Last week, following multiple Daily Beast reports on accusations of sexual misconduct by Guess founder Paul Marciano, the fashion brand unveiled its new Safe Spaces program to give its models “innovative skill-based training, professional mentorship and emotional/mental health resources.”
The press release announcing the initiative made no mention of the numerous allegations against Marciano—including sexual assault—and included only vague allusions to “the pressures, struggles, and triumphs of the fashion world” while touting the involvement of victims-rights attorney Micha Star Liberty.
But the program is little more than a public-relations stunt, in the opinion of one prominent models’ workplace rights group as well as several of the women who’ve accused Marciano of misconduct—including one former Guess model who is coming forward for the first time.
“This program is created at the same time myself and the other victims of Paul Marciano are forgotten, denied, invalidated and further victimized,” said a former Guess model, anonymously identified as “Jane Doe,” who, as The Daily Beast reported, sued Marciano and Guess earlier this year for an alleged sexual assault in February 2020. “Where was our support, protection and community within Guess when we desperately needed to be heard? When we tried to use our voice to speak out about what happened to us?” (Marciano and Guess have denied all claims against him.)
“Any program that continues to harbor a known predator like Mr. Marciano does not create a ‘safe space’ for models to seek support,” the Model Alliance wrote in a statement on Monday. “Further, a program offering models ‘skill-based training, professional mentorship and emotional/mental health resources’ puts the burden of protection on the models themselves and not on the systems of power that enable such abuse.” The worker-led organization called the Guess initiative a “charade” and declared the only way for the fashion company to protect its models is to “remove Paul Marciano immediately.”
And former Guess model Gwen Van Meir, who claimed to The Daily Beast that Marciano sexually harassed her last summer, agreed.
“In my opinion, Guess can never be a ‘safe space’ so long as Paul Marciano still works there,” the 21-year-old model said. “This transparent attempt at a PR campaign puts a burden on models to protect themselves from industry abuse, rather than dealing with the real problem: Marciano’s sexual harassment of models and Guess’s consistent enablement of his predatory behavior. If Guess really cared about protecting models, they would have fired Paul Marciano after the first complaint of his sexual harassment.”
According to Van Meir, during a Guess photo shoot—her eleventh campaign for the brand—last July, Marciano approached her when she was seated alone and began complimenting her work before allegedly asking for a kiss. “He was pointing at his cheek. I was really hesitant and started feeling super uncomfortable, so I said, ‘Sure,’” she recalled of the alleged incident, which took place at a house in Europe. “I remember him bending down wanting me to kiss him on the cheek, so I kissed him on the cheek and then he asked me for one more, so I kissed him again. And I just remember feeling icky and it was also right in the peak of the pandemic, and I was told before I was booked that everyone would be properly masked and taking extra precautions.”
Following the alleged unwanted kiss, Van Meir said, Marciano approached her that same day while she was shooting in just a robe. “My bathrobe was draping off my shoulder, leaving it exposed and he looks down at it and strokes my shoulder with his fingers directly on my skin—even thinking about it now, you get a weird feeling in your stomach.” She continued: “It made me so uncomfortable because I was in a robe with nothing on underneath, and I knew he wasn’t just adjusting my robe.”
“He had no reason to be touching my bare skin,” she emphasized. “I’ve been modeling for eight years and the only people who should be touching you are the stylists and makeup artists.”
Marciano and Guess did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.
During that same shoot, Van Meir said, a male colleague—whom she declined to identify for fear of personal retaliation—made her uncomfortable with more unwanted touching. “He would hold my hand for the shoot but when we were done shooting he would continue to hold my hand, and rub his finger in my palm,” she recounted.
And so on Feb. 5 of this year, Van Meir, who was first hired by Guess when she was 17 years old, filed a complaint with the Guess Board of Directors about Marciano and the unnamed colleague’s on-set behavior.
The Daily Beast obtained and reviewed the document, along with Guess’ March 9 response, in which the company stated that they had contacted the male colleague to remind him of their code of ethics. However, the company did not address Van Meir’s claims against Marciano.
Since making her internal complaint to Guess, Van Meir has not worked for the clothing brand again and has retained the services of attorney Lisa Bloom, who also represents Jane Doe.
Van Meir is just the latest woman to come forward accusing Marciano of misconduct. The fashion mogul previously resigned as Guess CEO after the company paid out settlements to four women who’d accused him of misconduct, and after supermodel Kate Upton alleged that he groped and forcibly kissed her. A decade before that, a former Guess model sued Marciano for harassment, but the complaint was dismissed, possibly due to an out-of-court settlement, The New York Times reported.
In January, Jane Doe sued Guess and Marciano, claiming he enticed her to an empty apartment last year under the guise of a mentoring conversation but instead forced her to perform oral sex on him. And earlier this month, The Daily Beast reported the allegations of Eileen Toal, a former employee of the Marciano family’s one-time boutique store who claimed that, in 1983, Paul sexually assaulted her in a car while she was dating his brother Maurice.
Marciano has denied all of the allegations against him (or, in the case of Toal’s claim, did not respond to requests for comment at all). And even after he stepped down as chief executive, Guess quietly reinstated him in 2019 as a chief creative officer, despite an internal probe acknowledging his “poor judgment” and “plausible allegations of improper conduct.”
"Guess is enabling his sexual misconduct in the workplace,” Van Meir declared. After reading various reports on the allegations against Marciano, she said, “I realized he was supposed to step down in 2018 after Kate Upton and other women accused him of sexual misconduct so I’m just wondering why did the Guess board of directors allow him to come back and work up close with models, and ignore my complaints? My hope is Guess will take immediate action to stop these occurrences from happening on set by having Paul immediately step down.”
“Had Guess fired Marciano when it should have, in 1993 when three women complained, or in 2007 when another one did, or in 2018 when six women did, Gwen could have been spared,” said Bloom, who represents both Jane Doe and Van Meir, who has not filed any legal action against Guess or Marciano. “I salute Gwen’s courage in coming out on the record in the hopes of protecting other women from this multiple accused serial predator. We will not rest until Marciano is stopped.”
The New York-based model said she decided to go public with her experience “because the more we silence sexual harassment the more it gets normalized, and that’s only going to make the problem worse. Models are professionals; we’re not sex objects. And we should be treated with respect.”
Ultimately, Bloom said, “If Guess wants to create ‘safe spaces’ for models they need to fire Paul Marciano. Anything else is just PR.”