On the eve of fashion month, six women, all former models, flew from all over the world to Paris – not to walk the catwalk, but to be interviewed by the child protection unit of the Paris police.
Their testimonies, to be heard on September 7, include allegations of rape and sexual misconduct against Gérald Marie, who was one of the most powerful men in the fashion industry for three decades. A former European head of Elite Model Management, who was once married to Linda Evangelista and now lives in Ibiza, Mr. Marie has long denied the allegations leveled against him over the years by at least 24 women.
Now, however, a year after prosecutors in France began investigating the alleged incidents, which are said to have taken place in the 1980s and 1990s, a chorus of new and controversial voices has emerged to support Mr Marie’s accusers. – and to demand more robust labor regulation to protect young and often vulnerable models whose work can take them far from home and surveillance.
“Enough is enough – I stand behind Carré and the other survivors of Gérald Marie as they come to Paris to testify against their abuser,” said Carla Bruni, one of the most famous models of the 90s and the former first lady of France . She was referring to Carré Sutton, a former American supermodel who leads the group of women who testify in Paris.
“No industry is immune to sexual abuse,” Ms Bruni continued. “There is so much work to be done in France and around the world to ensure that women are protected from sexual violence at work.”
Helena Christensen said she stood by these “brave women” all the time. Paulina Porizkova added that in the early days of her career, young models were taught to “see sexual harassment as a compliment.”
“As models, we were not paid for our talents,” said Ms. Porizkova. “We rented our body and face. Your body was not yours.” She applauded the women who had traveled to Paris who, she said, would “relive some painful memories of standing up for a better industry and the women who couldn’t come forward.”
Ms. Bruni, Ms. Christensen and Ms. Porizkova had decided to cast their votes at the urging of the Model Alliance, a not-for-profit advocacy group for fashion workers. The organization has offered resources to Mr Marie’s accusers, including weekly Zoom meetings where the women have had access to legal aid.
It has also lobbied the industry to follow its RESPECT program, a set of comprehensive and legally binding standards developed with input from more than 100 models to govern conduct, rights, payment and redress, as well as a detailed list of consequences and processes in cases of violations. So far, however, calls for fashion industry conglomerates and kingpins to sign up — including current Elite World Group CEO Julia Haart — haven’t garnered the necessary signatures.
“We strive for justice for survivors, but we also want a safer and fairer fashion industry with real responsibility,” said Sara Ziff, the Founder and Executive Director of Model Alliance. Ms. Ziff also worked closely with Ms. Sutton when she filed a lawsuit in New York last month under the state’s Child Victims Act, which allows sex abuse accusers to file a lawsuit against their alleged attackers. regardless of when the reported incidents occurred.
“Despite the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the fashion industry has largely escaped any serious scrutiny that has forced people in positions of power to change the way they do business,” Ms Ziff said. “There may have been lawsuits and settlements, and sometimes voluntary regulation, but we haven’t seen any meaningful structural change that can legally enforce standards and hold bad actors or institutions accountable.”
Her words were echoed by model Karen Elson, who has been making calls since 2017 to reform the modeling agency system by publicly exiting and representing herself, and urging companies to join the RESPECT program. So is actress and model Milla Jovovich, whose daughter, Ever Anderson, 13, is embarking on a similar career path as her mother.
“I’ve never seen so much abuse when I started,” Ms Jovovich said. “But I did experience an industrial culture in the Wild West where children were treated like adults and anything goes. You are young and vulnerable and may be set on a lifetime of abuse or bad patterns that will affect your self-esteem for the rest of your life.” form.”
“As a model and mother of a daughter emerging in this industry, I have seen institutions and enablers protect and isolate abusers from the consequences of their actions. That abuse has gone on long enough.”
In France, local law enforcement agencies have been criticized for their handling of investigations into sexual violence involving minors, after several high-profile cases failed to prosecute. Ms Sutton, once a face of Calvin Klein and Guess who modeled under the name Carré Otis, said she hopes her trial in New York, and the testimony of some of Mr Marie’s prosecutors in Paris this week, will encourage other victims. to come. forward and open the door for further criminal investigation.
“Carré was raped and trafficked as a teenager 30 years ago, and I know that similar abuses are still happening in the industry today as we hear about current models through our helpline,” said Ms Ziff.
“This is about the fashion industry, but it could also have broader implications for how we think about women’s work. If we can’t get protection from child trafficking for some of the most privileged and visible women in the world, where are we in general?”