Fashion brands drop photographer Terry Richardson over allegations of sexually exploiting models

Photographer Terry Richardson arriving at the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in West Hollywood, California. PHOTO: AFP

(Guardian) - A string of fashion magazines and brands have said they will no longer work with photographer Terry Richardson, who has been the subject of allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour at photoshoots for almost two decades.

News that fashion houses Valentino and Bulgari would stop commissioning Richardson, known for his often explicit material, came shortly after a decision to drop him by Conde Nast, the publisher of the glossy magazines Vogue, Vanity Fair and GQ.

Richardson is one of the most successful photographers in the world. His trademark style is highly sexualised and he often appears naked in pictures alongside his subjects. Despite years of allegations about his behaviour, he has photographed everyone from Barack Obama to Oprah Winfrey and Kate Moss, and has directed music videos such as Miley Cyrus's Wrecking Ball and Beyonce's XO.

Lurid stories about Richardson's behaviour have circulated since 2001. It has been claimed that he coerced young female models into exploitative and compromising positions, and into pretending to perform sex acts on him.

Controversial images include one of his 20-year-old intern in a bin, performing oral sex on Richardson, with the word "slut" written on her forehead. Richardson has always denied allegations of impropriety and said all encounters were consensual.

In a leaked email, James Woolhouse, Conde Nast's executive vice-president, told staff: "Conde Nast would like to no longer work with the photographer Terry Richardson. Any shoots that have been commission(ed) or any shoots that have been completed but not yet published, should be killed and substituted with other material."

Caryn Franklin, a fashion commentator and educator who has been speaking out against Richardson since 2013, said the decision by the fashion industry to blacklist him was tied to the recent allegations surrounding film producer Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual harassment and rape by a growing number of women.

"In fashion, people like Richardson who hold these powerful positions have, up until now, been seen as untouchable, and whatever they need to make happen in the pursuit of 'art', and whoever they need to exploit, is just part of the business we're in," said Franklin.

"There's an agreement that when a model goes on set she gives over her body, she leaves her personhood at the door. Sadly, nobody in a studio is interested in a model's opinion or if anything is making them uncomfortable."

According to Franklin, after years of the fashion elite turning a blind eye to the behaviour suffered particularly by young women, the industry was now worried that similar accusations could lead to brand damage - "and fashion is all about the brand".

She added: "This is about all these shiny, glossy fashion magazines and brands now wanting to move away from the nasty smell as quickly as possible without being implicated, rather than being rooted in a deep desire for change and to champion the rights of women.

"The industry has been in denial and it was much easier to dismiss the reports of models as inexperienced, 'silly young things'.

"There was a lot of money riding on him, he was being paid millions, so for people in the industry to admit they had made a mistake would lead to a huge amount of professional humiliation, and open up so many people in the industry to criticism. It was just easier to ignore."

Bulgari, which commissioned Richardson to shoot its autumn 2017 accessories campaign, said previous collaborations had been "one-off initiatives" and it had "no plans to work with him again".

A spokesperson for Valentino told The Guardian: "The last campaign with photographer Terry Richardson was shot in July 2017 - there are no plans for a future campaign and of course (we) take these allegations seriously."

Fashion magazine Porter, which commissioned Richardson to photograph model Bella Hadid in May this year, also told the Guardian it had "ceased working with him and publishing his images".

Models who have spoken out about Richardson in the past include Jamie Peck , who was 19 when she was photographed naked by him. He reportedly asked to take out her tampon, took his clothes off and then suggested she perform a sex act on him.

Liskula Cohen said she walked off a Vogue set after being asked by Richardson and his team to remove her clothes and pretend to perform oral sex. Although she refused, she claimed another model agreed and was ejaculated on for the photographs.

Richardson has denied all the allegations, previously saying that gritty, sexual imagery is simply part of his style, and that the stories are "hate-filled and libellous".

"I collaborated with consenting adult women who were fully aware of the nature of the work and, as is typical with any project, everyone signed releases," he said in the previous statement. "I have never used an offer of work or a threat of rebuke to coerce someone into something that they did not want to do."

Allegations in 2014 led to a petition asking magazines not to keep hiring Richardson, and resulted in clothing brand H&M declaring it would not use him in the future. But major magazines including Rolling Stone, Harper's Bazaar and GQ continued to commission Richardson to shoot their covers.

A statement from Harper's Bazaar UK said it had not worked with Richardson since 2012, adding: "There are no plans to work with him in the future."

However, the US office of the magazine, which has used the photographer in the past four years to shoot covers featuring figures such as Kate Moss, Madonna and Miranda Kerr, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Guardian also contacted Diesel, which recently hired Richardson to photograph a campaign, but the fashion brand did not reply. Neither did Rolling Stone magazine, which has been one of the most frequent platforms for Richardson's work over the past few years.

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