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Model Behavior: How Fashion Muses Are Rediscovering Their Voices


 Jera holding the banner that got him punched by Rick Owens and sacked by his agency


The Rick Owens S/S16 show at Paris Fashion Week was expected to be controversial. Would the ‘godfather of brutal chic’ unveil more penises and peepholes? Perhaps another squad of leather-clad sorority hip-hop dancers would storm the stage? In the end, though, it was one of the models who claimed the controversy. A finely-featured male model with a scruffy mullet unraveled a homemade banner that read, in capitals, “PLEASE KILL ANGELA MERKEL…NOT.” The media ignited and news of the scandal rippled across the web. Retribution was swift—Rick Owens reported that he had personally punched the renegade model, while Eva Goedel, who heads up Tomorrow Is Another Day, the agency that represented Jera, sacked him immediately. “I don’t want to see him ever again, ” she emphatically told Dazed.

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Though the motivations for Jera’s quasi-political protest remain hazy, a consensus emerged—fueled in part by his closest associates and the chattering press—that the stunt was simply a reckless, feckless move from an ungrateful model; a betrayal even, of the relentless support and devotion that had been lavished upon him from Owens, the designer for whom he had remained a “muse for the past 12 years.” The irrelevance of Jera’s protest was underpinned by Goedel, who dismissed the antics as “uninteresting, not even funny.”

Flick back to a few weeks ago, when actress Rose McGowan spoke out about how her own agents had fired her for flagging insidious industry sexism. She was sacked after posting a casting note for a film featuring Adam Sandler on Twitter, which instructed actresses to come to the audition wearing push-up bras and form fitting leggings. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, McGowan highlighted the entrenched, pervasive nature of sexism normalized by industry professionals who she believed should have been trusted to root it out for good: “I was offended by the fact that it went through so many people’s hands and nobody red flagged it. This is normal to so many people. It’s institutionally OK.”

Jera and McGowan’s actions are not directly correlated but, in essence, they both spoke out and ruptured an illusion, one that consumer mentality clings to so vitally. Models, actresses, performers—their very careers hinge on the authenticity of a performance, the perfect provision of an aesthetic that channels a specific set of beliefs and ideals. The status quo was shattered when they refused to fall in line and comply, and they paid the price for speaking out.

There seems to be a double standard at work; a disjunction between what people perceive as a creative industry that prides itself on freedom of expression and the realities of being a participant.


Picture by Avedon (Pic found on Pinterest)

 Picture by Avedon (Pic found on Pinterest)


Debra Bourne, co-founder of All Walks Beyond The Catwalk, an initiative that promotes diverse body and beauty ideals on the catwalk and in fashion imagery, confirms the existence of the dichotomy. She suggests that an active, interrogative eye must take center stage when approaching the subject.

“As authorities on appearance, it is easy for people to defer their authority to fashion designers. The core of the issue resides in the ability to discern between the appearance of equality with the reality of equality, ” she explains.

“As an industry, we create fashion images that express acceptance, liberation and freedom; but if you scratch the surface, you have to question whether we’re living those values. One could say, that as consumers, we forget that when we watch fashion, we are watching a movie. Who appears to have power on the screen and in the image, is not necessarily true in reality.”

Writer and model Rosalind Jana agrees that curiosity is key when analyzing how creative industries interpret the authority of self-expression.

“I think we have to begin by questioning what that freedom of expression is, and how we frame it. Because that ‘expression’ is, in most cases, still taking place in a commercial arena where the ultimate goal is to make money, ” she says. “Of course there are huge numbers of creatives, from photographers to designers to stylists, who are working tirelessly to create some pretty extraordinary images and clothes—but there’s also an awful lot of economic power at play. It’s not all about freedom. It’s about commerce, and maintaining a singular ideal that makes others feel inadequate.”

The idea of a carefully scripted and meticulously edited scene is an interesting one. We often fail to consider that the images we consume are the result of painstaking thought and deliberate construction. What comes before the splendour is rarely considered, even though the success of a fashion show, or premise for a film is entirely reliant on a human body to bring the vision to life.

 tomorrow is another day

Even as we watch an artistic performance, we simultaneously forget that the individuals taking part have their own thoughts and beliefs and what seems like a cohesive interplay between maker and model may conceal many idiosyncrasies. A human body may bring to life a fashion show or film script, but to consider another’s hidden personal agenda would roundly ruin the illusion.

We don’t want to watch someone wafting down the catwalk in shot silk, burdened with the knowledge that three hours earlier, they were wolfing down a pizza.
For Rebecca Pearson, a model, activist and creator of, a safe and supportive space to provide answers about the modeling industry, speaking out about the truths of the industry is a line that must be carefully trod by working models.

“Models can say whatever they want, providing it’s not libelous, but do so at the risk of their own career. You learn very quickly that to be seen as a ‘moaner’ is one of the worst things for a model to be regarded as, ” she says

“In terms of ‘speaking out, ’ you have to remember that many models are very young and aren’t equipped with the vocabulary or confidence to do so, ” Pearson continues. “But most models are encouraged to talk to their bookers about unpleasant or inappropriate behavior, and most agencies will act on it.”

Pearson says she created her website to show other models that they won’t necessarily be ostracized if they speak out against being treated unfairly or highlight the lack of regulation in the fashion industry. Her agency is supportive of her desire to be vocal about industry exploitation—such as low wages, the rife use of underage models, and the problem of sample size clothing—and her attempt to work positively to proliferate conversations surrounding these issues on her website.

Similarly, Jana’s agency hired her on the basis that she was “a person with a composite range of achievements.” Part of Jana’s image, as promoted by her agency, is that she talks expressly about interests close to heart including politics, body image, gender and sustainability.

For many, though, calling out industry misdemeanors—whether at a local or pervasively “institutional” level—remains a grey area. Models often stay quiet about issues with specific designers for fear of jeopardizing an agency’s working relationship with a brand, selectively choosing when to lodge a complaint when the career risk is minimal.

“Certain areas of the fashion industry do encourage silence or complicity, ” Jana says. “Witness the fact that Terry Richardson is still working. It’s not necessarily that passivity is a condition of being successful, but that it’s easier to remain silent than it is to speak out.”

Like with many things, the measure of success that a model or actress may have in speaking out hinges upon the power of that individual. The more money a model can command correlates to their might within the fashion industry.

Pearson says that a model higher up the hierarchy is less likely to be penalized for speaking out—their views are validated by high-stakes appearances in print and digital media around the world.


Rose McGowan dumped by agent after her public remarks about Hollywood sexism

 Rose McGowan dumped by agent after her public remarks about Hollywood sexism


“When Coco Rocha spoke out against Vogue Brazil retouching her to look topless, it was fine, because not only had they broken a legal contract, but Coco is a huge model and valuable to the agency. Magazines are unlikely to do that to her again—and she might have helped many fellow models there by calling out unacceptable behavior. However, new models with smaller names, by comparison, are on shakier footing.”

So how do lesser-known models keep booking jobs and have their voices heard? It seems that harnessing the power of social media is becoming increasingly instrumental in allowing individuals to stay true to character. For Jana, the creation of a branded identity is fast becoming the touchstone for modern day models.

“A model’s ‘personal brand’ is a significant and influential tool, and others are keen to buy into that. This means that those images presented to the public are very carefully tailored and maintained, usually meaning that nothing too potentially controversial appears.”

Pearson agrees. “Models must work hard at their look and social media now in order to become a brand. Coco Rocha, Lily Cole and Erin O’Connor speak out regularly and are highly successful and are even booked for their strong characters.”

But social media doesn’t always provide a clear cut path for models to disseminate a personal agenda. As Bourne points out, in the push towards popularity, personal convictions may fall by the wayside, increasingly blurring the lines between an already hazy representation of art and reality.

“Models morph with celebrity culture and the lucrative nature of their following becomes a reason for employability. Everything is increasingly focused on disseminating the brand message. Through social platforms, fashion’s global target audience is immense and the money at stake is in the billions.”

Fortunately, there are spaces emerging which cut a different cloth from the mainstream tendency to cloak the personal beliefs and interests subsiding within the creative workforce. All Walks Beyond The Catwalk is one such organization that firmly believes that diversity in front of the lens as well as behind it, both in mindset and physical representation, is crucial for an emotionally considerate practice.

“We see diversity as a starting point for a creativity in fashion, not a reason to impede it. The main difference with All Walks perspective on fashion is an ethical one. Fashion could do more to respect its role and responsibility as an unchallenged authority on the rules of appearance. There’s a need to consider an approach that leads from a place of respect, integrity, heart and wisdom in addition to commercial and creative objectives.”

Bourne believes it is critical that agencies embrace models with vibrant personalities and interests, not least for the role it plays in building rapport with their consumers.

“Agencies should respect the model as an individual and so too respect interests outside modeling. What makes for an interesting model, is someone who is alive, potent, passionate, and vital, ” she says. “These are qualities that transmit energy and I think it’s healthy for all of us to have interests outside of work. An empowered model is surely a confident model.”

Read the original article on Glammonitor,  By Christobel Hatings 



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