Style & Fashion

‘Rolling Stone’ & Hearst’s Deafening Silence on Terry Richardson

Date:
October 26, 2017

On Thursday, i-D magazine, one of the world’s most influential fashion and style magazines, said its longstanding professional relationship with photographer Terry Richardson was at an end. A source at the British magazine, which was founded in 1980 and is now owned by Vice Media, told The Daily Beast that it had no plans to work with Richardson again.

The move by i-D was the latest domino to fall for Richardson after his blacklisting by Condé Nast International and its stable of magazines, including Vogue and GQ.

The allegations of Richardson’s improper behavior toward models—he admits to having sex with them, but says that it is consensual—re-emerged in the wake of the sexual abuse and harassment scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein.

As revealed by The Daily Beast, brands like Valentino, Bulgari, and Diesel followed Condé Nast’s lead.

But how imperiled is Richardson? None of those blacklisting him have given extensive explanations as to why. No interviews with editors or company owners have been granted.

If the fashion world is making a judgment on Richardson’s behavior, it is not vocalizing much beyond businesslike statements. For an industry that relies on the custom and trust of women, the silence when it comes to the alleged behavior of a figure like Richardson is telling.

Some have questioned why it has taken the Weinstein scandal to apparently act as the catalyst for collective action to be taken. The stories of Richardson’s alleged behavior are not new.

This sudden flurry of professional rejections has come in the wake of a much-circulated Sunday Times piece questioning the fashion world’s continued silence around Richardson.

Even this week of rejections of Richardson has been tentative, and the silence from other big players—like Hearst Magazines in the U.S. and Rolling Stone—has been deafening. The Daily Beast has repeatedly sought clarification from both, only to be met with silence. (Update: WWD reported late Thursday that “sources” at Hearst and The Wall Street Journal’s luxury WSJ supplement said they would no longer be working with Richardson.)

On the part of Hearst, this is especially puzzling as there presently appears to be a disconnect between the U.K. and U.S.

In the U.K., the company released this statement: “Since Justine Picardie was appointed Editor-in-Chief of Harper’s Bazaar in 2012 the magazine has not worked with Terry Richardson. During Anne-Marie Curtis’ 13-years tenure at Elle as Fashion Director and as current Editor-in-Chief, the brand has not worked with him. Esquire worked with him once in 2014 and once in 2012, but has no plans to work with him again. None of our other brands have worked with him, and none of them have any plans to in the future.”

Picardie also appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, where she said: “He’s never made any secret of his images—they’ve appeared in a coffee table book and in exhibitions. That very overtly sexualized version of women was something I didn’t feel happy with. In the past I’ve never made a secret about my feelings about his work and have had probably arguments with certain other editors and commissioning editors within the industry where I said I didn’t like it, I found it troubling.”

In the U.S., however, Hearst has stayed, at the time of writing at least, publicly quiet. Neither the major magazine group nor the legendary Rolling Stone have said whether they will continue to use the photographer.

The absence of anyone from Hearst U.S. or Rolling Stone prepared to speak about Richardson could imply a few things:

  • Yes, they will continue to use Richardson, and do not want to say so right now, and hope this all goes away and so they can use his work as normal;
  • There is a fairly intense internal debate going on within both organizations as to what they should do next, and the delayed announcements would imply significant disagreement internally on how to proceed;
  • The editors within Hearst and Rolling Stone who work with him like Richardson’s work, and want to continue to use him. They just don’t want to tell the public that, or explain their decision;
  • They plan to discontinue their working relationship with Richardson, though will do so quietly.

The silence is especially strange when it comes to Hearst, which counts among its stable Cosmopolitan, the most proudly feminist of magazines, and which this week has carried no news articles about the Condé Nast boycott, or the flurry of brands turning their backs on Richardson. (It has carried articles about Richardson before, and has covered the Weinstein scandal.)

Apart from a single statement, stoutly denying any wrongdoing as he has always done, Richardson has yet to say anything. One wonders if, as in times gone past, Richardson and his magazine supporters are hoping that this latest storm blows over, and they can return to outrageous fashion shoots as normal.

If Hollywood has met Harvey Weinstein’s actions with voluble condemnation, the fashion world has reacted to the latest Terry Richardson controversy in a much more qualified and restrained way. It is not wholly willing to make him a pariah.

If the collective corporate restraint and silence is a guide, Planet Fashion seems to want to keep its options open. It has done this before with Richardson, even when women came forward to tell their stories to publications including Jezebel.

A wider nervousness perhaps belies this. Terry Richardson is only one man, one photographer. Those in fashion may be nervously contemplating, as they have observed in Hollywood and the media world in recent days, more revelations, more names, more abuse and harassment accusations, more scandal.

What else is there to be uncovered in how this industry, and those in power in the industry, treat women—and who has been complicit in that in the pursuit of their own profits and ambition? If the questions raised about sexual abuse and harassment in the fashion industry mean the industry has to radically change, how willing is it to do that?

Richardson’s photographs are central to what fashion is: the business of selling clothes to women, and using fantasy and glamor to do so. Sexual abuse and harassment is, by contrast, all too real.

The measured rejection of Richardson by some this week, the silence of others and the shuffling of positions among magazines and brands, show that the dollar still reigns supreme—even when an industry reliant on selling a beautiful image is confronted by real-world ugliness, and a test of its own moral character.