Europe is a wonderful place to be a fashion designer, photographer or model. Or so the fashion industry tells us. There are always plenty of opportunities for a pretty girl to make some money showing off some clothes and some skin.
But not according to former fashion editor Louise Gagnon and several models who have since quit the industry and have described as the seedy underbelly of the fashion industry. An industry filled with illicit drugs, prostitution, forced anorexia and mental/physical abuse.
Louise now lives in sunny south California where she makes custom wedding dresses for high paying clients, but her introduction to the fashion industry was as a model during the 1980s. She was 18 years old when she began modelling in Paris in 1983, and while her time on the runways and in front of the camera was short she managed to leverage her way into an assistant editor position at a French fashion magazine, but not before becoming addicted heroin and doing a variety of photo shoots she’d rather not remember and has difficulty discussing.
“I was raped regularly. Sometimes multiple times per week. I was depressed all the time and the only thing that made me feel better was the heroin. It didn’t stop when I stopped modelling either. I was in some bad relationships with the photographers who I had met years earlier and I was involved with them professionally so I had to ignore my feelings. It was complicated and I became more and more disgusted at myself everyday. I finally decided I needed to quit before I killed myself.” – Louise Gagnon.
Louise got help with her drug addiction and since quitting the industry in 1999 she has spoken out from time to time on issues of prostitution, rape and drug addiction in the fashion industry. She says she is not alone with these problems either and says that the problems are industry wide and recalls shooting heroin with models and being in “rape orgies” with male friends of the photographers and other models.
“One of my friends was out of control. She would do a fashion shoot in Paris in the afternoon or morning and hop a train to Amsterdam so she could be in the redlight district by evening. She thought of it as a career, but when her body turned up in a canal in 1998 I started getting really paranoid. I mean, that could have easily been me.” – Louise Gagnon.
Hardly the only one speaking out on this matter Carré Otis is a former supermodel who survived anorexia, heroin/cocaine addiction, and repeated rapes. Prior to her 1999 heart seizure her drug addiction was getting steadily worse, she was surviving on green tea and small doses of vegetarian food, and she was easily persuaded into drugs and unsolicited sex because she couldn’t say no to the people paying for her expensive lifestyle.
Her abusive husband Mickey Rourke didn’t help either. Rourke was jealous of Carré Otis’s relationships with several fashion photographers (several of which raped her) and beat her on multiple occasions.
In 1991 Carré Otis got a gunshot wound to her shoulder during a visit with Rourke in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She later claimed that the .357 Magnum went off when she dropped her purse on a table.
On July 18th 1994, Otis was slapped, knocked down, and kicked in a Hollywood office by Mickey Rourke. Rourke was charged but Otis refused to testify against him in court. They divorced the same year.
Following her divorce her career as a fashion supermodel continued to take off, but her private life was one of constant drug addiction and repeated rapes from people she was employed with.
The fashion industry likes to keep a lid on these events however and no “reputable fashion magazine” would dare talk out against all the problems going on in the industry. Its not so much that the fashion industry is a prostitution ring in disguise, but that it is a group of people that collectively has decided to exploit the models sexually and mentally using a combination of peer pressure, money, drugs and mental mind games.
That combination is turning out to be lethal for the models who get over their heads with anorexia problems and drug addiction, but adding prostitution/rape to the list of personal problems just makes things so much more complicated.
To leave the industry a model would have to simultaneously cut off all contact with the people who are a bad influence. This can be done as Carré Otis has already demonstrated.
This process can be made easier by trying to change your focus in the industry. Carré Otis put on 30 lbs and became a model for larger sizes while Louise Gagnon switched to fashion magazines and switched again to the wedding industry. Obviously its difficult to leave the industry entirely, but there are other aspects of the industry that aren’t so corrupted by wealth and power.
And the Reversal
Fashion models aren’t the only people with this unusual problem. In 2007 Marie Claire published an article about Brazilian prostitutes who have quite the sex industry in favour of the fashion industry. The article focused on the new fashion label Daspu (short for ‘das putas’ which means ‘from the whores’) and a mockery of Daslu, Brazil’s most expensive fashion boutique. All of the models and designers for Daspu are former prostitutes who sold their bodies for as little as $30/hour.
Prostitution is not illegal in Brazil, but the Penal Code criminalises ‘agents of prostitution’ – pimps, brothel owners and madams. Daspu hopes to help prostitutes to get out of their abusive relationships with their pimps and try something that doesn’t involve doing cheap tricks for money. The brainchild is former prostitute former prostitute Gabriela Leite, now 54, who became a prostitute at the age of 20, but later became political active.
“I became politically active in 1978, when police murdered my friend for being a prostitute. That year, there was a police crackdown and we were banned from leaving our building, but my friend went out anyway. They arrested her, took her to the police station and beat her to death.” – Gabriela Leite.
Leite organized a protest agains the police and the officer who beat her friend to death was eventually dismissed from the force. Since then she has kept on marching and trying to help prostitutes secure more rights, more safety and to help them get out of the business. Although certainly not the stay-at-home kind Gabriela Leite now has two daughters and a granddaughter and continues to fight to change the system.
Not all fashion models are prostitute (or former prostitutes like the example above), but when you look at some of the centerfolds models do for men’s magazines you realize that some of the models are taking it a step farther into the porn industry. They aren’t even marketing a fashion article or perfume anymore, they’re marketing themselves as sex objects. Supermodel Tila Tequila Nugyen for example has openly embraced the porn industry and is trying to market herself as a supermodel, a porn star and a musician.
Lest we forget we now live in an era where celebrity sex idols (ie. Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson) routinely make homemade sex videos that accidentally get leaked to the public and despite this turns them into even bigger celebrities. In Paris Hilton’s case it made her career and she has since leveraged herself into fashion and music deals