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Talk Point

Uncovering the ill-treatment
of Models

March 8, 2017
source:vogue|balenciaga 

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On Monday 27th February 2017, casting director, James Scully succeeded in shining a light on the inhumane and discriminatory treatment experienced by models within the fashion industry. Writing on his Instagram account, James detailed an incident at a recent Balenciaga casting that reportedly, subjected 150 models to a “cruel and sadistic” ordeal, imposed by casting directors Maida Gregori Boina and Rami Fernandes. The girls were ordered to wait in a dark staircase for three hours – with only the lights of their phones to see – while the two went out to lunch.


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Far from speaking in subtle terms, Scully was direct and unapologetic. Declaring the duo as “serial abusers” that were up to “the same tricks.” And citing that, the majority of girls – from the same group – had requested to revoke their bookings at Hermes and Ellie Saab because they did not wish to be “treated like animals.” Furthermore, Lanvin was accused of whitewashing its runway shows by sending out exclusionary mandates prohibiting ‘women of colour’ to be presented at its castings.

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Marked by his sense of injustice, at the fact that most models repeatedly endure humiliation, fat shaming and unspeakable abuse – often at the hands of perpetrators who derive feelings of power from such acts – James first made his plea for fashion brands to “investigate” what people [employees and affiliates] do on behalf of their companies, at the BOF voices event, last year. Later pledging to be the “voice for any models, agent” and everyone that witnesses wrongdoing within the industry:

 


spaceJames Scully’s Instagram Postspace

So true to my promise at #bofvoices that I would be a voice for any models, agents or all who see things wrong with this business I'm disappointed to come to Paris and hear that the usual suspects are up to the same tricks. I was very disturbed to hear from a number of girls this morning that yesterday at the Balenciaga casting Madia & Rami (serial abusers) held a casting in which they made over 150 girls wait in a stairwell told them they would have to stay over 3 hours to be seen and not to leave. In their usual fashion they shut the door went to lunch and turned off the lights, to the stairs leaving every girl with only the lights of their phones to see. Not only was this sadistic and cruel it was dangerous and left more than a few of the girls I spoke with traumatized. Most of the girls have asked to have their options for Balenciaga cancelled as well as Hermes and Ellie Saab who they also cast for because they refuse to be treated like animals. Balenciaga part of Kering it is a public company and these houses need to know what the people they hire are doing on their behalf before a well deserved law suit comes their way. On top of that I have heard from several agents, some of whom are black that they have received mandate from Lanvin that they do not want to be presented with women of color. And another big house is trying to sneak 15 year olds into paris! It's inconceivable to me that people have no regard for human decency or the lives and feelings of these girls, especially when too too many of these models are under the age of 18 and clearly not equipped to be here but god forbid well sacrifice anything or anyone for an exclusive right? If this behavior continues it's gonna be a long cold week in paris. Please keep sharing your stories with me and I will continue to to share them for you. It seems to be the only way we can force change and give the power back to you models and agents where it rightfully belongs. And I encourage any and all to share this post #watchthisspace

A post shared by james scully (@jamespscully) on

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So true to my promise at #bofvoices that I would be a voice for any models, agents or all who see things wrong with this business I’m disappointed to come to Paris and hear that the usual suspects are up to the same tricks. I was very disturbed to hear from a number of girls this morning that yesterday at the Balenciaga casting Madia & Ramy (serial abusers) held a casting in which they made over 150 girls wait in a stairwell told them they would have to stay over 3 hours to be seen and not to leave.

spaceIn their usual fashion they shut the door went to lunch and turned off the lights, to the stairs leaving every girl with only the lights of their phones to see. Not only was this sadistic and cruel it was dangerous and left more than a few of the girls I spoke with traumatized. Most of the girls have asked to have their options for Balenciaga cancelled as well as Hermes and Ellie Saab who they also cast for because they refuse to be treated like animals.

spaceBalenciaga part of Kering it is a public company and these houses need to know what the people they hire are doing on their behalf before a well deserved law suit comes their way. On top of that I have heard from several agents, some of whom are black that they have received mandate from Lanvin that they do not want to be presented with women of color. And another big house is trying to sneak 15 year olds into paris….. “ Read more herespace


spacePublic Reaction
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In the aftermath of the post, the true extent of the issues raised became even more evident with various models sharing their own personal accounts of similar experiences. So far, more than nine thousand people have viewed it, with over one thousand and two hundred comments published from around the world. One response from Elysee Marie Rossignol (@elyseemarie) simply reads, “I used to leave the castings crying sometimes. It’s terrible. Thank you for saying something.”

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Another, provides insight into the workings of various photographers, agents and how they treat models within professional settings. “I have had agents throw my portfolio in the trash and tell me to dig it out. [ I ] had bookers write on me with sharpies to indicate where I am “fat” & needed to lose weight. [ I ] had photographers try to grope me and then threaten to tell my agent that I’m “difficult to work with” if I didn’t play along with their game. All kinds of shit, thank you” writes Amy Harber (@amydharber) a model and actress based in Los Angeles.

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Meanwhile, established models like Joan Smalls, Helena Christensen and Hilary Rhoda expressed their praises and support for the casting director. With top model Edie Campbell, telling the Guardian that incidents like this are in fact, unsurprising. 

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“It’s also probably not the most shocking example I’ve heard,” Campbell said. “I’ve been incredibly lucky. I have – by luck and by good management – made it to the top 1% who manage to have a voice and agency over their own careers. [But] I have witnessed a lot of upsetting things. I’ve seen girls be told to run laps around the studio. It’s a cattle market. The problem with fashion in that it is a very informal industry. Boundaries are crossed and it allows people to behave in ways that would not ever be accepted in any other ‘work’ environment. It is also a closed system. If you speak out, you are faced with the very real threat of never working again. And that is why what James is doing is so unbelievably brave and should be applauded.” 

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space“If you speak out, you are faced with the very real threat of never working again. And that is why what James is doing is so unbelievably brave and should be applauded.”space


spaceIn response, the companies in question were swift to act. In particular, Balenciaga disclosed its plans to “make radical changes to the casting process” and proceeded by terminating its contractual agreement with Boina and Fernandes on the same day as the post going live. The duo, later denied and discredited the allegations as “inaccurate and libelous,” via an email sent to the business of fashion on 2nd March 2017.

spaceIndeed, visible actions by global brands like Balenciaga are noteworthy and commendable. Yet, it is still clear to see that such incidents are not isolated cases, nor are they be considered ‘alien’ among industry insiders. In most instances, they have actually been normalised – a habitual part of the modelling world. So why is it, that this is the expected reality?space

Pervasive Stereotypesspace

According to a recent study by Anais V. Paccione, “many struggling models speculate that one of the grim reasons for the lack of attention in protecting models is the pervasive stereotype that models live glamorous lives of luxury, and their work is inherently easy to perform. The fashion and modeling industries seem to exploit the status of being a model as an incentive to completing the labor.”

spaceThe report continues by outlining why models rarely voice their stories (although, recently due to social media, more and more models are speaking up). “The prestige of being a high fashion model may be another reason why these models accept these kinds of labor conditions. The reward comes not from the salary, but from the status as a product of luxury”space

It is therefore, important to recognise that one ‘termination of contract’ is not merely enough to undo the behaviour patterns embedded in the treatment of models. Adequate safeguards need to be in place, practised – until they become part of the internal culture – and models must recognise their power in rejecting practices that violate them as human beings and as workers.

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