It started with a bang, not a whimper, when designer Michael Costello posted a strongly worded, now-deleted, multi-slide Instagram post on the evening of June 14. "I did not want to post this but cannot be happy until I speak my mind," he began. "I wanted to kill myself and I still am traumatized, depressed and have thought of suicide." In the ensuing six slides, Costello shared what he described as a blacklisting attempt by Chrissy Teigen. Hours earlier, Teigen had posted a public apology on Medium after old tweets of hers, unrelated to Costello, began resurfacing. "I was a troll, full stop," she wrote. "And I am so sorry."
Costello's post recounted a 2014 public comment by Teigen in which the model and television personality accused Costello of being a racist, and using the n-word. According to him, Teigen had been misled by a photoshopped comment made by a former disgruntled employee of Costello's that was floating around the internet. That comment, according to Costello, was proven to be false by Instagram and taken offline. He goes on to say that in the ensuing years, Teigen and stylist Monica Rose would go out of their way to try and get Costello taken off of jobs: "I have suffered tremendously the past few years and kept silent because there was no way for me to ever escape this. Now, I am finding the courage from within to share my truth because I cannot heal from the darkest hour of my life until I reveal."
Costello says that these suicidal ideations have continued as recently as last week. He ends the post mid-thought before including two screenshots from DMs with what appears to be Chrissy Teigen (though the account, it should be noted, is not verified). In those exchanges, the person Costello is claiming to be Teigen says: "Racist people like you deserve to suffer and die. You might as well be dead. Your career is over, just watch." (Teigen has issued a lengthy statement via a rep on her social media account late Friday calling the screenshots "fictional.")
As of this writing, over 130K double taps were given to Costello's post, with a range of famous faces weighing in with words of support — until the comment section was abruptly turned off. Concurrently, writer Jess Simms posted this on Twitter: "I shouldn't be, but I'm really surprised by the lack of literally any investigation into this Michael Costello story." Simms then posted a thread recounting events that led up to Teigen's alleged comment on Costello's post. This centered on designer Maxie James, who in 2014 alleged that Costello had purchased a dress of hers, tried to pass it off as his own and, when confronted, called James the n-word and shattered her cell phone in an altercation at a Los Angeles fabric store.
No photoshoppery. No disgruntled former employee. So_what_is_the_truth_gif? I decided to call up James to get her side of the story.
Hi Maxie, thank you for taking the time to chat. I guess I want to start by asking if you can take me back to how this story begins?
So, how it started originally originally was back in 2014. I had just started my business as a fashion designer. I was a huge fan of Michael Costello at the time; I followed him on Instagram and everything. I had only launched for about six months when one day I got an order. And you know, back then orders were very small, so I saw every order that came through. So when I saw Michael Costello's name come through on my PayPal, I screenshotted the payment and sent it to the guy I was seeing at the time like, "Wow, Michael Costello is buying a dress from me, but like... why? Little old me?" And he paid for next-day shipping as well, so I was like, "Oh, he wants this ASAP." I thought maybe he wants to see what kind of fabric I use. Sometimes I'll do that: I'll buy dresses online if I'm curious to see what fabrics they're using, so I convinced myself that was why. The very next day, he put the dress on his model and posted it to his Instagram and started to sell it, saying it was available for pre-order. The few followers I did have saw the photo and were like, "Isn't this your dress?" I'm like, "Yeah, he had just bought it from me yesterday!"
So what did you do next?
I emailed him, no response. I DM-d him, no response. I started thinking that everyone would think I stole this from him because he was bigger than me at the time. So I put together a PicCollage with a picture of his receipt, a picture of the dress from my photoshoot, and then a screenshot of the dress in his showroom with his logo in the background. I just put out a statement saying, "I'm devastated, I don't know why you bought this dress from me and now want to pass it off as your own. You're not giving me my credit. I worked so hard to perfect this, etc." I was thinking, no one's ever going to see this, my platform is so small compared to his, but at least my friends can know that this was literally taken from me. And on top of it all, he was selling it for $1,000, and mine was only, like, $200. So I post that just to be a drama queen, pour me some wine, literally, still feeling sorry for myself [laughs]. Then my phone starts going off, over and over again. My sales started going off, I kept hearing that ding go off. So I go and look at the screenshots and they were going viral, it was all over The Shade Room, and all these places. He was arguing with people in my comments under the post, and that's where he originally called someone the n-word. He called someone that was defending me the n-word! I saw it there under my post in the comments, but then it was deleted. But all my friends were like, "Oh, girl, I caught it," so everyone had the screenshot. Meanwhile, his PR team first tried to spin the receipt and say that it was photoshopped, but it was exactly from my PayPal account, so they stopped claiming that. Finally I had had enough of the back and forth and said, "Okay, fine. Let's just move."
Did it end there?
No it did not. A year later, days away from my very first runway show, I bumped into him at a fabric store. I immediately recognized him, but I don't think he recognized me at first. The fabric store owner was like, "Maxie, can you give me 30 minutes? I'm going to close him out and then go get your roll of fabric." I said okay. So I'm sitting there and then he comes up to me and is like, "Oh, I remember you, I just heard them say your name. You're that same Black [n-word] bitch that tried to destroy my business last year." That's literally the exact words. I'm shocked because I've never really experienced racism before. He had an assistant with him, a short Asian girl, and even she was shocked. She was looking at him with her mouth wide open like, "Wait, what?" And he's looking at me and I'm looking at him and I'm thinking, "I'm about to beat this man down here in this store," I'm thinking this in my head, I don't know what to do.
And then what happened?
He takes my phone out of my hand, throws it and it shatters. I was trying to contemplate and think about if I was going to be mature or not. I was thinking about it, and then when he took my phone and I saw it shatter, I lost it. I just started fighting him, literally, we are in the fabric store, and I'm talking fabric flying, I mean it was bad, it was really bad. He's just screaming all this stuff like, "She's a monster, someone come get her, yada yada yada." So now the police are here. I'm crying, sobbing, I just completely blacked out. I was glad I didn't have a weapon at all, I'm swinging and fighting and crying, swinging and fighting and crying.
I wake up the next morning and am checking the hashtag for my fashion show and I'm seeing a bunch of PicCollages of bruises and blood on Michael Costello. All of his fans were hashtagging my fashion show, like, "Don't support her, she's a monster, she attacked Michael Costello downtown, she's crazy." Now I'm really furious and crying, like, "Oh God, everybody thinks I'm crazy!" So I'm like, "I'm going to have to just tell my truth as to what happened."
Now, mind you, I filed a police report when all that happened, and I took a video of the store owner admitting that he saw Michael Costello break my phone and call me the n-word [Editor's note: the video has been deleted from James' Instagram but has been reposted elsewhere]. I wasn't going to say anything, post about it or anything, because I knew I had this show coming up and I didn't want that energy mixed with something that I'm trying to have be positive for my business. But when I woke up to all of that, and see that he is still freaking going, I decided I have to post this video of the store owner, and I'll just tell the truth. Yeah I did fight him, but I don't know about blood. I might have bruised you a little bit, but bleeding? When did that happen? Was I that blacked out? Because I didn't see any blood, and neither did the police. They probably would have really taken me to jail if he was bleeding.
I didn't recall it, but I also wasn't sure that I didn't do it because I did black out. So, I just put out a statement and posted the video of the store owner that saw him verbally abusing me and I just told the truth. Look, I definitely didn't handle it the best way, but honestly I didn't know any other way. It was my first time experiencing racism and my automatic reaction was to fight. That's just what happened. I know that's not the best way I could've handled it, but that's what happened. This is just my truth. I have to defend myself because you're about to ruin my show that I spent $50,000 on putting together. I'm trying to save my own identity in this industry and it just started. I made a mistake. I shouldn't have fought him, I'm just going to have to be honest about it, whatever, I'm going to have to learn from it. But he definitely tried, he tried it! I'm not sure if I would've handled that differently even today, like I don't know how I react to stuff like that, I'm just not used to it, I see it in movies and I hear and read about it, but it's never happened to me directly, so I just completely lost my mind. So, that was that, I deleted that and I washed my hands. We blocked each other on Instagram, we've been blocked from each other's pages for seven years.
Which brings us to today. I saw you recently post and delete an Instagram story the morning after Costello's now-deleted post in which you brought up this incident you referred to earlier. What prompted this?
Because I see that he put that disclaimer or whatever that was his statement of his #MeToo moment, and I was just like, "I knowwwww this man is not sitting here playing the victim!" He should've been quiet. Did you really think that wasn't going to resurface just because you had your PR team spin it, that whole n-word comment, you had them spin it? Okay. Cool. But when I put that out, the allegation that he did that to me, he never denied that. He still can't deny it because he knows it's the truth.
I feel bad for [Teigen], because I know that when you're famous and speak your mind it's way worse. Everybody can speak their mind and have opinions on things, but since she's famous she gets hung for it. Since she's famous she has to tread lightly, and maybe you can't be as real as you'd like to be because people can't take that in Hollywood. The fluff and smoke and mirrors, that's what they like. She's kind of figuring it out. "Alright let me stop speaking my mind because people are taking it and dragging it."
But this particular thing? I don't really feel like she was wrong. Maybe telling him to "go kill yourself" probably wasn't the best choice of words, because even the worst people in the world don't deserve to die, but I do know why she reacted that way. The father of her children is African American, her kids are half Black, so she probably took it very personally, to see someone act that nasty. It's like, if you don't like us, why are you doing business with us? I don't like Michael Costello either, but I don't wish for him to die, because I know there are people that do like him and he has family, parents, all of that kind of stuff. That's the only part that I don't agree with, but I do understand why she spoke out of anger in that scenario because it's just, racist people... oof. Even in 2014, it's like, "Bruh, we still racist? Why? We're way into the 2000s, like, let that go already."
Let me ask you this, because my sense was that he posted that with the understanding that people were going to get behind him, but then I noticed that The Shade Room posted it, and the responses in the comment section really turned on Michael, and then I noticed that Michael turned the comments off on his post after receiving thousands of comments in support of him, which signaled to me that something had shifted in terms of his understanding that he was not going to gain the sympathy that he had hoped to. Now he's deleted the post entirely and put out a new statement. What do you think is going on?
Well, what I think is that whoever he hired as his PR needs to be fired. His way of getting attention is horrific, from way back to what he was doing in 2014 to now. It's never well thought out. It's stupid. Even the whole "I'll post a PicCollage of these old fighting pictures to make her look like the bigger monster," not even realizing you're fat in one picture, skinny in another, different haircuts, it's like, come on, pay attention to the details if you're going to be a weirdo. Like, at least have it well thought out.
I feel like now, with this current little publicity stunt of "let's jump on the Chrissy bandwagon," I believe he is trying to play on all of the bad publicity she was getting so he can get some publicity and grow his following, and he didn't think it out all the way. I think that is why he turned off the comments, because it's like, now your dirty laundry from the past is being aired, and you thought that you were covering your tracks with the whole Photoshop thing. There's a lot of things you can do to spin that around, but you cannot get out of doing that in person. We had a whole fight, the police report is there, like how can you spin that? He just didn't think this all the way out to the core of it. He didn't think the publicity stunt out well, and now it's backfiring and he didn't have a plan for the backfire. What goes around comes around.
When PAPER reached out for comment, Costello's lawyers provided the following statement: "Michael Costello vehemently denies her version of what transpired and is working with legal counsel to evaluate all his options." They added a copy of a public statement as well, which noted that they "will confront all cyber-bullies disseminating false and defamatory statements which are tarnishing our client's character and causing irreparable harm," writing that they are "actively gathering evidence of the false statements published in recent days – including but not limited to the defamatory statements made and perpetuated by bloggers on social media and elsewhere – and will swiftly pursue all recourse available under the law."
You can read Costello's full version of events via an account his PR team gave to Perez Hilton.
Welcome to "Wear Me Out," a column by pop culture fiend Evan Ross Katz that takes a look at the week in celebrity dressing. From award shows and movie premieres to grocery store runs, he'll keep you up to date on what your favorite celebs have recently worn to the biggest and most inconsequential events.
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