Yet another designer has been accused of sexual harassment and assault in what appears to be typical in the fashion industry. Situations like these highlight the recurring pattern of sexual violence against both male and female models. With the frequency of these unfortunate incidents, you can’t help but wonder if sexual harassment is just an average occurrence for models and other fashion workers.
Let’s investigate this subject in a little more detail.
In early December 2021, several male models came forward to publicly denounce Asian-American fashion designer, Alexander Wang, as a sexual abuser. Rumors circulated throughout the conversations of fashion aficionados and continued to grow, trickling into March.
Within three to four months, Wang and his designs became taboo. In the shadow of his name, sexual abuse allegations followed close behind. With social media’s ability to connect international users and spread information on a massive scale, it was nearly impossible to be in the dark about the news surrounding Wang even if you weren’t interested in fashion.
The industry and its indulgers appeared to be unanimous in condemning Wang and criticizing his integrity, brand and designs. Yet, underneath the bright lights and flashing cameras, there stood Wang, still leaving an imprint at high-profile events with his designs being worn by even higher-profile celebrities such as Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera and Katy Perry. His designs still appearing in street cameos, commercials and even red carpet events make it clear that regardless of the high potential of him being an abuser, many notable names still supported him.
This was as undeniable as it was distasteful. If the proclamation of a designer being an abuser isn’t enough to ignite their success into ashes, what will? How can the fashion industry and the workers who affect its ever-spinning sphere feel safe or protected if the same ones that speak out against it are disregarded by those with the potential to make a change?
How big of a role does pretending to “cancel” an influential person, both in real-life and on social media, play in fashion? For instances like this, it’s become common practice to verbalize support and stand in solidarity with victims but only vocally, never actively.
A prime example of performative activism unfolding before our eyes took place on April 20, at the debut of Wang’s “comeback” Fall/Winter 2022 show. By this point, everyone was fully aware of the allegations against him and many of the attendants even participated in the public critique of Wang. Yet those same people were sitting in the front row at his show.
Alessandra Ambrosio, Adriana Lima, Candice Swanepoel and Amelia Gray Hamlin were among the show’s A-list runway walkers, while Coi Leray, Kimora Lee Simmons and Real Housewives stars Lisa Rinna and Erika Jayne sat in the front row, per highsnobiety.com.
A few other fashion lovers seemed to blissfully turn the other cheek when it came to being in attendance at his Fortune City event in New York City to witness the new unveiling of his comeback collection.
This has become a cycle as ancient as time. A popular, and some may even say, beloved, creator shares their artistic craft and captures the public’s eye. Then, once their career takes off, their power consumes them, and suddenly they think free passes come with their fame. A metaphorical permission slip to excuse them from any acts that anyone else without mass recognition wouldn’t get away with.
After witnessing similar cases like this rise and fall in the industry, the occurrence almost borders on the brink of normalcy. First, the allegations bubble up, accusing [insert designer/photographer’s name here], then the public catches wind of it, and everyone is in an outrage — and rightfully so. But how can we put an end to the faux outrage that quickly dissipates and pave a new path? One that actually influences real change?
One might say it starts with accountability. The first step toward influencing this change would be to stop gaslighting the victims, shrouding their vulnerability in self-doubt, and instead truly acknowledge their pain and the part the designer has played in creating it.
In a stoic and perhaps rehearsed tone, Wang responded to the allegations leveled against him. Taking his written apology to Instagram, the designer wrote, “A number of individuals have come forward recently to raise claims against me regarding my past personal behavior. I support their right to come forward, and I’ve listened carefully to what they had to say. It was not easy for them to share their stories, and I regret acting in a way that caused them pain. While we disagree on some of the details of these personal interactions, I will set a better example and use my visibility and influence to encourage others to recognize harmful behaviors. Life is about learning and growth, and now that I know better, I will do better.” signed Alex.
Taking accountability for his actions and acknowledging his victims’ pain, check.
We both know, however, that an apology requesting grace to “learn and grow” isn’t enough, especially when the individual is teetering on the edge of middle age, where they’re old enough to know the difference between right and wrong.
There needs to be real action taken, guaranteed sanctions to shackle the feet of any person in a position of power that abuses it in any sexual, financial, emotional, or manipulative manner.
Luckily, the most important part of the sanctioning is left to us: the fans of fashion and lovers of clothing. As consumers, we have more power than we give ourselves credit for. Without us, there would be no public to market to, no muses to make designs for, and no people to sell them to.
One could argue that the working class consumers may not be able, or willing, to consistently spend money on Wang’s creations; since fashion designers’ target audience is celebrities with big names and equally bigger pockets. In which case, the power would be in their hands. This is somewhat true, but even these celebs have fan bases composed of thousands of people just like us. We are at the core of everything — entertainment, fashion, sports, you name it. If we speak up and express our displeasure with our favorite celebrities who partner, wear, or collaborate with sexual offenders, their sales and success are bound to suffer.
The key is holding firm in our beliefs and taking an active stand against sexual abusers by standing in complete solidarity with the victims, thus leading to the full boycott of Wang and all of his designs. If we set the tone, the journalists, editors-in-chiefs and stagehands in the industry are sure to take notice and follow our lead by including less of Wang in their day-to-day productions and minimize, if not eradicate, his visibility, knowing it’s not what the public wants to see.
Then and only then, this fate wouldn’t just apply to Wang; it would be used as a case citation to ward off any other designers or creatives who engage in sexual violence; and maybe even encourage a few models to take legal action against them when they do.
Besides, there are thousands of talented designers working relentlessly all over the world to bring new ideas and concepts to life that deserve our attention and admiration. Let’s not waste our affections on a multiple-accused sexual offender. Because if we continue to let people in positions of power think that molesting or inappropriately groping people can be excusable and passed off as a “learning experience” without so much as a risk of losing the dynasty, financial, and literal freedom that they’ve worked so hard for, we’ll never put an end to performative activism or the countless stories of everyday people being taken advantage of.
Photo by Nufashion
Edited by Abbigail Earl & James Sutton