In her new memoir, Beauty Disrupted, Carré Otis at last names the man who raped her repeatedly when she was a 17-year-old new face model, just starting out in Paris. It was, she says, Gérald Marie, her agent at the time and the boss of Elite Paris, one of the world's top agencies.
Marie, who was in his 40s, was engaged to Linda Evangelista at the time, and Otis was living in Marie's apartment. She slept in the room that had belonged to his young daughter. (It is still not considered unusual for young models to be placed with their agency bosses. They have the rent deducted from whatever they earn.) Otis says that Marie would often speak cuttingly to her and other models while at the Elite offices, so she was initially timid around him at home. But, slowly, they began to bond. While Evangelista was out of town on a job, Otis was snooping around Marie's bathroom when she found his coke stash, which he kept in a big, white jar. She upended the jar — "I expected pills. A second later, I stood aghast in a cloud of white powder" — just as Marie came home.
"With a wink and a grin," writes Otis, Marie told her, "What we can't pick up, we'll just have to snort." Her agent pulled out an American $100 bill and rolled it up.
It was not the first time Otis had seen cocaine, but it was more or less the beginning of what became a major addiction. Soon, she was getting a vial every other day, always, she says, from Marie. Regularly informed that she was fat, coke was "the secret to model weight management." (And this was the 80s — a time when, we are often told, the body type the fashion industry glorified was "healthier" and fuller-figured than today.)
Although Otis says Marie was as cruel as ever around the office, they became coke friends at home, doing lines and talking late into the night. But nothing sexual ever transpired. Otis describes their friendship thus:
It was secretive, but it felt strangely safe. I liked the way Gérald would laugh with me when we snorted lines together. I liked the way he teased me gently. And even as young as I was, I could figure out how my relationship with Gérald mirrored my dynamic with my dad. I had kept the secret of my father's alcoholism. Now I was keeping another older man's secret. I felt like Gérald's confidante. It was a very familiar role, and as sick (and age-inappropriate) as it was, I felt comfortable with it. To keep the secret of someone you look up to can be immensely empowering, particularly when you tend to think of yourself as the misfit. I'd felt like an awkward outsider so much of my young life that caring for someone in a position of authority gave me a certainty and a place that I clung to.
Gérald Marie was the agent responsible for building Otis's career. He controlled how Otis dressed, which castings she was sent on, and which editors she got to meet. Marie told her how he wanted her to walk, how she should do her hair, how she should stand, and how she should pose. He also told her that she could be a star. Otis writes, "I was desperate for his advice, and did my best to please him. I knew that this was my last chance to make it in the business. I knew that Gérald could help me become a star. And I knew that becoming a star meant being at his beck and call." In an industry where new faces commonly debut at 14, Otis is correct when she says that at 17, she was getting her last chance to make the kind of start that might actually go somewhere.
Otis struggled in Paris like many young models have before and since. Castings all too rarely resulted in options, let alone bookings, and she knew she wasn't being sent to see the top clients: Elite, she writes, didn't think she was skinny enough. One night, after a particularly disastrous day of castings where she'd been caught in the rain without an umbrella and gotten drenched, Otis came back to the apartment, took off her wet clothes, and climbed into bed. She was feeling feverish. Homesick, frustrated, and shivery, she fell asleep. This is how she describes the first time she was allegedly raped by Gérald Marie. It's graphic:
Hours later something woke me suddenly. I heard the drunken shuffling of feet moving down the hallway toward me. Filled with alarm, I pulled the covers up around my head. But in a flash my safe haven was invaded and I was exposed.
Gérald stood above me, ripping the covers from the bed. Before I could react, his sticky body was on me and those disgusting wet ringlets of his were falling on my face. I pushed back, but I could barely breathe with the weight of him pressing down on me. I cried out, a lame attempt to shake him from what seemed like a drunken stupor. I could smell gin on his breath as he harshly pushed his mouth onto mine, a sharp tongue darted out, trying to open my pursed lips in a grotesque kiss. The smell of him made me want to vomit. The fury in me made me want to throw him off me. But in my naked, fevered state, I couldn't seem to find the strength or the leverage to move him aside. Gérald seemed all too expert at getting what he wanted, and in the tangle of my naked legs and pleas and cries his hand found my mouth and clamped down, trying to silence me. Why even bother? I wondered. I knew we were alone. And I knew that even if I were to fight back and scream, no one would hear me. No one would come.
Gérald proceeded to viciously penetrate my body, his grunts and groans mixed with the sound of the rain that had begun to pound the tiny window in that tiny room. My thoughts drifted to his little daughter sleeping in this same bed. How could he do this here? Then I thought of the other models who were temporarily housed in this room. I fleetingly wondered if I might not be the first girl to be violated in
this strange place. I cried silently as well as out loud. I cried a river. I cried while the rains fell steadily outside. I became the rain. I became the room. I disappeared in the awful endless rocking.
I remember the horrific feeling of his penis sliding out of me, the wetness that told me he had come inside me. I remember nausea welling up, and then the involuntary gagging that began as he stood, looked down at me, then turned and stumbled out of the room.
"Some women have a hard time naming what happened to them, but I don't," writes Otis. "Could Gérald have thought that the friendship we had forged, the fact that we did drugs together, that fact that I lived in his house, all indicated, in some way, that I was amenable to having sex with him that night? I can't say. I can only know I never asked for it."
It wasn't the first time Otis had been victimized; elsewhere in the book she writes about being raped by an older, more popular boy when she was just 11. It also wasn't the only time she would be victimized by Marie: Otis writes that he continued to rape her whenever Evangelista was out of town. ("I remained in the house, in that horrible little room. I became an obedient robot. A shell of myself. There were no more hugs or laughs. We still did coke together, but it was out of a desperate need to medicate myself for what I knew would come next.")
It was also, at least allegedly, not the only time that Marie committed rape against a girl in his agency's care. Marie was caught offering to pimp out a model and bragging about how many girls in the Elite Model Look competition — average age 15 — he was going to sleep with, by a BBC reporter wearing a hidden camera. That was in 1999; after a brief suspension, Marie kept his job at Elite. (Marie was still in charge at Elite Paris when I signed with the agency, in 2007.) The Dutch supermodel Karen Mulder also accused Marie of raping her. Mulder is a deeply troubled woman — Marie is one of literally dozens of men she says has raped her, she has made claims on French television that were considered so libelous that the station concerned erased the master tapes, she has spoken in interviews of a vast "conspiracy" perpetrated by Elite and members of the French police and government — but I have never quite believed that some of her claims are not at based in truth. Accounts like Otis's certainly lend Mulder some credibility. When Mulder suffered a breakdown and made a suicide attempt, Gérald Marie paid for her psychiatric treatment. Mulder later recanted all her rape allegations.
Otis, as Marie predicted, went on to have a very successful career — she graced the covers of virtually every top fashion magazine, worked with all the best photographers, and was a face of Calvin Klein. Eventually, she entered recovery for her anorexia, and became a plus-size model; she has been an outspoken advocate of the industry diversifying its conception of beauty. Last month, she and current top model Coco Rocha were guests on Anderson Cooper's talk show, where they spoke about the problems that can ensue when agents start models too young.
She has referred to this rape in the past — and her former husband, Mickey Rourke, once said in an interview that during their relationship, he pondered killing "the man who raped Carré." But Otis has never before named the man she says is responsible. For having the strength to do so now, I can only commend her. The sad thing is, there are other models out there who are victimized in some of the exact same ways — whether by a famous photographer, an influential client, or an agent — but they don't have Otis's platform to speak out about it.