As soon as the troubling news surfaced about the now outcast Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, the flood gates burst open triggering a tidal wave of harassment and sexual abuse allegations. The hashtag #metoo continues to “trend” on social media platforms, where every day a new bombshell is dropped.
“He did what?! WHAT?! No! How? Really?!” Are typical reactions.
Faster than one can say “sexual abuse allegation” the reputation of a former figure of respect is shot down forever tainted – sometimes rightfully so, sometimes not. This is an incredibly difficult subject calling for desperate action for change (within our households, our organisations, and our society at large). While on one hand we are uncovering the painful stories of many women who are now empowered to speak out, on the other hand there is this apathetic beast of social media where instead of a court of law, allegations posted online are deemed substantial enough to incriminate. When “innocent until proven guilty” no longer applies in a world of digital disruption it is important to take caution.
In the shadow of Weinstein, and consequent anticipation that the public eye would quickly shift from film to fashion, Condé Nast, publisher of many of the world’s leading magazines such as Vogue and GQ, announced it would sever all ties to famed fashion photographer Terry Richardson due to claims of sexual misconduct.
Made public via a leaked e-mail, Condé Nast executive vice-president James Woodhouse stated:
“Condé Nast would like to no longer work with the photographer Terry Richardson. Any shoots that have been commission[ed] or any shoots that have been completed but not yet published should be killed and substituted with other material.”
Subsequently, luxury brands Valentino and Bulgari too followed suit.
Allegations against Richardson have been public knowledge for years, where one prompted a civil lawsuit, which was settled out of court. No allegations have lead to criminal proceedings which absolutely does NOT excuse the photographer’s sleazy behaviour, however it is a fact to address.
As “cringe” as it is, Richardson has built his reputation on explicit perversion. “Uncle Terry” (his creepy nickname in the “biz”) has been publicly open about the perverted nature of his shoots. This “1970’s porn” aesthetic clearly struck a cord with many leading creatives in the industry, such as for example Tom Ford. Together Ford and Richardson collaborated in sculpting the provocative tone of the late 1990’s. Commissioned and legitimised by the world’s most important brands and magazines Richardson rose to become one of the most influential photographers of the 21st century.
Now the question is this: if fashion felt morally uncomfortable for this indecent behaviour, why did they support and continue to hire him? Why has Richardson only been outcast now many years after those allegations first came to light?
Swerving away from the negative publicity of course. I do praise CN for taking a stand but will the matter of sexual harassment in the fashion industry continue to be addressed at a deeper level?
Richardson is now labeled a “monster” (which may or may not be accurate – I am in no position to make such a claim) but I do think that the conversation in the media needs to shift from this one man to examine the professional culture of our industry. I believe we should view this watershed moment as an opportunity to promote greater transparency in order to hold alleged predators accountable for their actions in the future.
This finger pointing at one individual and posting a status under a trending hashtag at the end of the day does nothing in solving a serious problem at large. Each and every one of us is accountable for our choices – the choice to abuse, the choice to stay silent, the choice to take part in a provocative shoot, the choice to support an image we do not feel comfortable with.
Such choices can be tricky particularly in an industry which is a perceived elite bubble built on the distinction of hierarchy and set boundaries – one minute you are in (after working your whole life towards your dream) and the next minute you are out. Do we choose to say something despite the risk of losing our social position?
These past weeks have sparked a lot of soul searching and I hope that we will take a step back to reexamine our culture (industry and organisational) in order to move forward. Fashion’s problem of abuse and harassment lies much deeper than one man unfortunately.