After this week’s revelation that Condé Nast International had banned the work of photographer Terry Richardson from its glossy magazines, the designer Prabal Gurung began to consider the fact he had long been aware of the allegations that Richardson was sexually abusive towards models.
After The Washington Post ran a story questioning the industry’s long silence and its better-late-than-never disavowal of Richardson, Gurung tried to understand his own culpability. In an Instagram post, he wrote: “I knew the truth. I shared it on my Facebook, retweeted some articles and followed the ‘slactivism’ route (of which we all are guilty) but never truly engaged in the conversation. Never spoke up. So why, when so many of us know the same horrific truth, does it take us so long to get here?”
It is important that we hold everyone accountable who worked with Terry Richardson. Not to shame them, but to understand the intention & motive behind their decision to turn a blind eye to his horrific actions. Clearly they cannot say they didn’t know, because we all knew. Every publication who hired him, every stylist who worked with him, every agency who sent models on his shoot, even the UPS delivery man knew. And I knew too. I have to admit that I heard the stories. I always knew them to be more than just rumours or industry gossip. While I never directly worked with him for one of my own shoots, I knew the truth. I shared it on my Facebook, retweeted some articles and followed the “slactivism” route (of which we all are guilty) but never truly engaged in the conversation. Never spoke up. So why, when so many of us know the same horrific truth, does it take us so long to get here? It might give us an insight into this world of fashion, that we love so much. It might teach us something about our hunger for power, money, chasing the cool, our lack of courage and above all human failings. And while this ban can be masked as a semblance of progress, it does feel too little too late. Too late for the women who felt threatened, violated and scared. To look forward, and advocate for real change, we need to ask each other and ourselves— How can we build better, stronger communities? How did we foster such a hostile environment, and why do we continue to follow a herd mentality even when we know better? Once we truly dissect and understand this, only THEN we can possibly be free of repeating the same mistake.
Gurung has a history of speaking up on issues well beyond fashion trends, from diversity in all its iterations to discrimination. He established a charitable foundation to help rebuild his native Nepal after its devastating earthquake in 2015. Yet even though he’d heard the allegations against Richardson for years, he did nothing of substance.
“We can be guilty of posting something [online] and feeling like we’ve done our deed,” Gurung told the Post. “It’s just not in fashion; it’s in any field. How many of us are brave enough to go out on our own and speak the truth? We operate on the idea of wanting to belong.”
He added: “I, too, am part of the problem.”
Fashion, he says, is supposed to be about encouraging radical new ideas and up-ending tradition. “But oftentimes it’s not,” Gurung noted. “How many of us are really radical? And I’m including myself.”
There’s a tendency to trivialize the impact of his industry. We’re not curing cancer: It’s just fashion! Instead of taking a risk, there’s a fear of ruffling feathers. A fear of being first or being out of the norm or being perceived as that buzz-kill of a person who’s always on a soap box, he says. What drives that psychology? Gurung wonders if it’s borne out of the belief that the fashion industry is an exclusive club with a limited number of memberships.
“We’ve created this whole myth with fashion,” Gurung said. “There’s this fear that only a select few can sit at this table and the rest of you can’t.”
That’s changing. Fashion has begun welcoming a broader array of people into its ranks. And perhaps the knowledge that fashion has room for more dreamers, storytellers and innovators, will make those folks more willing to stand out by speaking up. “We as human beings are very afraid of confrontation,” Gurung says. “I always believe confrontation results in dialogue and that leads to solutions.”