Where’s my check?
It’s a question too often asked by models, who regularly have to wait, and wait, and wait — and wait — for payment for their work. The modeling world is notorious for the slowness of payment, not to mention what can be a lack of financial transparency on the part of modeling agencies. These remain major issues even as leading fashion groups and brands vow, in the #MeToo era, to improve their treatment of models and working conditions and increase the diversity of the faces that companies use in their ad campaigns and on the runway.
Even with these steps, models, especially young ones who have less bargaining power, can find themselves drowning in debt. It can be months before they’re paid for a job, or they’re paid only after complaining about nonpayment, are paid in “trade” (clothing exchanged for modeling) instead of money — or not at all. Models end up racking up huge expenses for the gym, dermatologist’s appointments, test shoots, the web site, haircuts, etc., all of which are initially paid by their agencies and the models must repay. In addition, models are often charged fees and expenses they weren’t aware of — even though agencies claim they are outlined in their contracts and it’s up to the models to read the contracts carefully.
Yet in their ongoing competition to find the new Kaia Gerber, Gigi Hadid or Karlie Kloss, agencies scour the remotest regions of the U.S. and the rest of the world to find fresh faces. This often means finding a model who’s barely 18, speaks little or no English and is far away from her family and booking her for jobs in America yet expecting her and her family to read and understand an American contract.
Agencies make their money at both ends of the pipeline — they take 20 percent of the model’s fee as well as 20 percent of the client’s fee for the job.
As for how quickly models themselves are paid, the agencies claim any delay isn’t their fault. Like Uber drivers, models in the U.S. are considered to be independent contractors — and so why shouldn’t the agencies charge them for their monthly web site fees, composite cards, travel, use of a company apartment or car service around town? In their view, agencies are simply the middle men – they don’t hire the models, the brands themselves do and so, since models aren’t employed by the agencies, it’s the clients that are to blame for slow payments, not them.
However, some models contend that agencies hold onto their money to cover the agencies’ operating costs. In addition, very often an agency will sponsor an international model’s work visa — charging them for it, of course — making it difficult for a model to complain too loudly about slowness in being paid for fear of endangering their working papers.
“Unfortunately the culture in the modeling industry is unless you ask to be paid, they won’t take the initiative to pay you,” said Simone Aptekman, a model with The Industry Model Mgmt and co-creator of that agency’s Model’s Bill of Rights. “You have to badger and say, ‘Hey, it’s been 90 days, where’s my check?’ Once you complete the job and send your voucher, it’s basically out of your hands. There’s language in contracts that say that agencies have up to 90 days to pay you, but even with that cushion period they have to collect from their clients, so often it exceeds 120 days. I had experiences where I’ve waited 250 days to get paid.
“I started to be that squeaky wheel,” she continued. “People [at her former agency] were very annoyed that I wanted my money. A lot of girls said they couldn’t speak up because they’d be deported. I could be more annoying, they didn’t hold my visa.”
She said some girls didn’t realize that even though an agency was sponsoring their visa they could switch to a different agency, which could sponsor them. “They have this held hostage feeling. ‘I can’t be released and I’m not being paid, and I’m basically doing free labor,'” she said.
Aptekman said “one word that comes to mind that really encapsulates how models are made to feel when they ask to be paid: Shame.”
“It’s not like the funds aren’t available to the models,” said Aptekman, who noted that the agencies cash the clients’ checks and she had proof. “There’s kind of like fraudulent behavior where that money just gets recycled or reused for the agency purposes, because it’s definitely not going to the model,” she claimed.
When she received her check, 20 percent was deducted as a commission to the agency, and then on top of that, there were the fees for the composite card and being on the web site, etc. “Before you know it, your job gets riddled down…you thought, ‘Oh this is a great job,’ and then you get the check for it, and it’s not even functional for your rent or anything.”
Aptekman said what really helps models is to have a mother agent (in addition to her regular agency), who first discovers them and shares in the commission. “The mother agent is collecting too and since they’re an organization and not a single person, they get paid when you get paid, so it’s kind of two against one. When you have a mother agent, the fee that would go the agency, 10 percent of that goes to the mother agent. I would urge models to have a mother agent when they’re starting because it’s someone who has your best interests.”
Often agencies will loan a model money and charge a fee, she said. “They charge these advances which have percentages on them. Instead of doing this advance, they can just pay you. They sort of create this debt hole. As a woman, you don’t feel empowered. You don’t have financial stability and you become susceptible to other grievances. Because you can’t protect yourself financially in a very large city where you’d like to have that protection for yourself. It sorts of initiates other toxins that models encounter in the industry. Unfortunately they go hand in hand,” said Aptekman.
At her former agency, Major Model Management, she said she asked to be paid money that was owed to her for about two months. “I kept sending e-mails with no response. It becomes practically impossible to collect. I told the previous agency that you are in breach of contract for not paying me, and I want to be released. It was a tough battle, to be honest. I was able to get out of it, but not without a fight. Every other work environment, you get paid bi-weekly. There’s direct deposit. You get paid for the work you do. There’s no smoke and mirrors,” she said. She alleges they were violating New York Labor laws and she wasn’t paid for jobs for more than 250 days, which she said was a breach on their end of the contract.
However, Nadia Shahrik, vice president of Major Model Management, disputed Aptekman’s account. “She left us. She breached her contract and left,” Shahrik said. Shahrik claimed Aptekman said she was going back to school in Boston and was still under contract. “A week later she was on the web site for [Federico] Pignatelli [Industry Model Mgmt],” said Shahrik, adding that she didn’t take legal action once Aptekman left the agency.
“We do pay our people. We wouldn’t be in business. We pay when the client pays. I’m not advancing them, why would I?” said Shahrik. “When you work, we get money. If we don’t get paid, you don’t get money.”
Shahrik repeated that models are independent contractors. “They would love to think they’re employees, but they’re not. We help them find jobs and that’s it,” she said.
As far as service fees, Shahrik said, “When they sign a contract it’s all in black and white.” She said she tells the models to take the contract home and read it, and if they have any questions, to let them know. “It’s like a marriage license,” she said.
Meisha Brooks, a model and actress who also has a degree in mechanical engineering from Harvard University, said she was once represented by an agency that refused to give her more than $1,000 each time she requested her paycheck. And it’s not that each job was for $1,000.
“Obviously they were hiding something and manipulating the system in some way,” she said.
Often she’d have to ask the accounting department, “‘Hey can I get paid? Can you check my account?’ Sometimes there will be discrepancies on the statement, and you’d ask, ‘Hey, why is this missing from it?’ Sometimes when people are caught they’ll say it’s a mistake, but sometimes people will get away with it.” She ultimately left the agency because of these issues, had to hire a lawyer to get out of the contract, but the agency kept the money that was owed to her.
Asked why she thinks there’s a lack a financial transparency in the modeling industry, Brooks replied, “The system is set up to lack transparency in every way.” For instance, she said, the client has up to 90 days to pay, but sometimes the client doesn’t pay, and it’s the agency’s job to chase the money. “If you ask, where’s my money, why aren’t you chasing this client to get them to pay, or why aren’t you bringing some kind of action ensuring this payment….Your hands are tied. If the agency says the client hasn’t paid, there’s nothing in your contract to protect you from that. Even though you did the work, it’s the agency that controls whether you get the income or not. The only way you can figure out if the client paid or didn’t pay is if you did the job with another model [from a different agency], and you can find out if they got paid. And if they got paid, then you should have gotten paid.”
Also clouding the issue is when an agency pays a model, but they don’t specify on the check what job she or he is being paid for. The check comes from the modeling agency, not the client. “You don’t know whose money this is,” Brooks said. “You can probably figure it out but it’s not in your face.”
As for the service fees that are charged, she said some are warranted, but others aren’t. “They said they can call you a car. That sometimes is covered by the client and sometimes it will come out of your pocket. You have to be aware of every single transaction. Everything that’s offered to you, you have to be skeptical and ask, ‘What is this? Is it coming out of my balance?’
“You have to be your own advocate unfortunately. I have come to realize you just have to ask as many questions as possible, and you can’t assume everyone has your best interests at heart. It’s a business. Like any industry, you have people who are not as well-meaning as you thought,” said Brooks.
Model agency executives insisted the industry generally is above-board and professional.
“I think there are problematic players in the industry,” admitted Bill Ivers, chief executive officer of State Model Management. But he said that when State signs models, it discloses the fees.
“We disclose that we will pay them after we have collected from the client. We have a dedicated e-mail address where talent can request a statement of accounts from our system. It will show them their financial history, all the jobs that have been booked, and what’s been paid by the customer and what’s not been paid by the customer, what expenses have been added to their account, and where they are financially. The amount that’s due and owing to them, the amount that’s not been collected and what’s coming to them in the future,” Ivers said.
He added, “We run checks every two weeks like clockwork, and then we advance in between.”
State will give an advance to a model if she needs help or needs to make rent, or has a medical bill, adding he once had a model whose dog needed surgery. “We don’t charge interest. Others do. The reason we don’t is I’ve been advised by an attorney you’re getting into the area of banking, and you don’t want to run afoul of banking laws by acting like a bank and charging interest,” said Ivers.
Asked if the modeling industry’s reputation has gotten better or worse in terms of payment and accounting practices, he said, “I would say there always have and always will be bad actors. When the economy is good, everyone has cash flow to make their payments. When the economy turns for the worse, we’ll probably see an increase in this type of activity.”
Ivers noted that State will apply a service fee based on the rate that it is charging their customer. For example, the agency pays third-party vendors for technology it uses to keep the calendar straight. It has a portfolio system where it can have a dozen or more books, or unique portfolios, for a specific situation, whether it’s a denim-oriented project, bridal or swim. Consequently, the agency charges a digital/marketing fee. “We have all these systems that we pay for. It costs a lot of money. We share in the costs. We look at the business, and we’re representing the talent. They hired us to work for them. We need tools in order to deliver on them,” he said.
For young fashion models just starting out in the business, State will invest anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 in test shots — which, at some time in the future, the model is expected to pay back once she gets a campaign. Of course, there are times when a model gets no work, and simply gives up.
“Agencies write off tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. Models are ‘I don’t want to do it anymore,’ or it doesn’t work out, the model doesn’t have the looks that the customer is interested in, their looks are out of favor,” he said. Ivers couldn’t quote a percentage of how many models don’t work out, but said State probably writes off from $50,000 to $100,000 annually. He said when a model switches agencies and still owes money to the first agency, “it’s a negotiation with the new agency.”
When Ivers signs a new model, the initial contact is for three years. “These investments that we’re making in models, it can take 18 months for a model to hit her stride, to really be comfortable meeting with casting directors and being in front of a camera, and then be available. A lot of girls go to school, we support that and just know things will happen slowly. It’s 18 months to get going, another 18 months to re-coup our investment,” he said.
David Bonnouvrier, owner of DNA Model Management, said, “Given the highly visible nature of our industry, the negative actions of a few bad players always reflects badly on the good ones and the industry as a whole.”
He said that most clients will pay within 30 to 60 days, but some will stretch to 90 days. “But there are clients who will (very well-known brands among them) use every trick in the book to delay the payments of their invoices,” he claimed.
Bonnouvrier said that agencies should disclose all fees and services in their management agreements — and contended that most do. There are a few agencies, however, that give the industry a bad reputation. “Absolutely this has always been the case and some have done a good job at giving our industry a really bad name,” he admitted.
Federico Pignatelli, owner of The Industry Model Mgmt and Pier 59 Studios, has been highly outspoken about the difficulties models have had in getting paid in a timely manner and other legal problems. In fact, he has banned several agencies from having their models shoot at his Pier 59 Studios, including Wilhelmina, Nomad, Major, NY Models and LA Models. He said the reason for the ban is “because to my understanding each one of them has fallen short of business or legal fair treatment of the models.”
Damon Rutland, managing director of Nomad Mgmt, said that after a year-and-a-half ban (which he said had nothing to do with financial matters; he pays his models in a timely fashion), Nomad’s models are back to working at Pier 59. However, a spokeswoman for The Industry Model Mgmt said Nomad is still banned.
When asked if they were still banned, Nadia Shahrik of Major, said, “Ask them.” Told that Major is still banned, Shahrik replied, “Honestly, I’m really over this story. We have bigger better things at Major than worry about Industry.” A spokeswoman for Wilhelmina declined comment. Representatives for NY Models and LA Models didn’t return phone calls seeking comment at press time.
However, the following day, Heinz Holba, owner of LA Models and NY Models, said he was never notified about a ban from Pier 54 and that his agencies do things properly. Upon further investigation, it was learned that Pignatelli plans to send Holba a letter banning his agencies’ models from using Pier 54 for various reasons, but hadn’t sent it yet.
“Things have not improved,” claimed Pignatelli. “I tried to contact agencies and have a meeting with them, and they said ‘we should, we should,’ and nothing happens. I’ve been publicizing as much as I can that we pay within 60 days from completion of work, and we do,” he said. “In fact, I keep on hearing that models are complaining about 18 months, 12 months, nine months,” he said. “I am trying to give them [agencies that are blacklisted] a signal that I’m vigilant and I know what you’re doing, and I know how one-sided modeling contracts are. They only favor the agencies, and the models have no way to defend themselves,” he said.
According to Pignatelli, certain agencies charge models service fees of $100 a month for being on their web site or for sending the books around. “But all the books today are sent electronically, they’re not sent manually,” he said.
Pignatelli also alleged that some agencies over-charge their models and house them in over-crowded places. “The whole thing is unfortunately highly unprofessional and unregulated,” he said.
He believes that every single time there is a service performed by the agency, there’s a service charge. “They call a cab to take a girl to the airport, and instead of charging $80, they charge $120 because they picked up the phone. There is always an excuse to charge more,” he said.
Some agencies also overcharge models for the apartments, according to Pignatelli. “They crowd the apartment six, eight, or 10 models and charge $1,000 a model, $1,200 a model, or even $1,500 a model. You see the apartments generating $10,000, $12,000, $15,000 for an apartment that may be $5,000 or $6,000 a month. They have these bunk beds in the rooms that can sleep four girls,” he said.
Then there is the issue of loans or advances to models.
“Let’s say a model needs money. They say we can give you a loan, which will cost you 5 to 10 percent. Even if they’re paid by the client, they like to do the loan since they can make an extra commission,” he claimed. “On top of that, they don’t pay federal tax. When you actually pay the model for a job, you have to pay federal tax. They save the federal tax, which is cash in their pocket at year-end, and give the advance money to the model and a loan which they make an extra 5 to 10 percent. We’re talking about very unethical practices.”
Rutland of Nomad Mgmt, asked why people think there’s a lack of transparency when it comes to payment, said, “I’m not sure that there is, it’s case by case by agency. Nomad is more of a management company than an agency.” A former model, Rutland opened a booking agency in L.A. The Miami and New York offices are management firms.
“A huge part of management is managing expectations and explaining to models and also to parents about the business. There’s a big learning curve. It’s not like any other business. What we find is a lack of communication. For the most part, everything is explained in the contracts but neither models nor parents read them. When they read them they just don’t understand them. They just don’t get it,” he said.
“Until you have a feel for the business and learn how it works, a lot of them get upset,” he contended.
Asked whether he believes most models realize it takes 60 days to be paid, he said, “We never know, either. There are a lot of clients that are slow to pay or are just plain shady. Especially for shows. Especially in New York, sometimes the billing comes through the billing company or a showroom or the clients themselves. Sometimes a client doesn’t pay on last season’s shows, until they need models for this season. They need the models and then they start paying,” he said. “It’s not agreeable but it’s understandable. Most of the designers are working on budgets and funding, and that’s how the cash flow works for them.”
Rutland has also found that there are a lot of “trades” during fashion week, where girls get paid in clothes. “We have girls or guys do ‘trade’ shows. It depends on the designer. A lot of times getting that trade is the clothes they wear to castings.”
“If they don’t have a lot of money, it’s not going to pay rent, [but] it will help them look great when they go to castings, and that makes a huge difference,” he contended.
“As a manager, my number-one job is to communicate. If the girl is very young, sometimes I do make the decision for them, or I make it in conjunction with their parents. Because a lot of times they are too young to even understand what’s going on,” he said. But many times, models just want to get started in the business, no matter what.”
Are the models required to pay back their debts if they leave the business altogether?
“Legally, yes, according to the contract they’re liable to pay it back. If the girl or the family doesn’t have a lot of money, even if it’s $10,000, it’s not worth us going after. To get a lawyer and file a lawsuit, we’ve already paid 10 grand. To go after them, it doesn’t really work,” he said. “If a model leaves an agency to go to another one, and they’re leaving debt there, then we say to the other agency, ‘the only way you can take her is if we work out a deal on the debt.'”
Rutland said the firm actually works on a very small profit margin.
“We quote it’s $1,000 plus 20 percent. We bill $1,200. The model gets paid $800, because we take 20 percent from her. We get 20 percent from the client. Then we have to pay out the manager. Ten percent goes to the mother agency or management company. It sounds like a lot to a lot of people. It’s an incredibly small profit margin. That’s why most of the agencies are owned by billionaires and hedge funds,” he claimed. “It’s not a money-making business for anybody, really. The models make money. We have girls who make millions of dollars. Even with all the commissions and taxes, they are doing really well. Me, as an owner of an agency, I have many girls who make way more money than I do.”
Nomad has an apartment in L.A. it rents to models. “There are periods of time when nobody is in the apartment. We’re not going to lose money on the apartment, but we don’t make money on the apartment. We just raised the apartment’s rent by $15 a month,” he said. “The only reason we did it is we had to make up the deficit of what we lost over the last year. It’s not a money-making opportunity for us whatsoever. Some agencies probably do make some money off of it. It’s not something we do,” he said.
He explained why some payments to models get delayed.
“I think a lot of it has to do with clients not paying on time as well. I also think it has to do with, let’s say it’s Macy’s. Macy’s pays regularly, they pay on time, they almost always pay within 30 days, as long as the invoice has been done properly. If there’s the wrong PO number on the invoice, it doesn’t get paid. But they’re very regular, it’s a regular pay schedule. Amazon is on 45 days. We know we’re going to get paid. They’re a regular client, they have money, it’s not going to be a problem. If there’s an advertising job, it’s normally an advertising agency that ends up booking everything and they do all of the billing. And they have to wait to get invoices from all of the different vendors, whether it’s the photographer, the hair and makeup, the location van, the caterers and all that stuff. They have to get all that in first, and then they have to process it. Advertising jobs take on average 90 days from the day of the job. They have to collect all those invoices first. There are jobs that take a longer period of time.”
Jan Planit, an industry veteran and modeling consultant, doesn’t think the modeling industry lacks transparency. She said it’s up to the model to make sure she reads her contract, and then she won’t be surprised when expenses are deducted for things that were contractually agreed to.
“They [modeling agencies] have total transparency. If a model signs a contract, reads the contract, negotiates points of the contract, and has an open dialogue, then there’s nothing to complain about. You’re going to have disgruntled people in any contract, if they don’t read what they sign, and then they act like it’s a surprise, well, who’s fault is that? I get particularly upset when they try to position the modeling industry in a negative light because these kids are sometimes young and they’re not paying attention, or they’re not finding an attorney. It doesn’t mean the agency is trying to do anything ,” she said.
Agencies will advance the models money for hair appointments, the gym, doctor’s appointments, etc. and it comes out of their fee, Planit said. “That’s when you hear the models bitching and moaning,” she said. “Models, the talent, are business people and they’re responsible for running their business. No one is in business to rip people off. They should be looking at the contract.”
Jill Perlman, a partner in Iconic Focus, which represents models age 32 and older and who previously worked for 10 years at Ford Models with Eileen and Jerry Ford, said, “The second we get paid, our model gets paid the next day once the bookkeeper comes in,” she said. She said that the model pays 20 percent commission to the agency, and the agency gets 15 to 20 percent of the client’s fee. “We don’t hold onto anybody’s money,” she said. The agency takes commission. Sometimes they’ll advance a girl money. “Sometimes if we know the money’s coming in and she’s got to pay her bills, we’ll advance her. There’s no charge for that. We don’t really do that, then everybody would do that. We need to run a business,” she said.
The agency will lay out the costs for the hotels and cars, for example, and then after the model is paid, she reimburses the agency. “When we get paid, our models get paid. Any fees would be a web site fee. Nothing other than that, we’d take out for. We don’t charge for copies,” said Perlman. “We’ve never been stiffed. Clients pay anywhere between 30 and 90 days, although we just had a client who was five months past due and we got paid. Generally it’s 30 to 90 days. Some pay right away. It depends if it goes through payroll or through Europe,” she said.
While IMG officials declined to be interviewed, its IMG Models Protections Document says, “Our team ensures our clients are paid in a timely and fair manner. Models don’t have to ask to be paid. We pay models the full balance of what’s in their accounts twice per week and make their statements (including their fee and IMG’s commission) available. We don’t charge interest on advances. We work to ensure customers pay within 30 to 90 days.”
They also place strict time limits on the use of the model’s image and prevent his/her image from being used in perpetuity or re-purposed and/or sold to other brands. IMG also holds education and training sessions and covers a range of topics, including financial fitness.
While the agencies believe their actions are professional and generally blameless, the fact remains that many models feel they are being taken advantage of – and complain that they constantly have to chase agencies to be paid.
Asked why she feels there’s a lack of transparency when in the industry, Sara Ziff, founding director of the Model Alliance, explained that almost without exception, a model who enters into a representation agreement with an agency will grant it “power of attorney” as part of the agreement. “The power of attorney clause grants modeling agencies extraordinary power over a model’s finances and career. As attorney-in-fact, the agency has the power to accept payments on behalf of the model, deposit checks, and deduct expenses. The agency can also book jobs, negotiate the model’s rate of pay, and give third parties permission to use the model’s image,” she said.
“Despite their power to control the models’ purse strings, agencies claim not to have a fiduciary obligation to the models they represent and often abuse their power. Models don’t always know how much they will be paid and what fees or expenses will be deducted from their paychecks,” she claimed.
“Models also frequently don’t know when clients have actually paid for their modeling services and wait many months to finally be paid their earnings by their agencies. Most agencies do not pay their models unless the models ask for their money. Agencies that engage in this practice earn interest on the earnings they hold, sometimes over months and years,” said Ziff.
“Sometimes models never recover payments at all. Despite instances of nonpayment by clients, some agencies will knowingly book models with those same clients. If and when agencies resort to debt collection, the model is often considered responsible for the costs, even though she is typically not a party to the negotiations with clients,” she added.
Asked why agencies aren’t more upfront about the service fees they and what they entail, Ziff said, “Modeling agencies have a great deal of financial and career power over the models, which would usually come attached with legal obligations to act in the models’ interests. And yet the agencies have maneuvered out of this obligation. Modeling agencies frequently call themselves ‘model management companies’ rather than ‘agencies’ in order to skirt licensing requirements, caps on commissions, and other laws. Under the rubric of ‘management company,’ they claim that bookings are incidental to their primary role of providing advice.”
She noted that although models enter into fixed-term, exclusive contracts to their agencies, “the agencies claim they are under no obligation to promote the models they represent or book jobs for them. Their legal obligations to the models are through their contracts, but because the vast majority of models have little to no bargaining power, these contracts tend to be entirely one-sided in favor of the agencies,” she said.
“As ‘management companies,’ modeling agencies have a dual income stream. Typically, they charge a 20 percent commission from the model and an additional 20 percent service fee to the client (what this service fee is for is unclear). These charges are in addition to the various other fees and expenses they deduct from the models’ earnings (e.g. rent, website fees, comp cards, portfolio file transmissions, cash advances, travel, etc). It is not unusual for models to work in debt to their agencies,” she noted.
In France, models are considered employees of their agencies. But in New York, agencies insist that models are independent contractors who simply get occasional guidance from their agencies, Ziff said. “Upon entering into a power of attorney relationship, I believe the ‘management company’ is taking on much greater responsibility vis-à-vis the models they represent than they currently acknowledge,” said Ziff.
Discussing the recourse models have if they’re not paid in a timely manner, Ziff said, that in New York City, the Freelance Isn’t Free Law provides basic protections for freelance work, including mandatory contracts for jobs over $800 and 30-day payment terms unless otherwise specified in a contract. “However, because of the multi-level structure of hiring in the modeling industry, generally professional models do not contract directly with their clients and they continue to face issues with late and non-payment,” she said.
She added that models with questions or concerns about any work-related problem can confidentially contact Model Alliance’s grievance reporting and advice service at Model Alliance Support. While the organization cannot provide legal advice, they can provide a referral to an attorney if needed. Additionally, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) is a dedicated City resource for workplace questions and complaints. Models can file a complaint and DCWP will notify the hiring party who must respond to the complaint within 20 days.
Susan Scafidi, founder and president of the Fashion Law Institute, a nonprofit organization at the Fordham University School of Law in New York, feels the transparency issue is not a new conversation, but it’s one that is back in the news.
“This is a conversation we’ve been having for a decade or more. It is an issue that is returning to the fore, not only because individual models are expressing concerns but because of the conversation around independent contractors and independent contractors’ rights generally. The lack of transparency is certainly an issue and the delays that are the cause of lack of transparency are often on the part of the clients, and not the agencies and model management companies,” she said.
“It is simply very complicated to keep track of all these things, when you have client delays. With regard to all the hidden charges, in New York, what we call modeling agencies are carefully designated as model management companies whose role is to develop the careers of their clients and to book jobs. Because if they were agencies there would be a cap on their percentages. The cap is substantially lower than the typical 20 from the model, and 20 from the client. Once you are Gisele, it may be 20 percent from the client, and nothing from the agency,” she said.
An agency would be capped at 10 percent, which is why the firms describe themselves model management companies, and can take 20 percent, she noted.
“Part of being a model management company, it’s not nearly an agency relationship where you’re booking clients, you’re expected to develop the client. It is part of their decades-long practice, to send the model to haircuts, or dermatologists or to buy clothes so they can go out on look-sees, as well as paying for transportation and putting them in an apartments, all of these things that have become part of the culture of the modeling industry over time, since the founding of Ford,” she said.
Is there any recourse for a model if she’s expecting to be paid in 60 days and it’s taking six months?
“With regard to recourse, a model can always can always ask her agency or her booker for an accounting. And then they’ll receive an answer. What that answer might not necessarily reflect is when the clients might pay,” she said.
“If the issue is when the third-party might pay, then the model has little recourse because the agencies get paid when they get paid. Ultimately we have seen models who have taken legal action against agencies, but usually not until they leave the agency because the ongoing relationship and the power differential means that models are very reluctant to sue their agencies. There’s always another young, beautiful person who happens to be six feet tall, and weighs 10 pounds waiting in the wings,” she said. “Models are very aware, until they reach a certain level of success, they are very replaceable.”
* This story has been updated to reflect Heinz Holba’s comments.
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