robyn Sinclair and Terron Wood, both of whom shot with Weber for Ralph Lauren, and Josh Ardolf, who was photographed by him for Vogue Hommes International in 2011—described a similar process in which Weber would encourage the model to practice “breathing exercises” to calm down, which would eventually lead to Weber asking the model to touch himself. “I was guiding his hand. We did the chest, the shoulders, the head,” Ardolf recounted. “Then I finally put his hand on my abs. Did the breathing. Right after that, he forced his hand right on my genitals. I was first in shock. I didn’t know what to think. I backed up. I felt very, very uncomfortable and very sick.” The former model Jason Boyce alleged the same behavior in a suit filed against Weber in December.
Several former assistants of Testino’s also described to the Times a habit of hiring mostly heterosexual young men to work as part of his team before submitting them to sexual harassment. Hugo Tillman, then a recent college graduate, recounted being asked to give Testino massages on set and being grabbed by him for an unwanted kiss on the street, culminating in one night when Testino invited him to his hotel room before ordering him to roll him a joint and throwing him on the bed and climbing on top of him. Ryan Locke, a model who shot Gucci campaigns with Testino in the 90s, recalled similar behavior. On the last day of a shoot while photographing him on a bed, Locke alleged, Testino ordered everyone out of the room. “He shuts the door and locks it,” Locke said. “Then he crawls on the bed, climbs on top of me and says, ‘I’m the girl, you’re the boy.’ I went at him, like, you better get away. I threw the towel on him, put my clothes on and walked out.” One of the main recurring features of Testino’s Instagram in recent years has been his #TowelSeries, in which models and celebrities are photographed wearing only white towels.
Male models have long been, as the former model Trish Goff said in the Times article, “the least respected and most disposable” members of the fashion industry and their recent accusations have, along with revelations of other mistreatment of models in working environments over the past year, increased calls for a models’ union or an independent watchdog for the industry, a difficult proposition in a notoriously interconnected industry with high turnover. As Vanessa Friedman, one of the authors of the Times article, wrote optimistically on Twitter yesterday, “an industry based on desire finally says no.”