One thing I found so illuminating in Lupita Nyong’o’s essay in The New York Times is how she was able to explain something that so many accounts about Harvey Weinstein couldn’t capture: the intimacy of working in a creative field. As she wrote, “Our business is complicated because intimacy is part and parcel of our profession; as actors we are paid to do very intimate things in public. That’s why someone can have the audacity to invite you to their home or hotel and you show up.”
Of course any argument against assault that starts with “well why did you go to his hotel room?” is bullsh-t, but I think it’s difficult for some to understand the closeness that can come with working in a creative field. Combine vulnerability (both internal and external), high-pressure situations, job insecurity, long hours, travel and the isolation that comes with it and you have a lot of exposed nerve endings.
That is true too of the fashion and modeling world, a dam that has been ready to break for a very long time. This morning, The Telegraph reported that an internal email circulating at Conde Nast (home of Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair) makes it clear that all titles are not to work with Terry anymore. The reason why is not explicit, but Jezebel has been on this story since 2010 and their coverage has continued on over the years.
Terry has a profile – a rare feat for fashion photographers. With that comes a lot of power and influence. He has shot mostly everyone (I won’t get into a list, but Kanye, Jennifer Aniston, Rihanna, Amy Winehouse) and he directed the videos for Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball and Beyoncé’s XO. Many of these projects were commissioned after the 2010 Jezebel story.
Terry’s defense has always been that his work is sexually charged. That defense continues today with a new statement in Huffington Post UK. “He is an artist who has been known for his sexually explicit work so many of his professional interactions with subjects were sexual and explicit in nature but all of the subjects of his work participated consensually.”
But of the women who came forward, the sexual nature of his photographs is not the complaint. The complaints range from nudity (HIS nudity; he would strip during photoshoots) to unwanted sexual touching to promising exposure in fashion magazines (like Vogue) for intercourse.
As mentioned above, Jezebel has been on this since 2010. So why would Conde Nast institute a ban now? There’s some talk that it has to do with protracted contract negotiations, but it seems unlikely because an all-out ban isn’t how you negotiate with someone you want to work with. Quite the opposite. They can never go back on it now without attracting some major heat.
Anna Wintour, who in addition to being EIC of Vogue is Conde Nast’s artistic director, surely would have had a hand in this. She was friendly with Harvey Weinstein (as any power player in New York would be). And maybe with the titans like that being exposed, everyone is taking stock of the company they keep and decided what liabilities should be cut loose. Promising a model a Vogue spot in exchange for a f-ck? That seems like enough of a breach to discontinue any further contracts. At the past New York Fashion Week, Terry was seen with British Vogue’s new Editor-in-chief, Edward Enninful. Perhaps the Conde Nast high-ups didn’t want this relationship to further develop under the company’s umbrella.
There’s little for Conde Nast to lose here. They aren’t moving less issues without Terry Richardson so they can take the moral high ground without really risking anything. Where his career stands now is to be seen as editorial is not his only business. There’s advertising and then of course his strong celebrity connections. Will famous people still want the Terry treatment? We know the look: up against the wall, harsh flash, low production value (no designer fashion or heavy makeup). It’s informal but highly stylized and instantly recognizable. Will celebrities still pose next to him as he does his dopey thumbs up?
And the ban could also work in his favour. An expulsion from the Conde Nast kingdom could make him seem rebellious and therefore enticing. That kind of cool is fashion currency. Gross Terry is now the outsider, doing his outrageous sex stuff while the corporations are running scared. Anti-establishment and all that. This is, unfortunately, how some fashion editors and insiders will see it. Especially the ones who’d like Anna and her bob to retire.