NEW YORK, United States — Five male models have come forward to claim that the photographer Bruce Weber exploited or sexually assaulted them, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in New York.
The five plaintiffs, who are referred to by initials in the lawsuit, were all aspiring models at the time of their interactions with Weber. The complaint calls Weber a “serial sexual predator” and says he conducted “breathing exercises” at both photo shoots and at his private home studio, in which he touched the men and insinuated that he could help their careers if they complied. It describes the exchanges as a form of fraud.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs also describe Weber’s actions as sex trafficking, after a judge in a lawsuit alleging sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein ruled that the Trafficking Victims Protection Act could apply to “casting couch” scenarios.
“It’s considered a commercial sex act because the person who applied is hoping to get a job,” said Lisa Bloom, of the Bloom Firm, which represents the five models.
Jayne Weintraub, a lawyer for Weber, called the new allegations against him “outrageous.”
She wrote in an email: “Bruce Weber has never lured, recruited, or forced anyone to do anything and has never inappropriately touched a model. This lawsuit is nothing more than a media-hungry lawyer’s attempt to extort Mr. Weber with false, fictitious and legally frivolous claims. We are confident that Mr. Weber will prevail against these false allegations; not just with words, but with evidence in a court of law.”
In January, The New York Times published accusations by 15 current and former male models that Weber abused his position and his influence to manipulate them. They also described “breathing exercises” in which Mr. Weber touched them and compelled them to touch themselves, and ostracism and lost opportunities when they did not comply with his requests.
“I’m completely shocked and saddened by the outrageous claims being made against me, which I absolutely deny,” Mr. Weber said in a statement at the time.
Bloom’s firm also filed a lawsuit about a year ago on behalf of the model Jason Boyce, who accused Mr. Weber of groping him. Ms. Bloom said she would seek to add the federal sex trafficking claim to Mr. Boyce’s case as well.
Bloom said that the use of the sex trafficking charge could allow some cases that might have been prevented by a statute of limitations to proceed. Bloom said that “it would not surprise me” if other accusers came forward, “especially if they learn about the statute of limitations.”
After the allegations in January, Weber largely withdrew from the public eye. Condé Nast said that it would no longer work with Mr. Weber or with the photographer Mario Testino, who was also accused of sexual exploitation, “for the foreseeable future.”
This summer Mr. Weber began what appeared to be a quiet re-entry into the fashion world.
In June, he was the guest of honour at a cocktail party and dinner held at Azzedine Alaïa’s atelier in Paris to celebrate the publication of a coffee-table book on his work with the designer, who died in late 2017, and the stylist Joe McKenna. He was toasted there by such fashion luminaries as the model Naomi Campbell, the photographer Paolo Roversi and the Valentino creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli.
Mr. Weber also appeared at parties in East Hampton in August and October. And just last week he was feted at the Paul Smith store in downtown New York for the 18th edition of his photography and literary journal, “All-American.” It is titled “Facing the World,” and for it he covered the anti-gun, youth-led March for Our Lives protest in Parkland, Fla., himself.
At the party at the Paul Smith store, as he mingled with guests, he told Women’s Wear Daily: “I trust myself, I know who I am and I know what the truth is.”
By Matthew Schneier; Vanessa Friedman contributed reporting.