The Business of Fashion
Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
NEW YORK, United States — Jean Deaux, a Chicago-based musical artist, said she met model and stylist Ian Connor on Instagram. After exchanging some direct messages, they switched to texting. They met up briefly in Chicago, and after she moved to New York, they ran into each other at a concert in New Jersey. A week or so after that, Connor asked Deaux if she wanted to meet in New York's SoHo neighbourhood to go shopping. But Connor didn't show and after 20 or so minutes, Deaux decided to leave.
While on the train home to Brooklyn, she received a distressed call from Connor. He said he was running late because he’d been beaten up by associates of the New York-based hip hop collective A$AP Mob while styling a shoot. Deaux said she could hear he was upset and felt sorry for him, so agreed to come back. It was getting late, and Connor said he had a place in Manhattan where they could stay before heading to the shops in the morning. Deaux followed him to what looked like a cheap hotel, which she later suspected was actually a brothel. It was there, she claims, that Connor raped her.
To date, six women have publicly accused the stylist of rape. Connor, for his part, has denied the allegations made by Deaux, which she first made publicly in a Tumblr post in April 2016, as well as allegations by the other women. He did not respond to requests for comment prior to this article's publication. On Thursday, Connor replied to a BoF Instagram post with a series of emojis. He did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.
Ian Connor (far left) backstage after the Off-White Menswear SS19 show | Source: Getty
In a post-Harvey Weinstein world, #MeToo has become a global movement, prompting sexual misconduct investigations into once-celebrated, veteran fashion photographers like Mario Testino, Bruce Weber and Patrick Demarchelier, who have all been dropped by clients after front-page stories appeared in New York Times and the Boston Globe. Past sexual misconduct allegations against Terry Richardson have also resurfaced, resulting in names from Valentino to Vogue publicly distancing themselves from the photographer. (Weber and Testino said they were "dismayed and surprised by the allegations," according to the New York Times article. Weber, Demarchelier and Richardson denied the allegations.)
But there has been no similar backlash against Connor. In fact, since the rise of the #MeToo movement in late 2017, the stylist and model has launched a new clothing label, starred in magazine editorials (Numéro magazine proclaimed him one of the "coolest it-boys of the moment" earlier this month), and attended top fashion shows, sitting front-row at Virgil Abloh's debut show for Louis Vuitton last summer.
“Nothing has happened. And just as of recently he’s been more and more and more put in the media and pop culture, he’s kind of found his way back into being socially accepted,” said Deaux. This was why Deaux, who has never spoken to the press about her experience before now, said she agreed to be interviewed by BoF. “I really want people to start holding others accountable, and holding themselves accountable, so we can make progress in this industry and as a culture,” she said.
So why has Connor seemingly escaped similar public censure?
Muna Mire, a writer and associate producer on television show Desus & Mero, put the question to the internet last week. “Did Ian Connor face literally any consequences I feel like I still see him in the background of Virgil’s Instagrams?????” she tweeted.
Connor was quick to respond: “If The Consequences Were More Money, More Power, And A Clearer Head Space Then Yes. I Did Face The Consequences,” he tweeted back.
Connor, 26, began his rise in the fashion industry after working as a stylist for Wiz Khalifa when he was still a teenager. His close associations with Abloh and members of the A$AP Mob, a New York-based collective of producers and rappers including A$AP Rocky, got him an introduction to Kanye West, and soon Connor was working as a creative consultant for West's team. He has also styled West's sister-in-law, Kylie Jenner.
Soon the press started to pay attention to the rising star. In 2015, Complex told readers, "You Are Now Under the Influence of Ian Connor," while in February 2016 American Vogue noted, "Connor's insouciant and louche cool-kid sense of personal style has left an indelible impression on the fashionable rapper [Kanye West]."
Despite his five-foot-five-inch stature — an unusual height for a male fashion model — he enjoyed high-profile modelling gigs for the likes of Bape, Astrid Andersen, and Shane Gonzales' Midnight Studios, as well as Kanye West's Yeezy shows and lookbooks for Drake's OVO fashion line. And, his following on social media continued to grow. Today, Connor has 276,000 followers on Twitter and 1.1 million followers on Instagram.
The allegations against Connor first surfaced publicly in April 2016, when Malika Anderson, now 25 and a masters student at Columbia University, claimed in a blog post that she had been raped by Connor in October 2014 in Decatur, Georgia. At the time, she said she decided to write the post when police failed to bring charges against Connor after she filed an official report. The case was dropped, she said, due to lack of evidence.
“Although this is not the ideal result of my choice to file a report against him, I do not regret my choice,” she wrote. “The system isn’t built for me and that’s something I wholeheartedly understand about America; however, I also believe that you never know what the outcome of anything will be unless you try.”
Deaux, who was in the early stages of her music career at the time of the alleged rape, told her story in a Tumblr post in April 2016. "I wrote this for Malika, who's case could have been stronger if I was as brave as she was and come forward," she wrote at the time. Connor denied the allegations, tweeting: "I Ian Conor Am Not A Rapist Nor Do I Condone Rape In Any Shape or Form, I Don't Respect Liars Nor Forced Situations. Please Be Real." Connor has since deleted the tweet.
The system isn't built for me and that's something I wholeheartedly understand about America.
In June 2016, Khaditia Diallo told the Daily Mail in a video interview how she was raped by Connor when she was 16 and still a virgin. Three more alleged victims spoke to the newspaper over the next few days: Jenni Stampley, Taryn Williams and “Alyssa,” who requested to remain anonymous. Connor denied these allegations, too.
Like Anderson, Stampley said she filed a police report against Connor, in Will County, Illinois, but it did not result in charges. “About nine months after I filed it they called me and said they were sending it to Canada [where the assault occurred],” she said. “I never got another phone call after that.”
To date, Connor has denied all allegations of rape and other sexual misconduct against him. In a July 2016 interview, he told Broadly, "I'm being accused of rape, and I would never rape anyone."
"I do not condone rape and I have never raped anyone,” he continued. “Why force somebody to do something they don't want to do? Any forced situation is not cool."
BoF managed to reach three of the six women who had publicly accused Connor of raping them. They each reaffirmed their allegations.
The accusations have received intermittent attention from the media and fashion community over the last few years, including a blog post by The Fashion Law, which laid out the women's claims and lack of repercussions in detail in February 2018.
Even as the rape allegations began to pile up, Connor’s stature continued to grow in some of the most influential circles in the music and fashion industries.
"That's my little brother. Fuck what the world gotta say. You feel what I'm saying? He's a young visionary," A$AP Rocky told Rap Radar Podcast in January 2017 in response to a question about the rape allegations linked to Connor. Rocky noted that Connor had never been arrested or charged in connection with these allegations, adding that he preferred to not discuss the issue "because that's a touchy situation that I would rather not talk about."
A representative for Rocky did not respond to a request for comment.
Also in January 2017, Noah Stutz, a friend of Connor’s, registered Revenge X Storm LLC in California, marking the model and muse’s official foray into design with sneakers of his own. Stutz did not respond to a request for comment. Connor’s Vans-inspired line of sneakers gained a lot of buzz on social media, with Kylie Jenner and Abloh among those that promoted the designs on their personal accounts. Today, the $200 sneakers are sold on the label’s own e-commerce site, as well as consignment sites like StockX and Grailed.
Over the past year, Connor has launched a second streetwear label, dubbed Sicko Born From Pain. During last season's Paris Fashion Week menswear shows, he scored a coveted front row seat at Abloh's highly anticipated Louis Vuitton debut. He was spotted backstage at the Off-White show and sitting front row at Matthew Williams' 1017 Alyx 9SM. He was among the Insta-famous personalities West cast in a Yeezy campaign, lensed by Richard Kern, which hit social media in August 2018.
With the exception of rapper Theophilus London, who called Connor a "dirty fucking rapist" on Twitter following a fistfight at the now closed Parisian concept store Colette, none of Connor's high profile associates have made public attempts to distance themselves from the stylist following the rape allegations.
Abloh declined to comment for this story. While he has not publicly spoken on the allegations against Connor, following the fight at Colette, he told Women's Wear Daily: "They're all brothers, so it's basically watching a bunch of brothers fight. It was totally fine. I looked at it as, like, a casualty — I call it me being a camp counselor… I believe you can't just like kids when it's good. I'm not an educator or anything like that. And it's not about that. It's just about leading by example."
Representatives for West declined to comment. Representatives for Louis Vuitton and Alyx did not respond to requests for comment.
Often industry power dynamics disadvantage young individuals at the early stages of their career, who fear that speaking out about abuse will hold them back professionally. This was one of the reasons that Deaux, who at the time was in the early stages of her music career, decided not to file a police report against Connor.
“My entertainment lawyer at the time told me literally maybe a couple days after it happened that if I wanted a fresh start in the industry that I didn’t want to bring attention to that,” she told BoF. “It kind of helped me make the decision not to pursue charges, and, even more, was a reason not to go on the news and put my face to this situation.”
Beyond the allegations against Connor, a lack of legal action is not uncommon when it comes to rape cases. Often, the more time that has passed since an alleged incident, the harder it is to gather evidence or specific details of the case. In some states, the statute of limitations also puts a clock on how long an individual has to file a criminal report or a civil suit. Bringing a civil case can be costly.
Connor wearing his clothing line Sicko Born From Pain | Source: @ianconnorsrevenge
Police determine whether to pursue a criminal case for rape allegation based on the amount of evidence they can gather, said Sunu Chandy, legal director of the National Women’s Law Center, one of the organisations behind the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which works with individuals on civil sexual misconduct cases against employers.
“Whether someone is telling the truth about sexual harassment and rape, and whether there is enough evidence for a government to take up a case, are two different questions,” she said. “One is about proof and evidence and what will a court decide, and the other is about what really happened to someone.”
Like Anderson, Stampley filed a police report, but told BoF she regrets her decision.
“I was encouraged by people I talked to that it would be good to have something on the record saying that I had at least tried, but it was pretty much pointless,” she said. “I shouldn’t have done it because it wasn’t like it did anything, and it was just too much — it was just too much me having to recount everything.”
In addition to being young, all of Connor’s alleged victims that came forward publicly were black. There are specific challenges facing African American women alleging sexual abuse. Evidence suggests that historically, being young, black, working class and female significantly contributes to allegations of assault and sexual abuse by victims being dismissed by authorities and the wider society.
In the final episode of Lifetime’s documentary series “Surviving R. Kelly,” detailing sexual abuse allegations against the R&B singer, Chance the Rapper, a Grammy award winning black rapper, reflected, “I didn’t value the accusers’ stories because they were black women.” Chance has also said he regrets working with Kelly.
Studies show that black women are often stereotyped in the media as hypersexual, gold diggers or "baby mamas," while black girls are viewed as more sexually mature than their white peers. There is a long history in America of black women being perceived as "unrapable," said Moya Bailey, an African American feminist scholar, writer and activist. This perception is still prevalent today.
Our society does not value, respect or believe black women. It's incredibly daunting for black women to find justice through the criminal justice system.
Black women are also disproportionately affected by gender-based violence. According to the web platform Black Women Too, more than four in 10 black women experience violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime, yet authorities are less likely to make an arrest on behalf of a black female victim and police are more likely to arrest black women on the scene of an alleged incident following a report.
“There is this intersectionality between the criminal justice system, violence, police violence against black women, domestic, intra-communal violence, poverty — so all these things collect into one issue, which is that our society does not value, respect or believe black women,” said Sharaya Tindal, strategic communications coordinator at Black Women's Blueprint, a civil and human rights organisation that seeks to empower women of African descent. “So, it’s just incredibly daunting for black women to find justice through the criminal justice system.”
But there’s also a long history of black men in the United States being falsely accused of rape. “That idea of the black male rapist is something that black communities are very vigilant about fighting, and so there’s a lot of disbelief and defensiveness when it comes to black men who are accused of sexual violence,” said Bailey.
A “no snitch” code was developed within black communities dating back to the days of slavery to protect black slaves from being abused or even murdered by masters for perceived wrongdoings, said Kalimah Johnson, founding executive director of the Sasha Center, a Detroit-based sexual assault service and educational agency that works with black survivors of sexual assault.
“You keep the problems in house, no matter what, because you don’t want to lose that family member, because we didn’t own dominion over our bodies or our placement in the world as enslaved people,” Johnson said. “It worked for us for a long time, but what happened is from generation to generation, these same rules kept getting passed down without any explanation.”
Entrenched racism in the American criminal justice system only complicates matters further. Johnson said she has worked with a number of black female victims who are reluctant to go to the police for this reason. “It’s guilt and shame and embarrassment and fear of not being believed… They don’t trust the police system, or they don’t want to be a snitch or they don’t want to get that family member or community member in trouble.”
In the internet age, sexual assault victims who are vocal about their experiences may also face bullying from on social media. Indeed, after going public with their stories, several of Connor’s alleged victims were subject to cyber bullying, abuse and intimidation.
“This is not attention I want. It’s why I don’t speak on this situation,” Deaux said. “I really want people to stop focusing on the attention they think the victim wants, and put that pressure on the people that are being accused.”
This article was updated on Thursday, January 17.
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