The most public moment in the fashion industry calendar has arrived at a moment when the industry is in turmoil. The Bottega Veneta catwalk show, held at the American Stock Exchange on Friday night, opened New York fashion week just three weeks after Mario Testino and Bruce Weber, two of the most powerful photographers in the American fashion industry and front row regulars, faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct, which they have denied. The most hotly debated issues of this week will not be hemlines, but whether an industry facing its own #MeToo moment can retain its dignity in the oversexed and underdressed environment of fashion week.


The blackout on the Golden Globes red carpet, when actresses wore black as a statement of feminist solidarity, proved the power of fashion as a lever to engineer change. Last week it was announced that the Baftas, which will be held during London fashion week, would have the same dress code. Yet internally, the fashion industry is proving slow to embrace the collective mood of reflection and re-evaluation that the red carpet blackouts signify in the film community. While Condé Nast International and major brands have cut ties with the named photographers for the foreseeable future, a root-and-branch overhaul of an industry that the Vogue cover girl Edie Campbell described in an open letter to Womenswear Daily as “too accepting of abuse in all its manifestations” has not been instigated. “The ritual humiliation of models, belittling of assistants, power plays and screaming fits … we have come to see this as part of the job,” wrote Campbell.


The activist Myriam Chalek is one of those using the spotlight of fashion week to fight complacency in the industry. Her event, the Time’s Up Show, is a catwalk show that doubles as a protest, with models sharing their experiences of sexual harassment. Chalek told the Daily Beast she chose a fashion show format for the event because “many times [women] get blamed for what happened to them. There is a strong connection between the clothes that somebody is wearing and the blame that society puts on the victims.” The Council of Fashion Designers of America has moved to address an issue that has long affronted models’ dignity. For the first time, models will be entitled to private changing areas backstage, a departure from an industry-wide norm in which models are required to change out of their catwalk outfits and into their own clothes in the same backstage area used by designers as a post-event meet-and-greet area and for media interviews. The CFDA has partnered with the advocacy group Model Alliance to provide working models with a respectful and safe working environment.