On Friday, we wondered what would happen to Terry Richardson, if anything, in light of the recent allegations of sexual harassment.
We're still waiting for a model to take legal action. So far it's more, "He made me feel dirty," than, "He forced me to do something I said no to." The most disturbing part of the talk is the suggestion that minors are involved. So far, no one under the age of 18 has accused Richardson of inappropriate behavior, but given the average age of models in fashion, speculation is inevitable.
A few of the industry insiders we polled on Friday suggested that the actual problem's a total lack of rules regarding young models in New York. Many point to Paris, where models under 16 can't work on Sundays, or do shows after 9PM, and must be paid for their work (shearling Balenciaga doesn't count).
So what if those laws were instituted in New York and London, too? Would it work?
One industry vet, who put in years at Ford, says, "Agencies have TOTALLY lied about a girl's age - on BOTH sides of the equation - wanting to make her seem younger or older. Girls who are 12 or 14 are told to tell potential clients that they are 16. Girls who are 24 are told to tell people that they are 18 or 19. It happens all the time. If there was an actual law, it would change everything...the agencies would be under obligation to provide proof of age."
"There are ways around it, I'm sure...like the working visa issue. There are girls who can't legally work in the US but they manage to do it anyway," he continues.
If there was a law, who would police it? It'd probably depend upon an honor system: magazine editors, stylists, photographers, and most importantly agencies, would be responsible for making sure rules were followed.
Another insider-- an incredibly successful casting agent--also points to Paris as a good example. Of the lack of rules in New York she says, "On the one hand this is beneficial because new designers get a chance to show with less resources, giving everyone equal opportunities. And the girls get a shot at exposure, since there are so many people showing in New York. It's a good starting point for their modeling career. On the flip side however, this is like "abuse," having girls go to fittings at 4 AM, having them run around without supervision at 15 years old, working for no money."
But at the end she concludes, "I don't think we should have models start at 18 years old. They can start at any age, but there should be some protection."
Meanwhile, the fact that a few of the agents I contacted for this post didn't even know what "Terry Richardson mess" I was talking about just goes to show how little effect this will have on the photographer's career, unless of course someone actually files charges. (Regarding fashion editorial work at least--he may face more severe consequences with his commercial clients.)
If girls under the age of 18 want to model in New York, they should be allowed to, but we'd also advocate a strict set of rules regulating their hours and wages - like those controlling minors working in any other industry. Ultimately, the responsibility for their safety lies with the girls, their parents, their agents, and of course, the people with whom the models are working should take the models' youth into consideration. But if that's not working, formal guidelines must be set.