Models' Rights

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Sara Ziff, former model and founder of the Model Alliance, the first  workers' rights organization for fashion models, and Susan Scafidi, Fordham Law professor and director of the Law School’s new Fashion Law Institute, talk about the launch of the Model Alliance.


Susan Scafidi and Sara Ziff

Comments [20] about Cindy Crawford selling her 10 year old daughter to "Young Versace":


Feb. 13 2012 04:22 PM
Ed Greenberg from New York

As an attorney I have represented both models and model agencies for over three decades in NY and elsewhere. Models particularly adult models, have a buffet of legal remedies available to them if, as and when abused or exploited by their agents and/or clients. Unfortunately most models are disauded from seeking appropriate legal and/or accounting advice from independent advisers by human leeches whose incomes are based on the earnings of the model.

Efforts at "organizing" models go back decades and are typically doomed to failure. Most models - especially young ones - will eschew good advice in the hopes of pursuing their dreams and being compliant with their handlers. The concept of "organizing" models has an obvious media appeal. At the end of the day however, those models who avail themselves of solid independent advice from persons experienced in the business find themselves earning (and keeping) more of the own money. Those that follow the leeches in pursuit of their warped concept of vanity and the need to be "wanted", typically flame out.

Reputable model agents are few and far between. Fashion people who have any concern for the health, welfare or benefit of models are even more scarce.

Feb. 08 2012 12:25 PM
Carolita from NYC

@ m from Morningside Heights
That's the typical misconception people have about models "Oh, a real job isn't good enough?"
Often models have absolutely no skills -- particularly at the age of 16, which is when many of them start. They go into modeling for many reasons, among them: poverty, abuse at home, oppressive origins. And what else would you want a 16-year old do for a job when she can't speak the language, has no skills, no money, no network of support, but happens to be six feet tall and pretty enough to be paid for her face? I personally got into it by accident. Someone at my college asked me to model for a show they were putting together. When I realized I wasn't cut out for the profession I'd trained for, modeling was a good way to work, travel, and learn to live on my own. I was 22 when I started, so I wasn't as easily taken advantage of as younger girls are. Thank goodness I have a really good agency protecting my interests now. That wasn't the case twenty years ago.

Nevertheless, just to give you a taste of reality, over the course of the ten years I was modeling in Europe, I averaged about 30K a year. I could have stayed at home and answered phones in an office for that salary. (In fact, that's exactly what I did for a couple years when I quit and came back to NY.) I was actually quite well known in my profession back in France, but I never made big money. Other models bought houses with their earnings, but I simply lived on mine, not able to save much. What I got out of it was life experience and travel, but not wild riches.

When I was modeling full time, I was making a living and working hard, just like anyone else. Modeling put me through school, and paid the rent. It's a job. Most models aren't rich, contrary to your preconceptions. Most only last for a few years before the industry gets tired of looking at them, or before they lose their youth. Sure, many are doing it not to pay for medical school (though some are) but because they're not cut out to be doctors or lawyers or accountants -- is that a sin? I'm terrible at all those things. I'm a working writer and illustrator now (yeah, I know, another profession that people think involves mostly sleeping all day, right?). And I still model, but not the glamorous way. I work with patternmakers and do is known as "fit modeling" now. You want to know what fit models talk about when they get together? Insoles and chiropractors. It's a very physical, often grueling job. The only thing in the non-modeling world I could compare it to for you is standing in line at an airport for six to eight hours a day, while changing your clothes 20 times an hour. Why do I do it? Because it's a job and I'm very good at it. Yes, I was certainly lucky to be born with the right body for it, but if that's an unfair advantage, then I could say that someone born with a brain capable of adding up numbers without a calculator (like my accountant) has an unfair advantage over me.

Feb. 07 2012 08:44 PM

I am a photographer and have seen and heard horror stories about how young men, as well as women, are manipulated at every turn. Two thoughts--there needs to be a formal system, similar to apprenticeships and photographers, as well as make-up artists and assistants need the same treatment. Good work!

Feb. 07 2012 11:19 AM

Sebastian from Brooklyn:


Feb. 07 2012 11:15 AM

John Casablancas: Say no more.

Feb. 07 2012 11:06 AM
Rachel Blais

My main question is why does the fashion industry keeps on using children to represent adults? Knowing that there is absolutly no regulation in the industry and that it will still take a long time before they are created and respected how can we be ok with children working as fashion models? (And if kids wants to model, children agencies are regulated)

It is unhealthy and unsafe for these children, but also for us as a society. Giving us the impression that the image of a perfect woman is a 16 years old girl wearing make up and grown-up clothing. And what about their sexualization? Don't you think it increases the demand in child pornography and child trafficking? (The American Psychological Association has done a study on the issue)

Knowing this, Sara, will the Model Alliance be supportive of no more minor being used as fashion models?

Feb. 07 2012 11:06 AM

... isn't Roman Polanski still on the lam for similar circumstances??

This ain't new.

Feb. 07 2012 11:04 AM

.... it's part of the business.

Sell your integrity, what do you expect??

Let's talk about the twisted stage parents, blinded by the "glamour", selling their 14 yo daughters into the fashion industry.

It's all pretty sick.

Feb. 07 2012 11:01 AM
Sebastian from Brooklyn

3 words for this - First World Problems.

Feb. 07 2012 10:58 AM
m from Morningside Heights

I feel for anyone who is exploited, but what about the idea that many of these young women are seeking glamor and fame and that puts them in the position to be exploited. "Normal" jobs are not for them (not good enough and don't pay enough?)... and in one sense, aren't they taking the easy way out, exploiting their own looks to get ahead?

Can the guests comment on this dilemma?

Feb. 07 2012 10:58 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Do the contracts models sign allow the agencies to charge the fees & delay payments? If not, is the Model Alliance advocating contract reform or offering contract review as part of its program?

Feb. 07 2012 10:58 AM
Robert from NYC

Why are these folks using euphemisms and chewing around the issue that there is obviously some problem with using young models who are probably (since they don't seem to want to say it outright) probably problems of sexual abuse? harassment? Spit it out!

Feb. 07 2012 10:57 AM

C'mon, anyone that has worked in the industry knows that the model agent is a glorified pimp peddling in human trafficking.

Yes, including the child sex trade.

Feb. 07 2012 10:54 AM

we need to protect models rights!

Feb. 07 2012 10:53 AM
Kenneth from Park Slope

Hey Brian! There are male models too! You said "When you were a girl ..." at the top of the show and that's just half the story. Do male models get exploited too?

Feb. 07 2012 10:52 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

Question for Sara: what is the reason why the designers/design houses insist that models be a size 0 or 2? Why does the industry resist changing so much? Is the argument ever made against this practice that it's harder for women customers to picture what clothes might look on them when most models do not have an average woman's body with curves?

Feb. 07 2012 10:52 AM
Brad from Brooklyn

What about the photographers? They work 10 times harder and often get paid far less than the models. They are also contractors and have no union.

Feb. 07 2012 10:51 AM
Jenna from UWS

Is your group working to make people aware of scam scouting agencies? So many of my friends have been scammed by fake talent scouts.

Feb. 07 2012 10:51 AM
carolita from NYC

I know people like to hate models and sneer at them as if they were Marie Antoinette or something, but there are many many more models than you see in the magazines, and they're working hard and making only about the same income as many people with regular jobs (we can't all be supermodels), and they especially need protection from predatory practices in modelling agencies, particularly because many models are young and inexperienced, and alone. (Many girls become models just to get away from home).

I remember talking about the possibility of a model union twenty years ago when I was modelling in Paris. Mostly it was all about how annoying it was to be ripped off by agencies who came up with all sorts of ways to chisel away at our income. Like charging you to send your book out (didn't necessarily happen as often as they charged you for), and holding onto your money for months on the claim that the client hadn't paid them yet so they couldn't pay you yet.

One agency did this to me quite unapologetically for six months, while lending me money to pay the rent at 20 per cent interest. I lived on corn flakes for three meals a day even though I'd made 30K for a commercial. They took advantage of me because I was not legally living in the country at the time, and I could do nothing about it without bringing attention to my lack of working papers.

Feb. 07 2012 10:47 AM

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