As the third generation of her family to work in the industry, Edie Campbell has always been familiar with modeling's ins and outs—especially seeing as the past seven years have seen the now 27-year-old model front campaigns for houses like Burberry, Dior, and Alexander McQueen, and become a favorite of both Hedi Slimane and Karl Lagerfeld, the latter of whom has previously bestowed upon her the prestigious honor of playing the Chanel bride.
Unfortunately, it's these established ties to modeling that also enabled Campbell to comfortably criticize it, as she did in an open letter in WWD on Thursday—though she still ended her essay by saying she hoped she was "not being reckless in writing this." (There's a reason that stories of sexual assault in the industry that Cameron Russell, as well as Campbell, posted, were anonymous.)
Still, Campbell said she felt "compelled" to speak out "because we have reached a turning point"—what Campbell thinks could be a moment for the industry "to be honest about the behavior we sanction." And that behavior, she continued, referring to the photographer Terry Richardson, who has been the subject of scores of serious and public sexual abuse allegations since 2010, extends far further than "a single photographer." "Everyone looked away, winced, shifted nervously and turned a blind eye," she said. "Because we all know that it spreads far, far further than one man."
"But the other men and women, the photographers and the stylists, the casting directors and art directors, and the model agents and the models—they’re too powerful. And we’re shooting a big ad campaign with them next week. And we know that when one domino falls, the whole lot of us will be taken down," Campbell continued. "Once you start pointing fingers, where does the buck stop? And to put it simply: our morals don’t always align with the money."
The issues are of course more difficult for lesser-known models; Campbell quotes the casting director James Scully in pointing out that "so many girls ruined their careers standing up to Terry," whereas you may notice that the industry's most outspoken names about models's rights—Lauren Hutton and Naomi Campbell, for example—have been established for decades. (It's no accident that it took Kate Moss literally 20 years to publicly admit that the topless Calvin Klein campaign that played a pivotal role in making her name actually prompted her to have a nervous breakdown.)
"When models go on set, we enter into an unspoken contract. For that day, we surrender our bodies and our faces to the photographer, stylist, hairdresser and makeup artist. We relinquish ownership of ourselves. To state the obvious: We sell our desirability. That is the job description—be as desirable as possible," Campbell wrote. But, she continued, "This doesn’t mean that, 'we’re asking for it.' Our success and our financial security are dependent on those more powerful than us. The power imbalance is huge, and the duty of care to that model is even greater as a result."
For the record, Campbell said that she has never been sexually abused within fashion, but that hardly disqualifies her as being familiar with the abuse that's been pervasive throughout the industry, particularly for male models, who Campbell suspects are targeted as equally as "young female victims."
In any case, it doesn't take a genius to see the reasons that the industry has bred a culture that tolerates abuse, as Campbell outlines in a list of additional factors that should be obvious, but have still have been ignored for decades. Fashion, Campbell points out, is an industry that "applauds diva behavior" and "revolves around the artist-genius," who's allowed to "behave in any way you see fit." It's also one in which the "line between the personal and the professional" is often blurred; "Work, to me, does not look like work: I undress in front of the people I work with, I travel with these people, I get drunk with them, they ask me who I’m shagging, we tell stories, we giggle, we gossip and we become part of the 'gang,'" all of which Campbell says makes for an informal environment where it's "harder to define" what qualifies as appropriate workplace behavior.
And, perhaps most obviously, "fashion hates boring or uncool people." But "being 15—or, actually, being any age—and not wanting to be topless, or strip naked in front of what are essentially your 'work colleagues' is not prudish. Not wanting to make out with someone for a picture is not 'being difficult,'" Campbell continued, daring to suggest what has hopefully soon become obvious, too: that it's time to "reassess what exactly qualifies as 'uncool.'"
See 62 Fashion Insiders Speak Out in a Powerful Video for International Women's Day: