Cross Wilhelmina, expect a lawsuit.
Wilhelmina Models Inc., which was founded in 1967, making it one of the oldest existing modeling agencies, last week sued six-year-old agency The Society, part of Elite World, for allegedly taking its models and its related service fees. Wilhelmina is asking a New York court for at least $1 million in damages in order to “ensure that The Society’s wrongful conduct does not go unpunished.”
In a separate suit, Wilhelmina sued male model Francisco Lachowski for leaving the agency “with zero justification,” allegedly in breach of his representation agreement that went to 2021. Lachowski recently signed on with The Society, so Wilhelmina is seeking unspecified damages.
The lawsuits are additional attempts to stem the apparent flow of talent out of Wilhelmina, a fair amount of which seems to be going into The Society. The younger agency, started in 2013, recently lured over Taylor Hendrich, who led Wilhelmina’s men’s group until last month when he joined The Society. Earlier this month, Wilhelmina sued three male models that also left the agency for The Society, claiming they, like Lachowski, breached their individual representation contracts that all go into 2020.
In the $1 million lawsuit against The Society, Wilhelmina told the court it must hold the rival agency liable for damages stemming from its use of the three models it earlier sued, claiming service fees for their campaign work for the likes of Old Navy, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s are being unlawfully taken from it. Wilhelmina argued that it negotiated the deals for the models with these retailers and was set to collect a 20 percent service fee based on the models’ compensation. Now, as the models claim to be represented by The Society (something Wilhelmina disputes), Wilhelmina said The Society is simply “stealing” by having them complete the campaign work.
“The Society has been inserting itself into engagements that Wilhelmina had already secured, and thus taking fees that were due Wilhelmina,” the agency wrote in its complaint. “In fact, The Society’s tortious interference alleged in this lawsuit is merely part of a larger deliberate and malicious scheme by The Society to steal Wilhelmina’s employees, talent and business with its brands.”
A representative of The Society could not be reached for comment.
Not all of Wilhelmina’s employees and talent have defected to The Society, but many have left the agency in recent months. In May, Wilhelmina sued five now former employees — a scout, three booking agents and a director — in its women’s group for a “brazen coordinated plot” to damage the agency by taking models over to another younger rival, Supreme Model Management. Wilhelmina sued for $5 million.
But the case wasn’t over before the employees shot back, telling the court in a joint response that pointed to chief executive officer Bill Wackerman as the cause for the mass exodus. They accused him generally of “a pattern of frequent harassing behavior,” “mistreatment and abuse” and creating “a hostile, threatening work environment.”
The case was mutually discontinued shortly after this response, without costs to either party, according to court records.
Wilhelmina International, the agency’s parent company, is public and in its second-quarter financials released earlier this month show total revenue down 3.2 percent year-over-year to $19.9 million and net income up 23.9 percent, but to only $451,000. For the half-year so far, total revenue is down 0.8 percent to $40 million on net income of $342,000, a drop of 41.9 percent compared to last year. The company attributed the decrease in revenue to a drop in bookings in its studios division, essentially a branded content agency.
For More, See: