Models walk the runway at the #MeToo Fashion show during New York Fashion Week on February 9, 2018 in New York City. (AFP/Angela Weiss)
Eight models, all subject to sexual harassment or assault in one form or another, took advantage of New York Fashion Week on Friday to raise awareness for the #MeToo movement sweeping the United States.
Far from the bright lights of the most coveted fashion tickets in town, none of the women were famous. The venue was a room practically given for free by an affordable hotel close to Times Square.
Instead it was an overtly political show organized by advocate and entrepreneur Myriam Chalek, who has made a name for herself by putting marginalized models on the runway during events such as a dwarf show in Dubai.
If labels such as Tom Ford have also referenced women empowerment this week -- the Texan-born designer turned director showcased "Pussy Power" purses -- Chalek says it is the entire point of her show.
"I feel like every woman has some kind of responsibility to do something and contribute to change," she told AFP. "If you are saying it's time to change or time's up, then do something about it."
The clothes were not the star of the show, although the 30-year-old said the mix of fur and leather on the one hand, with silk and tulle on the other aimed to show both the strength and femininity of women.
"The difference with this fashion show is that one of the criteria (for models) is that you had to be a victim of sexual misconduct to take part in this show," she explained.
- Pig's mask -
After walking the runway before the roughly 200 assembled guests, the eight models each took to the microphone in turn, standing next to a man dressed entirely in black, his face covered with a pig's mask.
In a few minutes, they told their story, often years old of how a friend of the family, a boyfriend or an online predator had harassed them, assaulted or even raped them, their voices often breaking.
"I am a little shaken," said one, after recounting in detail how she was raped by a date and didn't dare tell her mother for weeks.
"Standing here and talking about this is so important... I'm really sorry to say 'me too,' but I am really glad we are doing something about it finally," she added to huge applause.
After their remarks, came a period of heavy silence. "I like the silence because I feel you felt it... how they became vulnerable one more time in front of you, a room full of strangers," said Chalek.
"I am not going to say this fashion show is going to change things overnight," she admitted. "But I'm hopeful you are going to leave this room talking about it and being more educated."
"If we can even get just one woman to come out and not repress her feelings anymore, that's already an accomplishment," she said.