Superstar model Kate Upton has come forward with her #MeToo story, telling TIME magazine that Paul Marciano, the creative director and co-founder of Guess? Inc., began groping and sexually harassing her when she was 18 and doing her first professional modeling campaign. On January 31, Upton sent a shockwave through the modeling world when she sent out a cryptic tweet under the #MeToo hashtag, questioning why Guess was “still empowering Paul Marciano.” Speaking with TIME, Upton detailed disturbing behavior from Marciano that began on her very first day of shooting for the Guess Lingerie campaign.
“As soon as I walked in with photographer Yu Tsai, Paul came straight up to me, forcibly grabbed my breasts and started feeling them — playing with them actually. After I pushed him away, he said, ‘I’m making sure they’re real,’” Upton recalled. For the rest of the day, she alleged, he continued to touch her “in a very dominating and aggressive way … grabbing my thighs … my neck, my breasts, and smelling me.” Later, she said, he “forcibly grabbed the back of my head so that I could not move and started kissing my face and my neck.” Upton added that the violations she described all occured in front of Yu Tsai, who stayed with Upton at her request despite Marciano having asked him to leave. Yu Tsai confirmed Upton’s account to TIME.
Upton said she continued to work with Guess, and to endure abusive behavior from Marciano, until after she landed on the Sports Illustrated cover and suddenly found herself an international beauty icon. Speaking with TIME, Upton explained that models have no real recourse for sexual assault and that agencies and managers are financially incentivized to not tell their models about accusations against the designers with whom they work. Marciano has denied Upton’s claims as “absolutely false” and “preposterous.” Upton also spoke about the impact that Marciano’s abuse had on her psyche, and shared her thoughts about the treatment that many models are conditioned to expect.
A growing movement led by U.S. model Cameron Russell has seen young models anonymously sharing stories of alleged assault by photographers on Instagram, and major figures including Naomi Campbell and Ashley Graham have begun speaking out about the prevalence of sexual abuse and assault in the fashion industry. Model Sara Ziff, who said she first began facing sexual harassment at modeling shoots when she was 14, has also founded the Model Alliance to help models fight for fair treatment. In November, the Model Alliance teamed up with New York State Assemblywoman Nily Rozic to introduce the Model’s Harassment Protection Act, a bill that would hold designers, retailers, and agencies accountable if they allowed their models to be abused.