London - Possessed of an immense charm and exuberance that disarms even the most reserved subject, Mario Testino has become the photographer the world’s most famous people clamour to work with.
He has proved equally at home taking edgy pictures of models - such as Kate Moss sitting naked on a lavatory - as he has doing wholesome portrait shots of the Royal Family.
Much of that popularity, of course, flowed from his iconic 1997 Vanity Fair photos which captured a natural and breathtakingly beautiful Princess Diana just months before her death.
However, there is little that could be described as charming, let alone wholesome, about the allegations that have now engulfed the Peruvian photographer.
His career and reputation may be facing the same fate as that of actor Kevin Spacey, after a string of male models and assistants levelled deeply sordid accusations of sexual harassment against him.
On Sunday night, fashion firms and magazines moved rapidly to sever ties with Testino. Fashion brands Burberry and Michael Kors, together with shoemaker Stuart Weitzman, all said they have no plans to work with him again. Burberry, which last used Testino in 2016, said: ‘We take allegations of this nature very seriously.’
He had been a front-runner to be the official photographer at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle but has been ruled out following the uproar.
Conde Nast - which as publisher of titles such as Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair, has done more than anyone to cement Testino’s place as the world’s most prolific magazine photographer - has said it has no plans to work with him for the ‘foreseeable future’. A spokesman for the British arm said on Sunday it was ‘deeply disturbed’ and took the allegations ‘very seriously’.
The British Fashion Council issued a statement on Sunday saying it was ‘deeply concerned’, and called for a ‘co-ordinated approach’ across the industry to ‘stamp out unacceptable practices’.
However, searching questions are certain to be asked as to why the fashion world waited until its hand was forced by these allegations to act against a photographer whose behaviour has reportedly been an open secret in his industry for years.
Kensington Palace has declined to comment on the story, though Testino has been taking pictures of members of the Royal Family for decades, and was awarded an honorary OBE in 2014.
He took the official engagement photograph of Kate Middleton and Prince William in 2010, and was the official photographer for Princess Charlotte’s christening in 2015. He has also photographed Prince Charles with Princes William and Harry.
Testino, 63, allegedly groped and made passes at 13 men interviewed by the New York Times. Ryan Locke, an ex-model, dubbed him a ‘sexual predator’.
He graphically recalled how, during a photoshoot for Gucci, Testino banished everyone else from the room and then leapt on the model as he lay on a bed, telling him: ‘I’m the girl and you’re the boy.’
In a barrage of claims that evoke obvious parallels to the scandal over Kevin Spacey - the latter accused of sexual misconduct by at least 15 men - Testino’s alleged victims spoke of feeling intimidated by a man who wields immense power in their industry.
And as with Spacey - and the allegations made against producer Harvey Weinstein, who was friendly with Testino through their association with US Vogue editor Anna Wintour - the scandal is certain to prompt soul searching in the fashion world.
Critics are asking who knew about the alleged abuse and turned a blind eye.
Testino was the darling not only of celebrities but also of fashion designers and magazine editors, notably Anna Wintour. (She used Testino to shoot this month’s US Vogue cover featuring the tennis champion Serena Williams and her newborn daughter.)
Representives for Testino and Bruce Weber, another celebrated fashion photographer facing similar allegations, told the New York Times they were ‘dismayed and surprised’ by the allegations.
Weber said he ‘absolutely denies’ the accusations, while lawyers for Testino challenged the characters and credibility of people who levelled allegations against him. In the end, Testino’s lawyer Andrew Brettler said: ‘We are not providing any further comment.’
However, the main author of the newspaper investigation - Jacob Bernstein - insisted last night Testino’s lawyers ‘did not deny all claims’.
He added: ‘They refused to address most, opting instead to smear our sources.’
Male models never attract the star status of their women peers, and insiders say they are consequently particularly vulnerable to being exploited.
Testino’s accusers, some of whom have refused to be named for fear of ruining their careers, say it is common knowledge that some photographers have bad reputations. However, passing up the chance to work with stars such as Testino and Weber, they said, would be tantamount to ending one’s career.
According to Jason Fedele, who appeared in Nineties Gucci campaigns, any male model wanting to work in them would first have to do a nude shoot for Testino at the Chateau Marmont Hotel, where he stayed in Los Angeles.
Mr Fedele accused Testino of making ‘come-ons’ to work out how far he could take his sexual advances.
Ryan Locke, who succeeded Mr Fedele as a Gucci model, said Testino was a ‘sexual predator’. When he told other models he was meeting Testino, ‘everyone started making these jokes - they said he was notorious and “tighten your belt”,’ he said.
He recalled how - in another echo of Harvey Weinstein’s favourite tactic with aspiring actresses - Testino greeted him in his hotel room wearing only a bathrobe. They then had an argument over whether the model had to be totally naked for his test shoot.
The ex-model said the photographer was ‘aggressive and flirtatious’ throughout the Gucci project. On the final day, as they were taking photographs on a bed with the model wearing a towel, Testino said: ‘I don’t think he’s feeling it. Everybody out.’
With his assistants out of the room, Testino locked the door. ‘Then he crawls on the bed, climbs on top of me and says: “I’m the girl, you’re the boy,” ’ he told the New York Times.
‘I went at him, like, you better get away. I threw the towel on him, put my clothes on and walked out.’
Former assistants of Testino said he had a ‘pattern’ of hiring young, usually heterosexual men and subjecting them to what the newspaper called ‘increasingly aggressive advances’.
A male model known as Taber who worked for him until the early 2000s said he considered him a friend until he allegedly stuck his hand down the back of the model’s trousers.
He also showed up at the model’s hotel room asking for sex, he said.
Testino’s underlings also claim they were victims. Hugo Tillman, who started working as one of his photographic assistants in 1996, said he was ‘often made to feel uncomfortable on shoots’ and was asked to massage Testino. He claims the photographer once grabbed him in a street after dinner and tried to kiss him.
A few weeks later, while they were on a business trip, Mr Tillman said he met Testino in his hotel room.
After demanding his assistant roll him a marijuana joint, Testino allegedly threw him on a bed, climbed on top of him and pinned down his arms. Testino’s brother came into the room and made him get off me, he said.
Testino’s lawyers say the brother is ‘adamant’ no such incident ever occurred. Mr Tillman said he left his job the following week.
Roman Barrett, an assistant to Testino in the late Nineties, said he was ‘sexually harassed daily’.
He claims a sexually aroused Testino rubbed himself up against the assistant’s leg and masturbated in front of him. ‘He misbehaved in hotel rooms, the backs of cars and on first-class flights,’ he said.
Another assistant who worked for Testino as recently as a decade ago claimed the photographer pulled down the assistant’s trousers and fondled his buttocks while they were on a photoshoot.
Thomas Hargreave, a shoot producer who worked with Testino between 2008 and 2016, said he saw Testino with his hands down people’s trousers ‘at least ten times’.
He added: ‘Mario behaved often as if it was all a big joke. But it wasn’t funny. And the guys being placed in these situations wouldn’t know how to react . . . it was terrible.’
Lavely & Singer, U.S. lawyers for Testino, insist that his accusers ‘cannot be considered reliable sources’. They questioned Mr Tillman’s mental health and said Mr Fedele, the ex-Gucci model, had willingly been photographed naked by others. They dismissed Mr Barrett and Mr Hargreave as disgruntled former employees.
Testino dislikes publicly discussing his sexuality, although he admits how, aged 23, he fled to London in 1977 from conservative Peru where people would hound him over his flamboyant clothes and scream ‘Faggot!’ at him.
In London, he dyed his hair pink and moved in to a disused hospital off the Strand, where he and friends would hold outrageous parties where they dressed as doctors and nurses.
‘I’ve never wanted to call myself any sexuality because I hate the idea of taking freedom away from you,’ he has said. ‘I think we can all be everything.’ His sexual inclinations, however, are strongly suggested in much of his photographic work, away from glossy portraits of film stars and members of the Royal Family.
His first book, Any Objections, focused heavily on raunchy shots of young men, including three lying naked on a bed and a young man in Tangiers unable to hide his state of sexual arousal. It’s all a far cry from Buckingham Palace and shots featuring the Queen.
Anna Wintour once had Testino photograph her and her daughter just for their passports. She has called Testino a ‘personal friend’ and described the allegations as ‘hard to hear and heartbreaking to confront’.
She said: ‘I believe strongly in the value of remorse and forgiveness, but I take the allegations very seriously, and we at Conde Nast have decided to put our relationship with both photographers [Testino and Weber] on hold for the foreseeable future.’
She announced a new Conde Nast international ‘code of conduct’ - covering its British titles, too - which insist fashion shoot models must be at least 18 and have to approve ‘any shoot involving nudity, skimpy clothing or sexual poses’ in advance.
The new code was hurriedly worked out after the Weinstein scandal broke in October. Modelling is a poorly regulated industry that has already been accused of allowing agents and photographers to keep working despite facing rape allegations.
Conde Nast recently distanced itself from fashion photographer Terry Richardson over claims - which he denies - of sexually assaulting models, which had first been aired years earlier. As with Hollywood, the fashion world is now rushing to acknowledge what it calls ‘revelations’ - even though insiders say they are nothing of the sort.