The Quiet Return of Bruce Weber and Mario Testino

Man About Town, an independent but increasingly influential fashion magazine that publishes twice a year, shows nearly as much skin as it does clothing.

In one shoot from its current issue, Cesar Vicente sits shirtless atop a table, giving bedroom eyes. In another, a handsome dancer disrobes in the shower until he is totally naked, his hand barely covering his genitals.

The photographs, which appear alongside advertisements from Prada, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, run more than 60 pages and were shot by Bruce Weber, the fashion photographer who was accused in 2018 of allegations of sexual misconduct by more than a dozen models who spoke to The New York Times.

Mr. Weber had shot for publications like Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, W and Glamour for decades; Condé Nast, the parent company of those magazines, said they would stop hiring him. He was dropped by Ralph Lauren, Abercrombie & Fitch and Versace. All had employed him for ad campaigns. Mr. Weber, through spokesmen, has consistently denied all accusations.

In other industries, powerful men trying to recover from accusations of sexual misconduct have followed a basic playbook: Acknowledge wrongdoing, disappear from view and make a significant appeal for forgiveness by one’s accusers. Post nothing to Instagram that signals an emotion other than regret.

But this business operates according to different rules.

Mr. Weber is still invited to movie premieres and dinners hosted by big name industry players. He has recently had work appear in other emerging fashion magazines. He posts old pictures to Instagram, where they garner likes from Nicolas Ghesquière (the artistic director at Louis Vuitton), Carine Roitfeld (the former editor of French Vogue), and Marie-Amelie Sauvé (a well-regarded stylist).

He remains the defendant in a pending lawsuit filed in 2017 by Jason Boyce, a former model who said that Mr. Weber groped and kissed him during a test shoot, the industry’s equivalent of an audition. He is party to another, brought by five unnamed models who filed a federal complaint against him in 2018.

Jonathan Bernstein, an employee of Mr. Weber, said in a statement this week that Mr. Weber “is looking forward to having his day in court.”

Mr. Weber, he said, thanks “his studio, his family, his friends and the people who love his work for their support.”

These supporters say they are frustrated that a mild mannered guy who devotes enormous amounts of time and money to charity is benched. They point out that the fashion world is filled with characters who treat subordinates badly, though the abuse inflicted is nonsexual.

They point out that the attorney for the plaintiffs in both suits against Mr. Weber is Lisa Bloom, whose reputation has been shaped in part through her representation of tabloid characters like the model Blac Chyna and the disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

And they want to compare him to powerful men who are experiencing rebounds — but most of those have first acknowledged and apologized for wrongdoing. So Mr. Weber exists in a state of demi-cancellation. He is no longer the giant of yore, but numerous modeling agents remain willing, even eager, to work with him.

Stephanie Grill heads the men’s division at Click Models in New York. She said she “doesn’t know” if any of her clients were among those who accused Mr. Weber of misconduct last year. But she said she had no hesitation about sending models for castings with Mr. Weber earlier this year when his office called to say he was planning a shoot.

“The guys are aware of the allegations,” she said. “They love working with him.”

She pointed to Jacob Lewandowski, a 26-year-old model who ultimately got cast in one of the Man About Town spreads and had just been telling her how beautiful the pictures were. “He had a great experience,” she said. “I would love for you to talk to him.”

Mr. Lewandowski did have positive things to say about Mr. Weber and the pictures that had been taken of him.

He said none of Mr. Weber’s famous “breathing exercises” took place at his casting.

But Mr. Lewandowski also said he didn’t know who Mr. Weber was when he went for his first meeting. “She said ‘You have a go-see at,’ I think it was 10 a.m. ‘Can you make it?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’”

Apparently Ms. Grill had not told him there were numerous allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Weber.

“That’s possible,” Ms. Grill said, in a follow-up conversation. “But before he worked with him, he knew and made it very clear he was perfectly fine with it.”

Huw Gwyther, the editorial and creative director of Man About Town, wrote in an email that he has gone back and forth about publishing Mr. Weber’s current shoots. But earlier in his career Mr. Gwyther had worked for Mario Testino, another top level photographer whose career was upended by sexual misconduct allegations.

“And my personal experience of working with him (for three and a half years) was nothing but absolutely positive,” he said. That “probably had an influence” on why he chose to run Mr. Weber’s work, Mr. Gwyther said.

“I don’t honestly know if I made the ‘right’ decision,” he said. “But it is a fact that I have published his work.

“I am a publisher,” he continued. “I am obviously not a judge, nor serving on a jury. I believe in everyone’s right to due process.”


Credit…Jacqueline Harriet

Another reason Mr. Gwyther offered for why he had chosen to publish is that the shoot was not commissioned by the magazine. Mr. Weber, he said, was “not paid for his work.”

Instead, he completed the shoots on his own and then submitted them for publication — free of charge.

The sight of Mr. Weber’s name in his magazine has revived arguments about the fashion business’s overall response to the #MeToo movement.

“Nothing has changed,” said Sara Ziff, a model who worked with Mr. Weber on one of his Abercrombie shoots (an environment she described as unprofessional). She now serves as the executive director of the Model Alliance, a nonprofit devoted to combating industry abuse.

Part of the reason, Ms. Ziff said, is that models in the United States are generally considered independent contractors and don’t have the kind of union representation actors have.

But it is also true that fashion is perhaps the only business where women in front of the camera make more money than men. Disposability feeds abuse. There is also an expectation that men, by virtue of their physical size, can fend for themselves during unwanted advances, despite imbalances in power.

Agents often operate according to the principle that models ought to be “comfortable” enough with themselves to set their own parameters with photographers, no matter the consequences.

Christian Alexander, an agent at Front Management in Miami represents two models in Mr. Weber’s Man About Town feature. In an interview, he complained that the press is “always focusing on the negative” and said that he had never had a client accuse Mr. Weber of misconduct.

Mr. Alexander then amended that last part. He had previously worked with Mark Ricketson. In 2017, Mr. Ricketson cried during a news conference as he alleged sexual misconduct by Mr. Weber during a test shoot. Mr. Weber has denied the allegations.

Mr. Ricketson said that he hadn’t told his agents about the experience at the time, because, “like other young men,” he knew that “if we protested or refused that we would be blacklisted, not just from the photo shoot, but likely from our agency.”

Mr. Alexander said he considers Mr. Ricketson an opportunist and a fraud. “When I saw that video with those fake crocodile tears, I was shocked,” he said. “It blew my mind.”

Mr. Alexander also wasn’t particularly concerned that four models told The Advocate in 2018 that they had been sexually assaulted by Rick Day, a New York photographer who is frequently selected by agencies to do tear sheets of models.

As Mr. Alexander saw it, Mr. Day simply has an off-color, truck driver-ish way of speaking. He’s “old school,” he said. “Anyone can take anything out of context and reword it.”

So his agency continues to work with Mr. Day and Mr. Weber.

“Why is this even still relevant news?” Mr. Alexander asked. “This happened, like, two years ago.”

“It’s frustrating,” Ms. Ziff said, “but unfortunately not surprising to hear the lack of sympathy for this young population of people who are uniquely vulnerable to sexual assault in an industry without any enforceable standards or genuine accountability. I’m glad you got that on the record because that’s what’s often said behind closed doors.”

Mr. Weber is not the only fashion photographer accused of harassment or exploitation who appears to be making inroads at reviving his career. Two weeks ago, Kim Kardashian posted a lush, black and white photograph of herself and one of her daughters to Instagram. She credited Mr. Testino with the recent photo.

Diet Prada, an Instagram account that serves as a kind of industry watchdog, posted a screengrab next to comments Ms. Kardashian previously made professing support for victims of sexual harassment.

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