One thing I’ve learned from the internet is that you can never trust what you read. The latest controversy between Chrissy Teigen and Michael Costello proves that, when it comes to internet feuds, before making any conclusions it’s imperative to, as Alec Baldwin would say, “consider the source.” What started off as a pile-on on Chrissy Teigen about which few thought twice has quickly turned into a convoluted tale of alleged faked screenshots, blacklisting, design theft, and more. How did we get here? And when’s the film adaptation coming to Freeform? I’m honestly not quite sure about the former, and the latter is but a mere pipe dream, but I’m here to attempt to make sense of it all.
The story starts, sort of, with Chrissy Teigen. The former Sports Illustrated model has had a rough year on Twitter, to say the least. The tides of public favor started turning against her during the pandemic, when her “I’m so relatable lol!” shtick began to wear thin with some Twitter users—notably, when she told an anecdote about how, one night at a restaurant with her husband, a waiter recommended a bottle of wine that, unbeknownst to the couple, cost $13,000.
one time john and I were at a restaurant and the waiter recommended a nice Cabernet. We got the bill and it was 13,000 dollars. HOW DO U CASUALLY RECOMMEND THAT WINE. we didn’t even finish it and it had been cleared!!!
— chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) February 3, 2021
After that, the pile-ons just kept coming, so she quit Twitter in March and later rejoined—at which point, her mentions got even worse. In an interview with the Daily Beast in May, Courtney Stodden mentioned how Teigen bullied them (Stodden is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns), both publicly and privately. In addition to publicly tweeting that she fantasized about Stodden taking a “dirt nap”, Teigen also privately messaged them things like, “I can’t wait for you to die.” Stodden was a teenager at the time. Teigen apologized, first in a Twitter thread, writing, “I am ashamed and completely embarrassed at my behavior but that is nothing compared to how I made Courtney feel,” before vowing to “forever work on doing better.”
But Teigen’s Medium post, which was published a week ago, was what really got the ball rolling with this whole feud. In her 1,131 word mea culpa for her previous behavior and old tweets, Teigen wrote, “I’ve apologized publicly to one person, but there are others — and more than just a few — who I need to say I’m sorry to. I’m in the process of privately reaching out to the people I insulted.” This is where Michael Costello entered the chat, and where things took a weird turn.
Last week, the designer and Project Runway season 8 contestant claimed that he was yet to receive an apology from Teigen, whom he claimed bullied him to the point that he was “traumatized, depressed” and dealing with “thoughts of suicide.”
The incident over which Costello claims Teigen bullied him stems from a spat Costello got into with designer Maxie James in 2014. In a since-deleted Instagram post, James says Costello ordered one of her dresses, and then took the dress and, according to the post, “put it on HIS model took pictures in HIS showroom as if he designed this piece his self.” James also claimed in the post that she tried to reach out to Costello, but he blocked her.
Costello’s cousin Stephanie (with whom he also co-created his brand STELLO) later claimed in a statement that, in fact, James was the one who’d copied Michael’s design, and not the other way around. “I, Stephanie Costello, purchased the garment in question due to the apparent similarities between it and a gown that Michael Costello and I designed that was posted on social media over a year ago,” she said. She further explained that she photographed James’ dress in Costello’s showroom “as a sarcastic and inappropriate attempt to expose the designer’s garment as a forged duplication of our own”. Ms. Costello apologized for the “extremely unprofessional” reaction.
If that all sounds kinda suspect to you, you’re not alone. At the time, people criticized Costello’s alleged design theft, and his purported response is what led to the racism accusations both back then, and also all these years later. According to screenshots that Costello claims are fake, he appears to have written in a comment: “Your Just probably a dumb n***** defending her. I am royalty bitch! I dressed Beyonce! Who are they gonna believe!” (Costello dressed Beyoncé for the 2014 Grammys. He has also dressed the Kardashians and Tamar Braxton, to name a few.)
Back in 2014, Costello’s rep immediately slammed the screenshots as false. “The image was created using image editing software and in no way depicts the views of Mr. Costello,” a statement read. Costello added, “The hurtful screenshot circulating is fake and does not represent my views on society, nor do I condone the use of such a terrible term.” In a 2021 statement, he said the screenshots have “now been proven to be false by Instagram and since taken down,” however, a rep for Instagram told Insider that while Instagram does use third-party fact-checkers to identify and label false information, it does not remove false information. Furthermore, the misinformation policy wasn’t implemented until 2019.
The 2014 statement continued, “The image of concern was distributed by an Instagram account that has continually harassed and slandered Costello in an attempt to defame his character,” and put forth the theory that “a disgruntled intern, who is no longer employed with the company, created the account.”
Chrissy Teigen had something to say about the alleged comment back then, commenting, and later deleting, “So you say all that racist sh*t and get that horrible press with people using the hashtag #michaelcostello to call you out on it, then you create a contest where you beg people to use the same tag but in a positive light. Covered up all the negative press. Genius and shady all at once. Start a PR firm. Xx.”
Fast-forward seven years, and Costello claims that Teigen didn’t just leave that comment on his page, but that she also sent him messages saying things including, “You will get what’s coming to you” and “Racist people like you deserve to suffer and die. You might as well be dead. Your career is over, just watch.” Costello claims that Teigen made good on her threat (to end his career, not kill him!). He says that Teigen and her assistant Monica Rose effectively blackballed Costello and threatened not to work with any people or brands that agreed to work with him.
At first glance, Costello’s allegations seemed to track. Teigen, after all, had privately messaged another celebrity messages that more or less amounted to death threats before. Until people dug deeper into Costello’s purported screenshots and noticed some inconsistencies. Insider points out that, among other things, the verified check mark next to Teigen’s name was missing, and the messages have purple and blue backgrounds—a feature that wasn’t introduced until 2020.
No idea what the fuck michael costello is doing. He just released a statement where he didn’t at ALL acknowledge how fake the dm’s were, & now claims to have emails that don’t exist. So while he conjures those up (hopefully with someone more talented in fakes this time), here: pic.twitter.com/Y9FjJAY3Xw
— chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) June 18, 2021
In response, both Teigen and John Legend put out statements. Teigen’s team posted a statement on her Instagram on her behalf that said, in part, “Chrissy is completely surprised and disappointed by Michael Costello’s recent attack, which includes fictional ‘screenshots’ from 2014 of supposed private messages that Chrissy did not send.” It also said, “Chrissy has never conspired with anyone to harm his career,” noting that the stylist Costello accused Teigen of conspiring with to take him down did not even start working with her until 2016.
On Friday, Legend tweeted, “Chrissy apologized for her public tweets, but after her apology, Mr Costello fabricated a DM exchange between them. This exchange was made up, completely fake, never happened.” He added, “Honestly I don’t know why anyone would fake DMs to insert themselves in this narrative, but that’s what happened.”
(Costello’s reps were unimpressed by Legend’s response, saying in a statement to EW, “John has been complicit by observing Chrissy bullying many other people on- and offline for years. We are not at all surprised by his biased support of his wife.”
This clusterf*ck doesn’t only involve Chrissy Teigen, though, because after Costello inserted himself into this narrative, other celebrities came forward with… shall I say… less than flattering anecdotes about the designer. On Wednesday, Leona Lewis revealed that she felt body-shamed and bullied by Costello after an awkward run-in in 2014 (a busy year for this guy, evidently). According to Lewis, Costello was supposed to dress her for a charity fashion show. She wrote on Instagram, “When I got to my fitting I was made to feel very awkward and uncomfortable as the dress was a sample size and he/his team clearly did not want to alter it to fit me.” Lewis then says the designer failed to show up to her next fitting, offering the following explanation: “He no longer wanted to dress me and he abandoned his commitments to me and the show which made me well aware that I wasn’t the body type required.”
Costello paints a different picture of that incident, claiming that Lewis’s team simply didn’t give Costello enough time to fulfill their request. He told Page Six that he received the request on January 30th, a week before the fashion show on February 6. He said, “I thought it would be ideal to lend her one of my showpieces all for charity and then have it returned just in time for my show.” That piece didn’t end up working out, and they couldn’t make her a new dress because he was based in LA and the charity fashion show was happening in NY, but asserted, “we could have made something custom for Leona without a doubt” with more time. He also seemed to imply Lewis’s allegations had something to do with his speaking out against Teigen: “It’s bizarre how attitude towards me shifted as soon as I spoke my truth in regards to Chrissy Teigen and others trying to blacklist me,” he told Page Six. He also said, “I have always been a fan of Leona Lewis and she has always adored me. Her team has continuously requested for her to wear us from 2013 up until now.”
(They have since buried the hatchet—Lewis later wrote on Instagram story, “I love you guys so much for the support you’ve shown, there are always 2 sides to every story and that’s clear here but I choose forgiveness.”)
Lewis wasn’t the only one to share an unpleasant experience with the Project Runway alum. Makeup artist and photographer Jordan Liberty also called out Costello, claiming he sexually harassed him while Liberty was going through chemotherapy. Liberty claims that in 2017, Costello DM’d him, complimenting his work and suggesting they work together. Liberty says that as soon as they scheduled a meeting, Costello sent him “a collage of dick pics.” After Liberty generously said he was “flattered” but wanted to “keep things professional,” Costello kept moving their meeting time, eventually saying “really horrible things on the phone” (Liberty declined to get into specifics) when he called the designer for clarification.
On Friday, Costello set his Instagram to private (he has since made it public again). In, where else, an Instagram post, he wrote, “The fact that Chrissy Teigen and her crisis team are working so hard, so strategically to come out against the DMs she sent me, and to downplay the comments she publicly posted on my Instagram, only proves that she is the same bully she has always been.” He then reiterated that Teigen has “gone out of her way to close doors” to his career “by making calls, sending texts, telling colleagues” that she would not work with anyone who’d worked with Costello.
So after all that, where are we left? With two sets of screenshots that may or may not be real, and a whole lot of confusion about who’s telling the truth. Perhaps most hilariously to me, Costello’s rep insisted to EW, ”Michael hasn’t inserted himself into their lives. It’s quite the opposite, as it’s Chrissy who inserts herself into other people’s lives.”
While these two play a public game of “I know you are but what am I”, I need a Tylenol.