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Allegations of exploitation and misconduct levelled at Art School

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Former colleagues and ex-models have come forward with alleged experiences of financial, sexual, and racial misconduct – which Eden Loweth has now responded to in a statement

London fashion label Art School has come under scrutiny following a number of allegations of exploitation which began emerging on social media last week. The claims were first raised in a series of since-expired Instagram stories by former Art School models, employees, and associates including Sharon Le Grand, Alexis Meshida, and photographer Heather Glazzard. Since the initial allegations arose last week, Dazed has spoken with the people making the claims and Art School’s Eden Loweth.

Lucia Blayke, the director of queer and trans club night Harpies, who cast models for Art School’s AW21 runway show in February 2021, also shared a statement. In a post uploaded to Instagram on June 1, Blayke claimed that neither she, nor the majority of models who walked the show, had been compensated for their work.

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“Those who have been paid have only been paid after threatening the creative director, Eden Loweth, with public call outs,” Blayke said. “Not only have I not been paid for my work or time, but I’ve since had to try and deal with the 45 upset models who put their trust in me to do this show. Some of whom are trans people of colour and face larger societal issues due to marginalisation,” she continued. 

Blayke, who spent the month of January working with Art School, has said to have been let go as casting director following several attempts to secure payment. Since the initial call out, various models have come forward, sharing similar stories of working with Loweth’s team. Tyler With Rosacea, who has appeared on the Art School catwalk across several seasons, also took to Instagram to detail their alleged battle for payment. “Almost 3 months late is no excuse with their success and platform, and with such admiration to @luciablayke I know it wasn’t just me, it was everyone,” they said.

Alexis Meshida posted an Instagram reel on June 3 detailing her alleged experience of working with the brand, claiming it took her months to receive payment for walking in the AW21 show and that “Art School are exploiting some of the most vulnerable in our community, namely trans people of colour and trans women of colour”. “Even though I was paid for my part in Art School (bearing in mind it has been over five months later and also that I had to send a threatening email) I am very aware many models/creatives haven’t been paid still and many models in the past weren’t paid at all,” the model wrote in the accompanying caption, before going on to demand an apology from Loweth. 

On June 3, Blayke posted a compilation of quotes collected from ex-freelancers, models, and stylists, who, alongside claims of financial negligence, allege to have experienced racist, transphobic, and sexual misconduct while working with Art School.

Designer Michaela Stark says she worked as a seamstress for the brand throughout 2017 on an “illegal contract” – “they fired me 1 month before my contract was up, after degrading me in front of the whole team about the sexual manner in which I present myself on Instagram. They refused to pay me more than 1000 GBP for the near year of work that I did for them,” she claimed. 

Photographer Heather Glazzard added “Art School in a casting made me get naked and I was going ‘no I don’t want to,’ saying I had to take my binder off… After I brought up how uncomfortable I was, they threatened me and got me in the office to say if I told anyone I’d be f*ked”. Biogal, another Art School model, claimed to have witnessed Loweth refuse to cast an Asian model because “he looked too much like a sushi chef”.

Blayke has also alleged that, upon demanding remuneration, Loweth claimed that “they’d literally just been diagnosed with a terminal illness and was having blood transfusions due to a low blood count”. Karen Clarkson, stylist to Christina Aguilera and Rita Ora, also claimed to have been told this by the designer back in 2018. 

Since landing on the London fashion scene in 2017, Art School has become known for its diverse runways, enlisting models of all sizes, ages, races, ability, and gender to walk in its shows, and was recently announced as one of the British Fashion Council’s NEWGEN award recipients. Across the course of last week, Blayke and her peers demanded “a public apology from Art School and that all remaining people are to be paid instantly”. 

In light of these allegations, Dazed reached out to Art School and received a statement from Eden Loweth. Accepting responsibility for “the unacceptable delays in payment to suppliers, contractors, and members of the community” and claiming Art School was “working tirelessly to resolve these issues as quickly as possible”, the designer also pointed to the financial difficulties faced by fledgling labels. “The outside appearance of a brand can often mask difficult and challenging financial realities, particularly for young businesses. This has been a steep learning curve and lesson to me, and I hope other young business owners, in what the responsibilities of the role truly mean.” 

However, Loweth denied the allegations of racist, transphobic, and sexual misconduct. “The attempts to discredit my integrity and character, and as a consequence, Art School, started inside the community that I considered my extended family,” the statement continued. “I have been painted in a way that is simply untrue through snapshots of interactions taken out of context, fabricated, and the sharing of details deeply personal and intimate to myself. Parts of my community have embarked on a campaign against one of their own, and attempted to jeopardise the integrity of an ally who, since founding Art School five years ago, has relentlessly advocated for representation and change.” 

“For anyone who has been hurt by, or felt unheard through my actions – I am deeply sorry,” Loweth said as their statement came to a close. 

Responding to Loweth’s statement, Lucia Blayke said she found their apology to be “very reductive and dismissive to the people who’ve courageously came forward and shared their experiences,” adding that the process has been “very taxing for those of us involved”. “None of us wanted to make this public and a lot of us have taken big risks to our careers in doing so, but Art School was going to continue exploiting and abusing people if we didn’t stop them. This has been a long time coming,” she finished.

Read Eden Loweth’s statement in full below.

“The recent allegations made against myself and Art School have been deeply shocking and saddening. The outside appearance of a brand can often mask difficult and challenging financial realities, particularly for young businesses. This has been a steep learning curve and lesson to me, and I hope other young business owners, in what the responsibilities of this role truly mean.

I and Art School take full responsibility for the unacceptable delays in payment to suppliers, contractors and members of the community, and are working tirelessly to resolve these issues as quickly as possible. That the financial challenges for my own business over the past year have adversely affected people and caused so much struggle and upset should never have happened, and I take responsibility to anyone for whom this has been the case. 

The attempts to discredit my integrity and character, and as a consequence Art School, started inside the community that I considered my extended family. My initial reaction was to not respond whilst I addressed the issues of outstanding payments, however the allegations made since have become increasingly inflammatory and therefore have forced me to respond. It was my hope that the issue of payment, for which I accept full responsibility, could have been resolved amongst ourselves and without the need to discuss the financial position of Art School publicly which has potentially damaging effects for both the business, and the platform we have created together in it. 

I have been painted in a way which is simply untrue through snapshots of interactions taken out of context, fabricated, and the sharing of details deeply personal and intimate to myself. 

Parts of my community have embarked on a campaign against one of their own, and attempted to jeopardise the integrity of an ally who since founding Art School five years ago, has relentlessly advocated for representation and change. 

My priority right now, is the resolution of outstanding financial obligations as I know how desperately these payments are needed.

For anyone who has been hurt by, or felt unheard through my actions – I am deeply sorry.”

UPDATE: A version of this article previously stated that allegations first arose via Lucia Blayke on June 3. This article was amended to include information from Alexis Meshida and Sharon Le Grand. This article was also updated to include a response from Lucia Blayke on June 9.