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Sexual Exploitation and the     Fashion Industry

Over the years a number of individuals directly involved in the fashion world, including models themselves, have come forward to make bold claims of sexual abuse in the industry. One such individual was Karen Mulder, the 1990’s Dutch supermodel who also took up a singing career.


Karen Mulder was born in 1970 and was raised in The Hague and Voorburg, Holland. She saw an ad in a newspaper one day for Elite Model Management's "Look of the Year" contest and entered. She managed to reach the finals in Amsterdam where she came second. After her first year of modelling she started working for names such as Yves Saint Laurent, Versace and Giorgio Armani. She appeared on the covers of Vogue and Cosmopolitan and she worked alongside the top models of the day. She retired from 

modelling in 2000 and later tried her hand at acting and singing but with limited success. 


Karen Mulder's startling claims came on 31 October 2001 while being interviewed on Tout le monde en parle (Everyone is Talking About It) on French TV. In front of a live studio audience, Mulder made bold claims of sexual misuse at the hands of her modelling agency, Elite Model Management. She claimed executives at the agency had attempted to rape her and that Prince Albert of Monaco had also been involved in her sexual misuse. (Wikipedia - Karen Mulder, Depression, Breakdown and Suicide Attempt. ) She also claimed that her own father had hypnotised her at the age of two and had raped her. The show was never aired and the recording was completely erased by the television company, however a number of witnesses who had been present in the audience came forward to reveal what Mulder had claimed.

Karen Mulder, Cosmopolitan
Karen Mulder, Victoria's Secret

Mulder later repeated her claims to a weekly magazine and it was shortly after this that she was committed to a psychiatric hospital by her sister. Her five month stay at the hospital was apparently completed funded by an executive at Elite Models Management who also happened to be one of the executives Mulder had made acusations about.


On the 11 December 2002 she took an overdose of sleeping pills in an apparent suicide attempt and went into a coma. Mulder came out of the coma the very next day and made a full recovery. After the various controversial claims she made, her psychiatric treatment and then apparent suicide attempt, Mulder made a comeback in 2004 returning to singing and then in 2007 she returned to the catwalk modelling alongside the likes of Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista.

Karen Mulder, Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer

Karen Mulder with Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer displaying their newly created children's doll look-a-likes.

Another individual to speak out about the dark side of the fashion world was Louise Gagnon. An editor of a French fashion magazine and herself a former model since the age of 18, who now lives in southern California where she runs her own business making designer wedding dresses. Louise spoke of the industry wide problem of prostitution, rape and heroin addiction. Louise claimed to be a victim herself and described how she joined in with other models in shooting heroin and participating in what she described as ‘rape orgies’ involving other models and photographers. “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.” (The Fashion eZine - Prostitution in the Fashion Industry)

Amsterdam red light district

Amsterdam's red light district where, according to Louise Gagnon, some fashion models end up working between fashion shoots.

Louise related a story which exemplified just how bad the problem of prostitution is in the fashion industry, “One of my friends was out of control. She would do a fashion shoot in Paris in the afternoon or morning and hop on 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.”


Another exposé of the fashion industry is the 2011 documentary “Girl Model” which follows the recruitment of models who are as young as 13 from Siberia for the Japanese and US markets (IMBd - Girl Model). The film follows a model scout who is seeking fresh new talent and Nadya, a 13 year old girl from Siberia, to whom the world of fashion is an entirely new experience. At one point in the documentary Ashley open up and reveals the seamy side of the industry she works for. In her own words she claims that many of the girls she recruits also work as prostitutes and that at the end of the day it is easier to work as a prostitute than as a fashion model. Even though she breaks off mid sentence and doesn’t finish what she was about to say, she even intimates that fashion agencies themselves are involved in arranging dates between the girls and willing clients.

Film, Girl Model

The girls queue up to have their measurements taken to make sure they meet the requirements of the Japenese and US markets.

The documentary inevitably caused quite some controversy with some critics asking what the purpose of the film actually had been and why the participants had not been questioned more thoroughly on the subjects covered. But whichever way you look at it the documentary “Girl Model” didn’t exactly create the best of impressions as far as the world of fashion goes.


Moving onto a slightly different subject now, many commentators on the net have drawn our attention to bizarre symbolism that repeats itself in photo shoots from the fashion world. The most frequent symbol seen and which repeats itself time and time again is where the model covers a single eye either with a hand or some other inanimate object. These images can be seen on the covers of fashion magazines by respected photographers or in short videos advertising fashion products. Other symbols which are also repeated are shoots involving mannequins or where the model herself is made to look like a mannequin, or we see shattered mirrors reflecting the fractured face or body image of the model. Often all of these symbols are accompanied by psychedelic looking checkerboard floors or black and white, two tone clothing.


But we have to ask ourselves, what does this all mean? Is there anything sinister being suggested by such images?

Hidden symbolism in fashion
Cara Delivingne
Classico fishion
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