Recent months have seen a seismic shift in public discussion of sexual misconduct in the workplace—and the fashion industry is no exception—yet, it is clear that we as a society are only just beginning to understand the size and scope of the problem.
Disgraceful comments by Karl Lagerfeld in an April 12th interview with Numéro Magazine underscore just how much work we still have to do. While not surprising (Lagerfeld is well known for offensive comments and body-shaming women for their weight and appearance), Lagerfeld’s assertion that models should “join a nunnery” if they don’t want their pants pulled down is, nonetheless, outrageous.
Demeaning treatment and pervasive conditions of sexual harassment and abuse have plagued the fashion industry for far too long—and as they are finally coming to light, the people who enable these conditions must be held accountable. Mr. Lagerfeld’s flippant dismissal of reports of abuse, and his characterization of models who have come forward as “stupid,” “toxic” and “sordid creatures” who should quit their profession if they do not like how they are treated surely demands action.
While the industry has previously met such remarks with tacit acceptance, this much is clear: attitudes like Lagerfeld’s carry the day no longer. From the New York Times and the Boston Globe, to the public posting of long lists of the names of accused perpetrators—fashion models and others who have been preyed upon for years are finding their voice and speaking up. Moreover, consumers are increasingly demanding higher ethical standards in the products they buy. While overwhelming, this historical moment presents leaders in the fashion industry with an opportunity to be pathfinders in responding to this plea for action.
The Model Alliance has responded to this call to action by developing a robust, industry-wide program that provides, among other things: comprehensive education and training to models about their rights on the job; a secure complaint mechanism and an independent monitoring body to investigate allegations of abuse; meaningful remedies for victims; increased financial transparency and security for models (thereby eliminating factors that often leave models vulnerable to abuse); and, real accountability.
The Model Alliance and its allies refuse to tolerate bullying or abuse – be it physical or verbal – in our industry. The fashion industry should be a place where creativity and self-expression flourishes, and where everyone is treated with dignity and respect on the job. Times have changed – and, with it, fashion’s moral standing and accountability must as well.