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The fashion industry is unfortunately rife with racism and Michael Costello, former contestant on Project Runway, is just one recent example of it.
Runway Model Sheereen Wu walked in one of Costello’s October shows as a last-second replacement for another (white) model. However, when Costello posted the pictures on his Instagram, Wu was shocked to see that he had photoshopped her face to make her appear much more white. She reached out to Costello, asking for an explanation, during which he attempted to shift blame to the photographer. Wu reached out to the photographer, who responded that he had only posted the unedited photo and had done no alterations.
Wu has since shared the experience on TikTok, further elaborating in the captions of her video, stating that “Michael Costello has yet to take responsibility for his actions. I want to explain what happened, and I hope other models in the future feel comfortable to speak up. He has since offered to post my photo side by side with the AI one, but has not voluntarily post[ed] it. This offer did not contain an apology, and only happened after a model who’s close with him brought light to the situation … But considering how long he’s been acting like this, I doubt any apology from him would be sincere; they would be performative at best.”
Sheereen also noted how Costello had “replaced the face of a model from the same collection -Lightened the skin of a black model in a photo and proceeded to push blame on the makeup artist (mua did not lighten the skin) [and] -Screamed at models backstage (he screamed at the girl who stumbled on the runway to near tears, only to make an Instagram post praising her after.)”
Michael Costello’s history of racism
This is also not the first time Michael Costello has been accused of racism. Fashion Designer Maxie James has previously accused Costello of ripping off her “Royale” dress design, trying to pass off her dress as the prototype for his “Diana” line. James also alleges that Costello has verbally and virtually harassed her with racist language, even using the n-word to refer to her. The two reportedly had an altercation at an LA fabric store where Costello broke James’ phone. Costello claims that the screenshots were photoshopped but I have found no acknowledgement of the fabric store assault.
Singer Leona Lewis and Reality TV star Falynn Guobadia also accused the designer of body shaming them, pulling them out of shows, and refusing to dress them for events. Costello reportedly apologized to Lewis but not Guobadia.
What’s even more frustrating is that Costello had an article released on Success.com in September where he claimed to “make sure to check in on my team and see how they are doing” and that he wants people to know him as “being a designer who celebrates diversity and empowers women. I want my brand to be for women of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds to wear to feel beautiful and confident.”
This type of hypocrisy is unfortunately common in many creative spaces and industries. People claim to be allies or advocates, but then treat people poorly behind closed doors. In some ways, it’s good to see that many women and minorities have been empowered to share their stories on social media. But it also pulls back the curtain on the many flaws and awful rug-sweeping of many industries.
Hopefully, we will one day get to a place where people’s actions will match their words.
(featured image: Greg Doherty/Getty Images)
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