In light of an outpouring of allegations of sexual assault and harassment within the fashion industry, governing boards like the Council of Fashion Designers of America and third-party organizations are taking action to fight abuse leading into New York Fashion Week.
On February 6, model Kristina Romanova and Antoniette Costa, a singer and songwriter, will officially launch the Humans of Fashion Foundation, an organization designed to connect victims of sexual assault and harassment with pro bono or discounted legal resources, as well as general advice and counsel. Romanova, who has modeled for brands like Vera Wang, Ralph Lauren and Dolce & Gabbana, said in an introductory video on the website that the aim of the effort is to provide industry members with the resources needed to get help, particularly for individuals who would otherwise not have such tools at their disposal.
“For everyone in the fashion industry — models, photographers, stylists, makeup artists, hairdressers, you can name all the professions — we would like to provide a platform that will connect you to legal professionals and counselors that can explain your rights,” she said.
Such resources are proving to be increasingly important as the list of industry members accused of assault and harassment continues to grow. Earlier this week, model Kate Upton spoke out on social media against Guess creative director Paul Marciano, writing “It’s disappointing that such an iconic women’s brand is still empowering Paul Marciano as their creative director #metoo.”
The allegation comes after explosive reports of serial abuse from photographers Bruce Weber, Mario Testino and Terry Richardson. (Guess has yet to comment publicly on the allegations.)
HOFF will join the ranks of existing groups like the Model Alliance, an organization founded in 2012 by Sara Ziff to help ensure models receive fair and equal treatment in the workplace. In the past six years, Ziff has expanded the mission by providing a variety of services such as community engagement, education programs, speaking engagements, research reports, legislative advocacy and access to resources like the Mayor’s Office of Labor Policy and Standards in New York City.
In an interview with New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman, Ziff — who is also a former model that experienced harassment during various gigs, including being forced to sit on the lap of a man who helped her book jobs — said that while important, simply sharing stories only goes so far. Impactful, long-lasting change will only be made through systemic change, which starts at the top.
“There has been a sense that simply speaking out is enough,” Ziff told the Times. “It’s an important first step, but it does not solve the problem. If there aren’t basic legal protections in place, then real change does not occur.”
Costa, a singer who also recently earned a J.D. in fashion law, will play a significant role in helping HOFF get off the ground with the help of her law background. Though she graduated from Fordham University in 2016, she has experience working in the legal department of Louis Vuitton. In addition to legal guidance, HOFF will also help find health care providers that can assist with issues like depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The debut of HOFF also comes after the Council of Fashion Designers of America launched its Health, Safety and Diversity Initiative, which will provide increased oversight and prevent future abuse. In a letter published on the CFDA’s website on Thursday, chairwoman Diane Von Furstenberg explained that the effort is an extension of the organization’s existing Health Initiative, which was created in January 2007, in response to the abundance of overly thin models on the runway.
In its expanded form, the group will increase its efforts to protect the safety of employees across the industry, while at the same time working to increase diversity on the runway and in campaigns. “The current climate has been marked by brave women and men and their revelations about an unacceptable culture in politics, sports, and entertainment, as well as in fashion,” Von Furstenberg wrote.
Regarding safety, she added: “We have zero tolerance for unsafe environments and strongly encourage everyone in our industry to report abuse in the workplace.”
Publishers like Condé Nast have also adjusted policies to prevent wrongdoing. In addition to announcing it will no longer work with photographers Testino, Weber or Richardson, the company recently announced revised protocols to events like photoshoots that prohibit alcohol and drug use on set. Models under age 18 will also no longer be permitted to work for a Condé Nast publication.
“We are deeply disturbed by these accusations and take this very seriously,” Anna Wintour, artistic director of Condé Nast and editor of Vogue, said in a statement about the new policies.