London Fashion Week arrives at a challenging time for the industry.
In the last couple of months it isn’t so much the designer dresses that everyone’s been talking about, more the skeletons that the industry appears to have been hiding in its closet.
A week after the Harvey Weinstein story broke, model Cameron Russell began posting countless disturbing stories on social media that other models had sent her anonymously.
Separately, two of the most powerful photographers in the fashion industry, Mario Testino and Bruce Weber, faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, which they’ve both denied.
On and off the catwalk, Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, says the industry has been taking a long hard look in the mirror.
“What we’re seeing from our designer community is that they are very politically engaged,” she told Sky News.
“We may well see that on the catwalk, but if we don’t immediately see that in the collections you needn’t think that these aren’t individuals that don’t care about what’s going on in society because I know for sure that they do.
“Particularly in the UK where we’ve got very strong employment laws and we have great agencies and very responsible businesses, there is a definite feeling that we want to do the right thing.
“Where there have been challenges, or where individuals maybe aren’t adhering to best practises, we’re making it very clear that that isn’t acceptable.”
Model Roswell Ivory believes the conversation that’s finally happening now is “game changing”.
“It’s very hard to say ‘no, I don’t care if it costs me the job, you will never treat me like this’,” she told Sky News.
Through blogging about a horrifying experience she had with Shaun Colclough, a freelance photographer working in Hackney, Ivory learned of the importance of speaking out.
“I contacted him based on his very good portfolio, went there, and had a very scary experience.
“[He] started insisting I pose in ways I’m not comfortable with, open my legs, behave as though I was interacting with him. Asking me what I was into sexually, ‘have I ever done x,y,z sexually?’ I tried to stay calm….he said ‘you look vulnerable to me’ coming closer and closer to my face.
After the shoot was over, she stumbled out into the street in shock.
“I thought I was pulling myself together but a bus stopped for me where there wasn’t a bus stop. The bus driver pulled over and let me on without a ticket, so I must have looked god-awful.”
She then blogged about her experience, started warning people on modelling forums and contacted the police.
“The best I could do was file an intelligence report, I called a non-emergency helpline and said ‘look, I just want to tell you that this is what’s happened with this man, so if you get a report with something you can do something about, you have it on record that I’ve had this experience too.”
The police did eventually have cause to arrest Shaun Colclough. He was found guilty of sexually assaulting two young women at his East London studio and, in court, an even more disturbing detail emerged.
“He learnt photography, I believe, in prison serving a sentence for the rape of an 84-year-old woman,” Ms Ivory said.
“You feel very alone saying something has happened to you, but the fact is now, more than ever, women are joining up to support each other in great numbers.”
Digital influencer Xenia Tchoumi began modelling when she was 12. She says social media has given women around the world the courage to speak up.
“It’s not just about the hashtag, #metoo, #timesup, it’s also about how little girls feel about themselves.
“If you think models are usually very young, they are put in a system where they have older people around them and they are afraid, they don’t know what they’re doing. That’s why good mentorship is so important.
“People that are more established in the industry, who have power, they will be way more conscious of their behaviour now and I hope its going to be a sustainable change. A young girl can speak up now, they can go online and name names.
“I’m extremely happy that it’s happening, not everyone is of course, some people find it too loud, some people think that we’re exaggerating, but no revolution can happen without people speaking up.”
London Fashion Week runs until 20 February.