*I have since had a chance to finally discuss this with Kim, which gave me a clearer perspective on how difficult it is for us to say no to abusers in the industry. I hope that as we speak up more about refusing to work with abusers, we also discuss the difficulty of doing so, and make an encouraging environment for us to speak up about our experiences as well as to speak out against abusers in the industry who profit from vulnerable people. I hope that we can also speak up about these things without being ignored or deleted by the ones in charge, and to understand the background story before we label celebrities or people in the public sphere as role models.
I am writing this because I hope that I am not the only one who cares. As Lorde put it adequately in her song, “it’s a new art form, showing people how little we care.” But it would make me feel better to know that at least I said something, that it didn’t sit right with me. I do think about the anonymous yet vulnerable nature of posting online, and I would like to clarify that this entire post is indeed my own personal opinion about the experience that is solely mine, and I can only hope that there are others out there who would read this and give a second thought.
At 20, I was wedged in an awkward state after moving from South Korea to California. I was trying to stick up for all the things that I could never stand up for while I was growing up; things that I was told to be quiet about so that I’d never rock the boat. Things that I was supposed to pretend like I didn’t see, but spoke up about anyway, and got punished for.
Somewhere along the transition, I stumbled onto a Los Angeles-based brand Wildfox Couture, known for their California Dreaming aesthetics. Their campaigns were inundated with gorgeous young blonde women enjoying the beach, riding in convertibles, and partying in a glorious abundance of pastel pink. And even though their style was radically different from my goal of generally looking like a grim reaper, I was enamored by their enviable lifestyle.
And through various social media outlets, Wildfox continuously let me in on their fun-loving, tight-knit young LA crowd. Half of Wildfox, co-founder Kimberly Gordon, had quit her day job and started the brand with her childhood best friend. Kim, who identifies herself as a feminist, spoke out on her blogs about the fashion industry’s impossible ideals that hurt young women, garnering support from women who related to her “believe in your dreams” mantra. The celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Katy Perry also responded to Wildfox’s soft sweatshirts, one of which claimed, “Shopping is my cardio.” Another claimed, “Swim all day, dance all night, fall in love, pizza.”
I, too, followed Wildfox for years, drawn to the carefree and romantic life that the brand projected. But whenever I obsessively scrolled through their Tumblr, the phrases on Wildfox’s t-shirts often confused me. The shirts claimed, “How bad can a good girl get?” “Ask me, I might.” “My boyfriend’s a prince.” On a recent Instagram post, Kim called her own t-shirt “slutty.”
I tried to push away the gnawing feelings. Even though Wildfox’s designs were not my cup of tea, I must clarify that I am all for women choosing to be whomever they feel comfortable being. I am the first defender when people choose to bring down certain females in the media for portraying a “female archetype,” because I think everyone has the right to be who they are, and it is having a choice that matters.
In my opinion, however, the image Wildfox portrayed was that of girls getting what they want through their pretty faces, pretty bodies, waiting for the boys to call, lusting after being the objects of the male gaze. The “Wildfox girl” seemed to be in a state of perpetual childhood, being called “girls” even in their thirties, twirling their hairs and biting their lips in the pictures, waiting for their princes to come. And though I was proud and impressed by the brand’s dedication to the ethical and local production of clothes, I felt conflicted because I felt as if pushing an image of a brand that denotes feminism and female power came with a responsibility to uphold such image with care, honesty, and research.
Of course, I am willing to be corrected. I am cautious to call people out for not being feminist enough in my book because it furthers the policing for women who already face so much scrutiny in their daily lives. And we are not going to satisfy everyone and their mother’s definition of feminism. But my confusion with Wildfox only intensified when Kim posted numerous pictures taken by Terry Richardson on her blog, and I asked her via Tumblr what her opinion on him was.
Richardson is known for his overly exposed photographs portraying women in a degrading manner (NSFW), to put it lightly. One Google search of “I miss the old Terry” will ruin your taste for a month. It is known that the model Charlotte Free, famous for her pink mane, has worked both for Richardson and Wildfox. Free has previously said in an interview blaming the victims of Richardson, calling them “stupid bitch(es).” Free, just like Wildfox, has been vocal about feminism. Mark Hunter of Cobra Snake, who has shot Wildfox’s campaigns and is close to the brand, has also posed with Terry Richardson, imitating his infamous thumbs-up. I could not help but think of how they all seemed connected.
Kim responded to my question on Richardson, saying, “I don’t judge professionals.” I can certainly see how people can separate the art from the artist, even though I rarely can. But her response left a bitter feeling in my stomach, as she herself had previously spoken about her friends being in the model industry and the harsh environment that cripples them. The models like Charlotte Free or brands that absolve Terry Richardson continue to trivialize the issues of women in the industry while profiting from their work. And this is a tradition that has been going on for too many years, for too long. I submitted another ask in her inbox, asking her to clarify. Kim took her initial response down from the blog immediately and did not respond further.
The biggest incident that sealed my conflict with Wildfox took place in 2013. In August, Wildfox’s CEO Jimmy Sommers faced sexual assault charges on the grounds that he had repeatedly molested a young girl aspiring to be a model in LA. The alleged victim, Meghan Chereek, was only 17 years old at the time of the alleged molestation, and he 43. Chereek claimed that Sommers promised her modeling work for Wildfox in exchange for sexual favors, telling her, “Nothing is free.”
When this article was revealed on Jezebel, Sommers’s spokesperson responded to say, “She was a Sunset Boulevard stripper… so we won’t dignify her with more responses,” claiming that she had said she was 19 at the time. Since then, Wildfox has never made a statement about it, and Jimmy Sommers still remains, to this day, a CEO of Wildfox.
Can a brand that markets so close to young women (and now even children), saying, “Don’t you know, Wildfox is you” be so mum about an issue that has plagued women in the fashion industry for ages? On Kim’s Tumblr, hundreds of messages from young women gush to her that her brand is their “biggest inspiration,” some even claiming that they aspire to move to Los Angeles and model for them.
But Wildfox, or even Charlotte Free, is certainly not alone in this ignorance. It is no secret that women’s magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar continue to employ Richardson, issue after issue, refusing to comment on the various petitions to ban him from the industry. Celebrities like Beyoncé, who identify themselves as a feminist, continue to take pictures with Richardson. American Apparel’s Dov Charney, who carries numerous parallels to Richardson, was let go from the company for his sexual assault cases; but was subsequently “rehired” by the brand as a consultant. UN Women also just put Jared Leto, one of the Terry Richardson’s most ardent supporters, as one of their HeforShe spokesperson. UN Women responded to an inquirer that “they were looking into the issue,” but Leto remains on their social media as the spokesperson. Similarly, many in Hollywood including Harvey Weinstein, Diane von Furstenberg, Penelope Cruz, Wes Anderson, and Darren Afronsky(who just made Noah with Emma Watson) had signed a petition to bring Roman Polanski, a rapist who drugged and sodomized a 14 year old girl, back to US because he’s a “good director.” Whoopie Goldberg openly defended Polanski, saying “it wasn’t rape-rape.” Harvey Weinstein, one of the richest man in Hollywood whose wife owns the fashion Brand Marchesa, was apparently passionate about “making calls to bring Polanski back.”
[Edited: Harvey Weinstein victim Rose Mcgowan also defended a convicted child rapist Victor Salva, saying that he is “sweet” and that it is “none of her business.” Asia Argento signed to protect Roman Polanski, and when asked about it on Twitter, blocked people mentioning it. I’m not asking victims to be “perfect angels.” I’m just recognizing that asking people to condemn one abuser while praising and defending another rapist is hypocritical. This doesn’t take away at all from their assault, but rather is a matter to discuss in a way that they are doing exactly what they condemned others for doing - protecting abusers and ignoring victims.]
So the tradition of who’s who in this love club where everyone enables racist, sexist, and criminal behaviors that hurt women, continues on. One search will lead you to the list of Hollywood “feminist icons” who sang and appeared for dictators’ birthday parties. Lena Dunham, who has identified herself openly as feminist, also faced controversy after her photo shoot with Terry Richardson, forcing her to apologize; only to pen a seriously racist essay about Tokyo, a string of xenophobic tweets about being a fundamentalist, as well as an autobiography with a predatory language(she literally uses the phrase “like a predator would”). She was, however, protected by moderation when I voiced these concerns to comment on her recent interview with Rookie Magazine, coincidentally conducted by Hollywood progeny Maude Apatow(whose parents are Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann); all of my comments were rejected or clipped out partially. When I asked actress(and Lena Dunham’s close friend) Jaime King about this hypocrisy regarding the Hollywood Feminism, she told me I “didn’t do my research” and that I was “misinformed” and blocked me on Instagram; she also deleted all of my comments asking about people protecting Hollywood rapists. Sky Ferreira, who had spoken out about her painful experiences regarding sexual assault and feminism, has also said that she will support Richardson since he is a “caring friend.” Notable models such as Abbey Lee Kershaw and Snejana Onopka continue to take pictures with Richardson, despite his notoriety. Lady Gaga, who has sung about strong women and protested against Trump, has a track record of working with R. Kelly, who had been arrested in a child pornography case and a series of alleged sex crimes; she is also one of Terry Richardson’s clients, working with him on a photo shoot and hiring him again for her photo book even after the fans protested. Should we all pretend that these famous people didn’t know any better? That they could all pretend like it’s nothing until it is someone they know? Would they also let their daughters and sons and best friends hang out with these criminals alone because they are such artists?
Underneath the ritzy and exclusive facade of celebrity and fashion, Richardson and Sommers’s cases seem to have died down. Nobody from Harper’s Bazaar, or Vogue, who previously worked with Richardson, has commented on the allegations. Neither has Wildfox. This is not unlike the controversies in Hollywood surrounding big-time directors Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. Richardson, Allen, and Polanski, as well as Charney, Richardson, R.Kelly, and numerous others are continuously protected by their celebrity peers, celebrities we idealize because they have no problem pretending like this is the norm. Because theirs is an insider’s “love club.” According to my research as of October 2014, famous brands and online blogs such as Into the Gloss, Refinery 29, Barneys New York, Agent Provocateur, and Kiki de Montparnasse follow Richardson on Twitter. In reality, why would you ever follow an alleged sex offender on a social media?
In a world where speaking out about such incidents are frowned upon and grant you the nickname of a “hater,” I can’t help but wonder: can people continue to profit exclusively from women and yet not take a strong stance on feminism? Feminism, after all, is a “radical” idea that women are human beings. And even if a brand or a celebrity does take a strong stance on feminism, which I definitely commend them for, how much should we be willing to believe about them as they continue to turn a blind eye on issues in the industry, and refuse to educate themselves? In the end, we have no way of knowing how much of them are truly inspirational behind the scenes. Love yourself, female power, they claim, pulling a thick curtain between us and them.