NEW YORK — About 20 members and supporters of the Model Alliance protested near the entrance of the Victoria’s Secret Herald Square store Friday afternoon.
Holding heart-stamped signs that read “WE HEAR YOUR SILENCE” and “CALL ME 1-800-RESPECT,” the demonstrators circled the sidewalk, chanting “Victoria’s Silence” and “What do we want? Respect. When do we want it? Now.”
The 90-minute event was organized to raise awareness regarding complaints of sexual harassment and abuse by Victoria’s Secret employees and agents against fashion models who have worked with the brand, and to urge the company to address these serious allegations by joining the Model Alliance’s Respect Program. Earlier this month the Model Alliance sent an open letter cosigned by more than 100 models, including Amber Valletta, Christy Turlington Burns, Edie Campbell, Karen Elson and Iskra Lawrence as well as Time’s Up, calling on Victoria’s Secret chief executive officer John Mehas to join its Respect Program. The program calls for participants to adhere to a code of conduct to safeguard models.
Among the protesters was Nathalia Novaes, a model, who joined the Model Alliance’s leadership council this year. In her 10 years of modeling she has not worked for Victoria’s Secret, but she wanted to stand in solidarity “with all of the stories that were published in The New York Times that were absolutely appalling. Coming from the industry, I’m not particularly surprised,” she said, an apparent reference to reports of allegations of misogyny, bullying and harassment at Victoria’s Secret. “I’m also here with a lot of hope that they will join our Respect program and that we can work together to turn this industry around and make it much better for all of the models so that we don’t hear these kinds of stories again.”
Meanwhile, the store’s main floor was buzzing with Valentine’s Day shoppers who were greeted enthusiastically by about 10 salespeople ready to be of assistance with measuring tapes wreathed around their necks. Employees deferred comment to L Brands’ corporate office. Executives at Victoria’s Secret did not respond immediately to requests for comment Friday.
Stepping away from the rally momentarily, the Model Alliance’s founder Sara Ziff said, “We’re feeling energized and hopeful that Victoria’s Secret will finally hear us and take our concerns seriously.”
Ziff said she met with Mehas on Thursday. “It was encouraging that he was willing to meet and I’m hopeful that he will look seriously at the Respect program, and use this opportunity to take meaningful action.”
Friday’s protest was an opportunity to educate the public about the Model Alliance’s concerns about sexual harassment and abuse of models and employees at Victoria’s Secret. “And we will continue to do that until Victoria’s Secret signs a legally binding agreement to create enforceable standards,” she said.
Several shoppers en route to and from the flagship said they had not noticed the protest, but there were exceptions. Leaving the store, Cate Helle, a visitor from Graz, Austria, said she and her friend didn’t really understand what it was about, “so we didn’t really care actually. In our country, we don’t really have Victoria’s Secret’s, so it doesn’t matter to us.”
Another shopper Jayden Rodriguez, said he had not noticed the protest on his way into the store, and asked what it was about. “I think they should get it right the first time, right? The company should be equal to everyone.”
After learning about the controversy, he said he would not have shopped at the store had he known. Rodriguez spent about $70 in the store. “It had a good sale — that’s why,” he said.