In the spring of 1980, Wendy Walsh and her mother flew to Paris from their home in Toronto, Canada. Walsh was 17, a straight-A student who excelled at maths. She was also an aspiring model whose blonde-haired, blue-eyed, girl-next-door looks had got her noticed and invited to France by a leading modelling agency, Paris Planning.
At the agency’s offices, Walsh and her mum, Ellen, were introduced to the charismatic 30-year-old boss, Gérald Marie. “I remember distinctly him fawning over my mother … He reached over and was stroking her hand, and something in my 17-year-old stomach was like, this is weird.” Later, in their hotel room, Walsh remembers her mother saying: “Oh, that man is lovely, he’s going to take care of you.”
Two months later, in June 1980, Walsh moved to Paris. “I was young, I was naive, and I had stars in my eyes,” she says now. “I was not scared one little bit, because I trusted all the adults who were going to take care of me and make me a famous model.”
Walsh, who is now 58, is one of eight women who allege they were sexually assaulted by Marie between 1980 and 1998, as uncovered in an investigation by The Guardian in October 2020. In November, seven more women came forward.
In September 2020, French prosecutors announced they had opened an investigation into Marie, after a criminal complaint from four women. Marie, who at 70 still works in the modelling industry, denies the allegations. In a statement to the Sunday Times about the French investigation, he said: “It would not be appropriate for me to comment at this time on the allegations of historic wrongdoing being made against me, other than to make it clear that I categorically deny them.”
In his prime Marie was one of the most powerful agents in Europe, a man who could make a model’s career with the click of his fingers. After Paris Planning merged with Elite Model Management in 1986, he became its European president. He ran the agency with Elite founder John Casablancas; together, they helped launch the careers of Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford and Helena Christensen. In 1987, he married supermodel Linda Evangelista, and reportedly owned homes in Manhattan, Saint-Tropez and Paris.
But behind the gloss and glamour, Marie had allegedly established a reputation as a predator. A number of former models and industry insiders have claimed his abusive behaviour was “an open secret”, and part of an ingrained culture of exploitation at the heart of the modelling world.
Soon after arriving in Paris, Walsh was assigned to the agency’s new-faces division, and sent to “go-sees” with potential clients. In the evenings, the then-18-year-old was told to go to parties that might help her career. Around six weeks in, she was advised by a female booker that Marie wanted her to dye her hair brown, and she was sent to a hairdresser. That evening, she was invited to a party held in a tiny apartment, where she found Marie sitting on a bed. “He said, ‘Come here,’ and he put his hand through my hair, and he said, ‘This is good, this is what I like.’ And I thought he was my boss, telling me I was going to get a lot of work now.”
The next day, at the agency’s offices, Walsh was told that Marie wanted to meet her again, this time at his apartment. “With the wise eyes of a grown-up, business meetings don’t take place at apartments at nine at night,” she says. “But when you’re 18 and believing all the adults around you, you just do what you’re told. So I went.”
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