Despite the numerous sexual misconduct allegations against Guess co-founder Paul Marciano, the fashion industry has stayed relatively quiet. According to Chris Applebaum, a prominent photographer who has worked with Guess models, that’s because agents and models fear running afoul of a powerful figure like Marciano—despite his alleged “predatory” practices being an “open secret” within the industry, Applebaum said.
Applebaum—a famed music video director and the creator and director of EATS, an Instagram-based video series and lingerie brand with more than 685,000 followers—said that after he publicly shared The Daily Beast’s reporting on a sexual assault accusation against Marciano, from a former Guess model identified in her lawsuit as “Jane Doe,” he received several calls and messages from colleagues essentially telling him to shut up. The photographer also told The Daily Beast that he has personally witnessed alleged misconduct by Marciano and his pals.
After posting one article about the allegations to the EATS account’s Instagram stories, Applebaum said agents called him to demand he take down the post, and some models took the unprecedented step of asking for their images—which Applebaum filmed and owned—to be taken down. “I had three models asked to have their videos removed from my channel and two agents asked to remove videos, and DMs to the effect of ‘You should keep your mouth shut,’” he recalled. “I had one agent who called and was asking me, essentially, ‘Hey, I noticed you’ve gotten some stuff of our model up there [on your page] and I would love for you to take her down off of your Instagram, and I would love for you to run stuff past us before you post.’”
Agents and models bristled at a photographer publicly posting about Marciano because, the photographer said, the Guess mogul still holds immense industry power. “It’s understood why [no one speaks out]. There’s something to protect: their relationship with Guess,” he said. “There is a cachet to be a Guess model. The campaigns are iconic. There are financial benefits because they’re booking paid jobs, but there’s more cachet for other brands and you’re in print magazines and billboards. [Modeling for Guess] bodes well for booking other fashion work.”
Over the past four months, Marciano has been accused of sexual misconduct by several women, including Van Meir, who alleged he engaged in inappropriate touching at a shoot in Europe, and the former Guess model pseudonymously identified as “Jane Doe,” who sued the fashion mogul and Guess for allegedly bringing her to an empty apartment under the guise of career mentorship but instead forcing her to perform oral sex on him. And early last month, The Daily Beast reported the allegations of Eileen Toal, a former Marciano family employee who alleged that Paul sexually assaulted her in a car while she was dating his brother Maurice back in 1983.
In 2018, Marciano resigned as Guess CEO after supermodel Kate Upton alleged that he groped her and after the company paid out settlements to four other accusers. He was quietly reinstated to company leadership in 2019, despite an internal investigation conceding his “poor judgment.”
Marciano has denied all of the allegations against him or, in regards to Toal’s and Van Meir’s claims, did not respond at all. He and Guess did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comments on this story as well.
Applebaum, who has worked with at least a dozen Guess models on his EATS channel, told The Daily Beast that the allegations—and the seemingly industry-wide silence about them—have been unsurprising. The photographer claimed to have witnessed allegedly predatory behavior in the past from Marciano and his pals.
“There was a dinner where a young model who didn’t speak English was there with one of Marciano’s photographers. The photographer called Paul and said, ‘Oh, yeah, her boobs are fantastic. No, no they’re natural. You’ll love them.’ Then he started laughing and said, ‘She has no idea next week [Marciano’s] cock will be in her mouth,’” Applebaum recalled. “The girl had no idea what they were saying and was just nodding. It was disgusting.”
Appelbaum further claimed that at least five models have independently confided to him their experiences with an alleged “recruitment” process in which Marciano arranges one-on-one meetings with prospective Guess girls.
"[A] photographer does test shoots with girls nude,” Applebaum explained. If Marciano approves of those images, Applebaum said, another session is arranged. “At the second shoot the word is, ‘Paul really likes you… he’s seriously considering you to be a Guess girl,’” he claimed, “and then he has them do more nudes. He says he wants to give Paul a surprise, and they should take a nude photo blowing a kiss or something to Paul.”
At that point, Applebaum relayed from the various models he’s heard from, “The girls do one of two things: Either they say no, they act hesitant; that indicates they aren’t good candidates. Or they say something like ‘I’d do anything to be a Guess girl’ and in return they are rewarded with the chance to ‘get dinner with Paul.’” Applebaum further claimed that the models are encouraged to “do ‘anything’ to be a Guess girl.”
The photographer’s claims about such an alleged “recruitment” process for Marciano are echoed by other industry insiders, including Jane Doe. The ex-Guess model alleged in her lawsuit that the Guess boss began liking her Instagram photos, leading to a direct-message exchange and a 2017 shoot with a photographer arranged by Marciano.
According to Doe’s lawsuit, that photographer—whom she declined to name in her complaint—repeatedly pushed her to be more sexually appealing for the Guess mogul. The photographer “definitely wanted it to be very sexy for Paul,” she recounted of their session. “He kept repeating that we need to make sure these images are really sexy for Paul even though they weren’t nude. He just continued to repeat that to me at the shoot.”
Doe claimed to have been “absolutely aware” of a “grooming pattern,” telling The Daily Beast that one photographer had told her about several other models who’d been plucked from Instagram and promised Guess gigs if they’d pose nude for Marciano.
Ultimately, Doe alleged to the Beast, recruited models seemingly end up falling into three tiers: those who willingly trade sex with Marciano for continued Guess opportunities; those who are aware of the sexual expectations and go along with it out of fear of losing out on work; and those who reject the Guess mogul’s advances entirely and do not receive modeling gigs.
“I can relate” to the second tier of women, she said. “I always wanted a professional relationship with Paul and Guess. I definitely feel like I was pressured specifically by the photographer to comply with Paul and what he asked of me.”
A Guess insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of professional reprisals, said that “so many models have told me about the inappropriate touching and creeping that Paul does.” This source added: “He truly is the Harvey Weinstein of fashion moguls. This has all been reported on of course but nothing ever sticks to him. That man is truly a creep. They pull models from getting glammed to go have a ‘meeting’ with him and one told me that’s when he makes the moves. It’s a catch-22 for the models, I feel like. Some of them get promised campaigns, more shoots. It’s very predatory behavior… Some models are going to be pretty tight-lipped about it because they don’t want to be ostracized by the agencies or the brand."
A fashion photographer who also spoke anonymously for fear of professional retaliation added that several models had relayed their own experiences to him: “I know so many girls he has groped and made offers to. [Some photographers] test the waters with the girls. [Marciano] has used Guess to lure these girls for years. I’m surprised he’s gotten away with it for so long. So many people are complicit in this. He’s done this for so long and there’s so many girls who say yes, and then a couple squirm, leave, and feel awful.”
And another model, who also requested anonymity, said Marciano’s behavior has long been an “openly known secret of the industry.” She added: “To shoot for Guess you’re encouraged to trade sexual favors… Everyone knows that, but many of the girls have been open to it because it’ll provide them with some success and I think those women are as much of a problem as the men who facilitate this. The lines have been blurred. Women who are not comfortable with this are often put in a very uncomfortable and shocking situation where they feel they have no choice but to take part because the women who have taken part are getting jobs.”
Applebaum concurred: “It’s a widely known fact that to be a Guess girl it means you’ve slept with Paul. Not all do, but many.”
Lisa Bloom, attorney for Jane Doe and Gwen Van Meir, told The Daily Beast: “On behalf of the many women I have represented with sexual harassment and sexual assault claims against Paul Marciano, past and present, we salute Chris Applebaum for his courage. One day Guess will stop calling the accusers liars, and instead accept that models have the right to respectful treatment just like all other workers. In the meantime, we fight on for justice. We are grateful for every witness who steps forward and urge others to speak out as well.”