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Mario Testino and Bruce Weber Accused of Sexual Exploitation in New York Times Investigation

The New York Times has released a detailed report on an alleged pattern of sexual exploitation by two of the biggest photographers in the fashion business. Publishing giant Condé Nast said it would stop working with both men.
Mario Testino and Bruce Weber | Photo: Courtesy, Shutterstock
  • Chantal Fernandez

NEW YORK, United States — In a new report published Saturday by the New York Times, fifteen current and former male models and thirteen male assistants and models have accused top fashion photographers Mario Testino and Bruce Weber, respectively, of a pattern of coercive sexual behavior. The investigation has been in the works since at least the week before Thanksgiving.

Representatives for both photographers objected to the allegations, and Weber denied them in a statement. The law firm that represents Testino “challenged the characters and credibility” of the people who made complaints and said former employees were shocked.

Publishing giant Condé Nast announced that it will stop working with both Testino and Weber and announced a new code of conduct to protect models from workplace abuses and sexual misconduct. Both photographers have worked frequently and to much acclaim with Condé Nast top titles, including Vogue and Vanity Fair, as well as some of the industry's top brands, including Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Michael Kors and Chanel.

"We are deeply disturbed by these accusations and take this very seriously as previously noted in our statement [released in October] regarding sexual harassment," said chief executive Bob Sauerberg and Anna Wintour, artistic director of Condé Nast and editor-in-chief of Vogue, in a statement. "In light of these allegations, we will not be commissioning any new work with Bruce Weber and Mario Testino for the foreseeable future."

"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," wrote Wintour on "Sometimes that means addressing the fact that such behaviour can occur close to home. Today, allegations have been made against Bruce Weber and Mario Testino, stories that have been hard to hear and heartbreaking to confront. Both are personal friends of mine who have made extraordinary contributions to Vogue and many other titles at Condé Nast over the years, and both have issued objections or denials to what has emerged. I believe strongly in the value of remorse and forgiveness, but I take the allegations very seriously, and we at Condé Nast have decided to put our working relationship with both photographers on hold for the foreseeable future."

"We recently learned of the allegations concerning Mario Testino," said a spokesperson for Michael Kors Holdings Limited. "In light of the seriousness of these accusations, we will not be working with Mr. Testino on future advertising campaigns."

“We take allegations of this nature very seriously," said a representative for Burberry. "Burberry is committed to providing a just, safe and fair working environment and we have a zero-tolerance policy against any form of harassment, abuse or discrimination." The brand has not worked with Testino since August 2016, but it is unclear if this has anything to do with the allegations or simply reflects a shift in creative strategy.

"The allegations reported in the recent The New York Times article are completely contrary to our values, and to our commitment to creating an environment where our employees and outside partners feel welcome, safe and can perform at their best," said a representative for Ralph Lauren. "We will not do business with anyone who behaves in a way that compromises this commitment."

"We are deeply saddened by the allegations in today's article," said Wendy Kahn, chief executive and brand president of Stuart Weitzman. "We take these accusations very seriously and providing a safe and secure working environment where everyone feels respected is our foremost priority. As a result, we will not be working with Mario Testino for the foreseeable future."

The bombshell report of allegations against two of the most powerful photographers in the fashion industry follows several months of allegations and revelations of sexual misconduct by powerful men in film, media and other industries following harrowing reports in The New York Times and The New Yorker of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s rampant sexual misconduct, harassment and assault for decades. The issue took centre stage at the Golden Globes on Sunday when actresses, wearing black in protest, pledged their support for the new #TimesUp movement, an action plan that aims, in part, to financially support legal cases against sexual predators inside and outside of Hollywood.

In fashion, models have long been vulnerable to a range of work-related abuses because the liability for misconduct or harassment has often fallen in a grey area between agencies and the brands and magazines that contract them. In September, luxury conglomerates LVMH and Kering came together to sign a model charter that established rules about nudity, health and underage models after casting director James Scully called for widespread industry reform at BoF's Voices gathering in 2016. New legislative bills are also being introduced in New York and California in January that address ways to protect models sexual harassment. Model Alliance founder Sara Ziff is working on a multi-industry proposal programme.

The Times reported that many of its sources would not speak publicly against Testino or Weber for fear of repercussions.

Beyond the allegations against photographer Terry Richardson — many major fashion titles have stopped working with him in the last four to eight years — no other major photographer has been exposed as a sexual predator, despite rumours circulating for years inside the industry. Like Richardson, Weber and Testino's work is characterised by its overt sexuality as often requested by clients, which operate in a business that, many say, essentially sells sex and often allows environments on photoshoot sets and at model castings that can be coercive and unsafe.

Former assistants said that Testino had a pattern of hiring young, usually heterosexual men and subjecting them to increasingly aggressive advances. “Sexual harassment was a constant reality,” said former Testino assistant Roman Barrett, who worked for him in the 1990s and was one of several people to speak on the record to the Times. “He misbehaved in hotel rooms, the backs of cars and on first-class flights… Then things would go back to normal, and that made you feel gaslighted.” Other sources said Testino had fondled them or seen him fondle others on several occasions.

"[Testino] was a sexual predator," said model Ryan Locke. He said the photographer met him for a casting for a Gucci campaign in the 1990s in his hotel room wearing a loose robe and "they got into a stalemate about whether the model needed to go fully nude for test pictures." Later at a photoshoot, Locke says Testino cleared the set and "crawls on the bed, climbs on top of me." Then-Gucci designer Tom Ford said he was not present and could not know what happened. (A representative for Tom Ford declined to comment to BoF.)

As for Weber, several models told the Times that during private sessions with Weber, known as being “Brucified,” the photographer would pressure models to pose nude for test shoots and would initiate “breathing exercises” that lead to inappropriate touching.

“I felt helpless,” model Josh Ardolf told the Times after one such experience when he was 20 years old. “Like my agency said, he has a lot of power. He’s done a lot of large campaigns. That was in the back of my mind. ‘I can’t screw this up. I already made it this far.’”

“I’m completely shocked and saddened by the outrageous claims being made against me, which I absolutely deny,” Mr Weber said in a statement from his lawyer. In recent months, two male models came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against Weber during photoshoots in 2005 and 2014. One model, Jason Boyce, is suing Weber, his wife Nan Bush’s production company Little Bear Inc. and Soul Artist Management founder Jason Kanner, alleging Weber groped and kissed him during a test shoot.

Weber has denied the charges, writing on Instagram: “I want to address the recent allegations made against me. I unequivocally deny these charges and will vigorously defend myself. I have spent my career capturing the human spirit through photographs and am confident that, in due time, the truth will prevail. I am grateful for the outpouring of support I have received.”

Condé Nast developed its new code of conduct, which will be finalised later this month, after more than 150 internal and external conversations with representatives across the industry, including trade organisations, talent and model representatives, agencies and editors. Condé Nast International, under chief executive Jonathan Newhouse, will also commit to the protocols.

As part of the code, Condé Nast commits to employing models that are at least 18 years old, unless the model is appearing as themselves as part of a profile or news story, during which a chaperone will be present. Alcohol will be banned from sets. Photographers will not be able to use a Condé Nast set for any personal or noncommissioned work. And any nudity, sheer clothing, lingerie, swimwear, simulated drug or alcohol use or “sexually suggestive poses” will be detailed and approved by the model in advance of the shoot.

“Our hope is that our colleagues and partners will adopt these or similar recommendations so that each of us involved in the creative process does our part to help ensure a safe and respectful work environment,” said the company in a statement.

“We are extremely concerned and anxious about providing a healthy working environment, which we know is sometimes difficult in the fashion world,” Joanna Coles, chief content officer at Hearst Magazines, told the Times.

Representatives for Hearst, IMG, CR Fashion Book, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Burberry and Tory Burch did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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