American designer Michael Costello is currently involved in a new controversy as a model of Asian descent has recently accused him of whitewashing her face using AI then sharing it on social media.
In a now-viral TikTok video by Taiwanese-American model Shereen Wu, which has garnered millions of views in recent weeks, she expressed grave sentiments and alleged that the designer ‘reposted’ a digitally altered image of her on his Instagram stories from a recent Los Angeles fashion show on October 24.
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 it. This offer did not contain an apology, and only happened after a model who’s close with him brought light to the situation. Some points I couldn’t fit: -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) -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.) 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. (Sorry for the weird cuts and sped up video I was trying to fit as much as I can in) #michaelcostello #greenscreenvideo #drama #michaelcostellocontroversy
The shared photo shows Wu in the slinky black ballgown that she wore for Costello during the fashion week organized by Arts Hearts Fashion on October 22, but with a different face, made to appear as if she is a Caucasian woman, which the model found out the following day through her mother.
“I recently walked for Michael Costello but that’s not me who he posted on his story. Michael’s a big designer with 1.7 million followers. Editing my face and removing my race is completely disrespectful,” told Wu to her Tiktok followers, visibly frustrated by the issue.
Enraged and offended by the whole situation, the 21-year-old model contacted Costello about her altered appearance, and he responded by saying to her that she had been chosen because the ‘Project Runway’ alum liked her as well as she only ended up walking for him due to a model being missing and Wu was able to fit in the dress.
The model also shared screenshots of her alleged conversation with him regarding the incident but Costello “essentially blamed the photographer.” She then approached the photographer and he denied the designer’s claims. He also made a claim of his own that Costello has been unsending his Instagram messages to look like it is a “one-sided conversation.”
Afterward, Wu shared that a model close to the designer offered to ask him about the issue and eventually explained to her that the image was “fan art” made with AI.
Due to this, Costello deleted the controversial image from his stories, Wu said in her video. Then, the designer posted consecutive AI art and profiles of AI models “as if to imply that everyone’s doing this or I am replaceable,” she stated.
Wu stressed that by removing her face, the mentioned designer is stripping her race and any upcoming job opportunities as she remains to work as an independent model and is depending on small jobs to continue her career.
“I understand as a model, I am replaceable but I don’t get paid to do these shows. While I don’t get paid, there’s a tacit understanding that I’m doing this for exposure and photographs. By not using my face, he’s taking advantage of models without the same influence as he does,” she stressed.
Furthermore, the designer released a formal statement on his Instagram Stories to share his side of the story a few days after Wu’s TikTok sparked attention and fueled intense reactions from the public.
He claims that he “personally cast” the young model for his show, contradicting her earlier claim that she was a “fill-in” model. In addition, he said that compensation was offered after finding out on her TikTok video that she was unpaid for the particular show. Although Costello validated that the problematic image was AI fan art, he clarified that he shared the original image, which is accessible on his “Lafw” story highlights.
According to Costello in his now-deleted Instagram post, he would not comment any further publicly on the matter, concluding his statement by announcing a plan to “moving forward with legal proceedings” due to his building being “vandalized,” his family and co-workers “receiving death threats” and being “subjected to hateful slurs.”
“While I understand Shereen’s frustration with not being seen or heard, this has gone too far,” the designer expressed.
“Her false allegations against me and my business, falsely accusing me of not paying her when she is aware she was hired by another company, falsely stating I didn’t cast her when she was confirmed on my list, all while attempting to harm my business’ livelihood based on previous allegations I’ve been exonerated from, is not the right way for anyone to start their career,” he added.
In effect of Costello’s recent threat of taking legal action, Wu reportedly got in touch with Model Alliance, an advocacy group for fashion workers which linked her to a lawyer.
Meanwhile, based on Fashion Law Institute academic director Susan Scafidi, explained that models had little recourse in these types of situations: copyright protects photographers whose work is altered without permission, but the models they capture are not included.
As of writing, the altered runway photo’s source is unknown. Nonetheless, Wu believes someone, although she is still unaware of their identity, utilized AI to make the Eurocentric face that replaced hers, reiterating Costello’s own theory in his social media post.
“I hope people can understand how hurtful it is to have your work stolen from you. It’s very dehumanizing. The very thing that makes us human is our ability to create something beautiful, and to have this beauty be twisted into something that can potentially be ugly is a terrifying thought,” Wu said in a recent interview.
It is known that the reality show personality has been accused of racism several times. There are allegations of him using the N-word on his colleague Maxie James after she accused him of plagiarizing, as well as being accused by singer Leona Lewis of bullying and for allegedly body-shaming Reality TV star Falynn Guobadia.
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