Skeezy Guy Syndrome: Where Porn Meets Fashion

Early on Friday, Page Six reported that photographer Terry Richardson found himself at the wrong end of a tongue-lashing from supermodel Ria Rasmussen at a March 8 fashion event in Paris.

Rasmussen, upset that she’d been featured in Richardson’s 2004 book “Terryworld” alongside young-looking (and just plain young) women depicted in compromising and sexually implicit positions, told the photographer she found his work “utterly degrading.”

“I told him what you do is completely degrading to women,” she recounted to Page Six. “[I said] I hope you know you only [bleep] girls because you have a camera, lots of fashion contacts and get your pictures in Vogue.”

As far as I’m concerned, Rasmussen is not wrong. Richardson is part of a particularly insulting subset of the fashion industry — a group I like to call: The Skeezy Guy. In an industry known, if not quite lambasted for its overuse of underage girls, The Skeezy Guy is an unfortunately prevalent phenomenon. Generically identified as middle-aged modelling agents who take advantage of impressionable and barely-teenaged girls who are often countries away from home, The Skeezy Guy actually comes in many different forms — one perfect example of which is Terry Richardson.

Richardson is known for his over-saturated, Polaroid-esque and often very provocative images featuring beautiful young things in varying states of undress. (Sometimes props are involved; Richardson seems to have a particular fondness for ice cream cones. Also: bukkake.)

While provocation certainly falls under fashion’s purview, provocation with no purpose — or, worse yet, at the expense of dignity — is just cheap and often offensive.

Richardson’s styling as well as his choice of subject, which Rasmussen describes as “girls who appear underage, abused, look like heroin addicts,” are becoming more and more ubiquitous. The most obvious doppelganger is, of course, American Apparel, whose founder Dov Charney just so happens to bear an eerie resemblance to Richardson.


This thing looks like that thing: Terry Richardson and Dov Charney

American Apparel’s in-house advertising team (art-directed, naturally, by Charney) equally blurs the line between pornography and fashion photography — so much so that a recent ad was banned in Britain for “sexualizing a child.” The “child” was, in fact, a 23-year-old model, but it was no accident that she looked younger than 16.

Charney, who at one point faced more than five sexual harrassment lawsuits in a three-year period, often argues that he’s empowering women and celebrating their sexuality. (“Some of us love sluts,” he once claimed during a legal deposition.) Richardson does the same. And these two are not alone. Joining them in my personal Skeevy Guy Hall of Fame is Purple magazine editor Olivier Zahm.

Zahm, who also runs the mag’s blog Purple Diary, often features decidedly NSFW images of women flashing their chests or rolling around an office space on the site. As for why, Zahm recently explained the inspiration for Purple Diary to Style.com:

To me love and sex is the most beautiful thing on earth, you know. It’s more beautiful than a landscape, so I love to keep pictures of the girls in these private moments because they are giving you the most beautiful side of themselves. It’s like a gift from God. It’s beautiful. I’m not New Age, I’m not mystical, I just really love it, and it’s so beautiful to capture with a camera that I really want to share that, you know…And also, Purple is a lifestyle. With my magazine, what I want to do is personally to be more free, and I want people to be more free, to open their possibility of contact, of sex, of love. I want that. This is important to me. I consider that Purple is a free lifestyle. Not in a stupid way, not in a childish or immature way, in a mature way now because I’m 45, 46. So the blog is also this vocation to see what constructs a lifestyle, to see what could be. If my life would be perfect, it would look like the Purple Diary.

While it’s wonderful that these men are so madly in love with women, I just can’t help but wish they’d want to celebrate more than just the female form — or, barring that, celebrate it in a less degrading way.

Unfortunately, one of the key attributes of The Skeezy Guy seems to be cowardice. When confronted by Rasmussen’s ire, Richardson chose to just run away. The next day, Rasmussen’s agency received phone calls from the spurned photographer claiming he’d been slandered in front of his “clients.” As Rasmussen put it, “It was the most cowardly thing I have ever seen.”

But the fault (and cowardice) doesn’t only lie with these men; until the rest of the industry realizes that blow jobs, though perhaps effective, aren’t necessarily the best way to sell products, men like Richardson, Charney, and Zahm will always have a home in fashion.

Front page thumbnail image by Terry Richardson.

Related Power Grid Profiles:

Terry Richardson
Dov Charney
Olivier Zahm

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