Image: Yeezy

It was not all that long ago that Ian Connor could be spotted front row at Raf Simons’ shows, modeling in Kanye West’s hotly-anticipated Yeezy presentations, and with his face printed all over coveted menswear jerseys. Within a few short years of entering into the fashion industry as a streetwear model and stylist, the self-purported “King of the Youth” was collaborating with Kanye West, claiming Virgil Abloh as one of his closest allies, and being hailed as a visionary, “Kanye West’s New Style Muse,” as Vogue put it.

The New York native and high school dropout, who boasted no formal design training or nepotistic connection to the tightly-guarded fashion industry, had infiltrated some of its buzziest circles. He was just 23-years old.

Around this time, it was almost impossible to miss Connor, even if it was difficult to pinpoint exactly what role he played. He was front and center in the Yeezy Season 3 lookbook (and in behind-the-scenes photos of fittings for the collection). He was a recurring face on the websites of some of the industry’s most highly-followed street style photographers. He was regularly quoted by publications ranging from Vogue and Hypebeast to the Hollywood Reporter and Billboard.

In an interview for Montreal-based SSENSE, Connor suggested that it was Kanye West creative director-turned-highly praised fashion figure Virgil Abloh, who had given him his biggest break when he had “reached out to [Connor]” who was then just 19 years old to enlist his help on Kanye-related creative endeavors.

Fast forward to the Fall/Winter 2016 menswear shows and it was “Ian Connor, who ran down the runway with [Abloh] at his Off-White men’s show in Paris,” as noted by W magazine.

Fashion’s New “It” Boy?

Profiled by Vogue in February 2016, the fashion bible praised Connor for his “insouciant and louche cool-kid sense of personal style,” his fearlessness “to try the most fashion-forward of trends.” It seemed as though the fashion industry – and certainly the streetwear world – had found its newest “it” boy.

That is until two months later when Malika Anderson spoke out. The 23-year old Decatur, Georgia native and Emory University student published a lengthy post on her blog, Malika Speaks, dated April 8, 2016. The title: “Ian Connor Is a Rapist, and I Know Firsthand.”

In that post, Ms. Anderson details, in very specific terms, her then-budding friendship with Connor, which she claims ultimately turned into “rape” and was followed by attempts by Connor to intimidate her into silence. Anderson told Complex in an interview in April 2016 that she “did not get a rape kit exam, but several days after the alleged incident she was tested for sexually transmitted diseases at the Emory University clinic.”

In that same interview, Anderson described how her life was subsequently plagued with “shame” following the alleged rape by Connor. She was “embarrassed” and felt “guilty,” although she says she knew she “didn’t do anything wrong, I still feel guilty. I was in denial. I was angry.” For over a year, she felt unable to speak out about Connor. Then, in late 2015, she tweeted. She called Connor a “serial rapist” in a tweet dated December 3, 2015.

Then, she says the harassment and the threats began. The same day she posted her tweet, Anderson claims that she received a handful of distressing messages from a Twitter account that she believes was created and controlled by Connor in an attempt to scare her from revealing any more information about their encounter. It was then that Anderson says she decided to file a police report, as confirmed by the special victims’ unit of the DeKalb County Police Department.

“I had been thinking about reporting for awhile, but I just had been hesitant,” Anderson told Jezebel. “But after that, I was just like, ‘Oh no. I’ve had to deal with so much because of this.’ I was so depressed and I went through a lot, and I was like, ‘You’re not about to come back and harass me anymore.’”

The filing – which was processed on December 16, 2015 and names Ian Connor as perpetrator, and “sexual battery” and “sexual assault” as the underlying allegations – did not result in charges being formally lodged against Connor. While the DeKalb County Police Department initiated an investigation, it ended up closing the case after failing to “not develop enough evidence to file charges during the investigation,” a spokesman for the Department said.

According to Anderson’s blog post, this was because “my statement, a few screenshots, and some information from my doctor and from my school, won’t be regarded as substantial evidence in a court of law.” She also alleges that Connor actively evaded the investigation by disconnecting the phone number on which he was contacted by the police.

“I definitely feel frustration, but at the same time, I do understand that in my specific case, there was not a lot of physical evidence,” Anderson told Complex.

21 and Counting

Beyond the disturbing details of Anderson’s experience with Connor, her post brought about an even more disturbing revelation: Connor had allegedly assaulted others. The day after Anderson’s blog post went live in April 2016, five more women – including Jenni Stampley, 19; Taryn Williams, 23; Khadiata Diallo, 19 (who told The Daily Mail that she was 16 when Connor allegedly raped her and was too afraid to file a police report); “Alyssa,” 18, who opted to speak anonymously; and R&B singer Jean Deaux – spoke out, as well.

In a blog post entitled, “For Malika,” Ms. Deaux detailed her own experience with Connor. “I never got a rape kit. I had no NYC ID. I had no health insurance, barely any family in NY,” Deaux wrote. “The free clinic I did find only tested for AIDS. I had to wait at least 6 weeks before I returned to Chicago to be tested for everything else.”

Her blog post ended in a single sentence: “Ian Connor is a serial rapist.”

Deaux says she never filed a police report “due to the violence I have encountered with [the police in the past], so how could I trust them to fight for me?” She did, however, give a statement to the detective investigating Anderson’s case.

Right around the same time, Connor, who was starring in Drake’s Summer 2016 OVO collection editorial, was making headlines yet again. This time in connection with a fight that broke out between himself and rapper Theophilus London during an event for A$AP Bari’s streetwear brand Vlone at Colette. Just hours after the June 23 altercation at the the now-defunct Parisian boutique, Theophilus London lodged rape-related accusations against Connor on Twitter, writing: “Every time I see [yo]u I’m gonna fuck you up, every time [yo]u dirty fucking rapist @souljaian.” He also added, “You don’t want two charges already added to the 10 [you] got. I even kno[w] a girl [you] did wrong.”

The Daily Beast revealed in an article a month later that as of July 2016 at least 10 women had come forward with assault allegations against Connor, who has denied all rape allegations (often via Twitter).

Meanwhile, Amber Rose, the model-turned-women’s rights advocate, said that she had spoken with 21 women who alleged that they were assaulted by Connor. As Rose very aptly told the Daily Beast that June, “It’s innocent until proven guilty, but when you have 21 women from all over the world that do not know each other but have similar stories, it gets to the point where it’s like … enough.”

Rose has since stated that while she “tried to give [these young women] a platform, everything sort of fell through,” in large part because, as the Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern stated recently, the women that Connor “allegedly targeted are young, poor and black, so they were too afraid to report him. They felt it was their word against that of a wealthy, well-connected celebrity hanger-on.”

There is another element of fear that routinely comes with speaking out against Connor, though, one that Anderson highlighted in her account: Connor – and “his friends and fans” – have been known to threaten and harass the women who speak out against him, serving to further compound their trauma.

“In one instance,” Stern wrote, Connor “threatened to ‘spit’ in a woman named Daniella’s face ‘when I catch you,’” saying he would “show [her what disrespect gets you.” He reportedly told another women, by way of a Twitter direct message, “Niggas can catch you.”

In her blog post, Deaux alleged, “Ian harassed me for weeks after. I changed my number, [but] he got it again and harassed me.” This continued, according to Deaux, despite her changing her phone number three times.

Double-Digit Figures & Famous Friends

When the dust settled in early July 2016, there were double digit rape allegations against Connor, but even that was not enough to dismantle his reign. Connor was busy “bragg[ing] about being [Kanye] West’s ‘head creative consultant’ and further [declaring] that [Kanye] West was paying ‘for my Japan living’ –  Connor has apparently been hiding out in Japan since the numerous rape allegations surfaced,” as the Daily Beast stated at the time.

Add to this the excess of public support – oft by way of social media associations – and endorsements for Connor and his brand, Revenge x Storm, from individuals ranging from Kylie Jenner to Virgil Abloh. As a result of which Connor has been able to avoid any meaningful ostracization for his alleged transgressions.

And support for him, there continues to be. For instance, in speaking to Rap Radar Podcast in January 2017, rapper A$AP Rocky, then starring in Christian Dior’s menswear campaigns, said specifically of Connor: “That’s my little brother. F*ck what the world gotta say. You feel what I’m saying? He’s a young visionary.”

Rocky went on to state: “If you realize, he never went to jail for that. Never been arrested. Never been charged. It’s all word of mouth sh*t. There’s evidence of girls talking about a week before they did this, talking about, ‘Oh, I’m not f*cking n*ggas for free no more. I’m about my business this year.’ Pull the tweets up. Y’all know what it is. And this can happen to any of y’all. Be careful and treat women nice.”

He was, of course, referencing a widely-circulated tweet that Anderson posted on March 22, 2016, that, according to Complex, “Some Twitter users interpret as testimony of her true motives.” The tweet in question read: “I think I’m done with the hoe life too [because] none of these niggas deserve my pussy I just want their money. I’m into scams now.” Anderson told the publication that the tweet was misinterpreted. “It was clearly a joke,” she said.

In addition to A$AP Rocky and others, such as rapper YG, who collaborated on Connor’s latest sneaker, Abloh has seemingly stuck by Connor, as well. The two have been supporting each other’s endeavors – whether it be Connor’s very Vans-looking sneaker line or Abloh’s Nike collaboration – by way of not-infrequent Instagram endorsements.

For instance, this summer, Connor was present in a meeting with Abloh and famed graphic design icon Peter Saville (as indicated by a photo on Abloh’s Instagram), in attendance at Abloh’s Spring/Summer 2018 Off-White show during Pitti Uomo, and as recently as last month, Connor posted an image of the two in a DJ booth, along with the caption, “Tour About To Start.”

Just this month, Abloh posted a photo of them together in Paris, tagging Connor.

As for the fashion media, with few exceptions, including the Daily Beast, whose Marlow Stern has vigilantly chronicled the allegations against Connor in recent years, and Complex, there has been little in-depth reporting of the double-digit rape allegations. In fact, many mainstream publications – including Hypebeast, for example, which posted a rather praising interview with Connor in August, noting how he “has steadily built up his reputation as an up-and-coming sartorial savant” – have opted to let that aspect of Connor’s persona fall by the wayside.

To put the number of rape allegations into context: Terry Richardson has been accused of sexual assault almost 10 times. Photographer Mario Testino, a handful of times. Matt Lauer and Bruce Weber over 3 times each. 25-year old Ian Connor, who did not respond to a request for comment, has been accused of rape by a whopping 21 different women; that is even more than President Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual harassment by 20 different women.

And yet, while you may not see Connor at many (or any) Raf shows anymore, or being praised in the pages of Vogue, he remains in some of the fashion industry’s buzziest circles, largely unscathed.

UPDATE: You can find a follow up article here, about the fashion industry’s complicated relationship with the #MeToo movement here.

* This article was co-authored with James Khubiar.