What Models Really Get Paid

In I spied... on December 7, 2010 at 6:56 am

In the midst of my semi-hypnotic state of web surfing last week, I noticed several of my online news portals featuring an article about some fashion models suing their agency for stealing earnings. ‘Who gives a toss?’ I thought. Those girls make too much money doing nothing anyway. However, now that the case has been opened in court, along with payment documents and confidential contracts, some very interesting industry revelations are up for public viewing. Ever dreamt of being discovered by a modeling agency scout? Thought models made thousands by gracing pages of Vogue? You might think differently after reading this article…

Polish ‘supermodel’ (this term is used so easily nowadays, but I’ll use it anyway) Anna Jagodzinska, pioneer of the $3.75 million lawsuit against  her former modelling agency in question, Next, has submitted the following statement to the Manhattan Supreme Court. Dated April 23, 2010, the document lists payments that the model has yet to receive for her work. And it’s pretty revealing.

Vogue, it turns out, doesn’t pay. Literally. According to this document, Paris Vogue has owed payment to Jagoszinska since just under a year ago in May 2009. American Vogue has also not paid up for two jobs the model did in October and December of 2009. You might also note that the pending payments aren’t exactly the kind of amounts you would expect from the global fashion giant, with a day rate of $125 from French Vogue and $250 from American Vogue. According to sources, landing a job for a magazine editorial, whether it be a Condé Naste publication or not, is basically volunteer work for models.

So where does the big money come from? Advertising campaigns– if you can get one. Catalog work also pays well, offering day rates in the low thousands. Fortunately for our model Anna, she landed several advertising campaigns with H&M ($60,000), Laird & Partners ($35,000 from the creative agency which produced her Bottega Venetta and Donna Karan campaigns), J. Crew ($15,000) and Grey Paris ($172,500 – another creative agency). Not too shabby. Oh, but wait! None of them have paid her yet. Hence, Next having marked final balance of $89,684.50 as ‘unavailable’.

Now let’s get to the really scandalous stuff and find out exactly why the models would be suing one of the top agencies in the business. Take a look at some examples of Next’s agency fees deducted from her account:

  • $650 for including Anna in its “show package,” or the packet of head shots that agencies mail to casting agents to promote their models just before the start of the runway season.
  • $75 for “IMAGING/WEB-DEC., JAN., FEB.,” presumably a cost related to having her portfolio on Next’s website.
  • $100 for the purchase of magazines. (Agencies buy magazines to rip out editorial photos or “tears” that feature their models.)
Okay, maybe these seem like reasonable management costs. Would they still seem reasonable if I told you these are costs billed separately, against what remains of the model’s earnings after Next has already taken its 20% commission?
According to the Next management contract which has also been made public, the agency authorizes itself to make any deductions from its models’ accounts for any reason whatsoever, without informing the model, seeking her permission or needing to provide a receipt. That’s pretty worrying! So worrying in fact that you wouldn’t be half-wrong in suspecting that some of the deductions from your balance could be untrustworthy, fraudulent even. $100 is an unusually round number for buying a bunch of magazines wouldn’t you say? For mailing out pictures to various casting agents, how does one come up with the sum of $650 exactly? From the inside of a hat perhaps?
  • Don’t forget the whopping tax bill at the bottom of the statement. Because she is not a U.S citizen, Next deducted $85,012.50 in taxes even though Anna is an independent contractor and not an employee.
If Anna wanted any of the money from the companies taking their sweet time to pay up, according to her contract, she would have the option of getting a loan or an ‘advance’ from Next. How nice of them! Too bad they’ll be charging a 5% upfront interest charge of the sum from which a 20% commission and Next’s other costs have already been deducted.
The contract also states that Next, at its sole discretion, may choose not offer ‘advances’ during the interval between when a job is completed and when a client actually pays the agency for the model’s work. A list of jobs that don’t qualify for advances include runway work, jobs for any client based outside the U.S. and any job with “clients or customers who have filed for bankruptcy, [or] have credit deemed questionable by Next.”
Elephant in the room? Why on earth would Next want to book its models to work for bankrupt or ‘questionable’ companies that it suspects will never pay them? Well for one, the potential cost of one model getting fed up and leaving the agency is guaranteed to be lower than the potential cost of displeasing that production house or brand (or so they thought). There is allegedly an entire list of companies that Next will not advance monies for, which according to the contract, is available to its models upon request. While this infamous list was not submitted to the court for this lawsuit, a former Next model revealed to that prestigious fashion house, BCBG Max Azria was one of the companies listed on it. I wonder if Vogue, who have yet to pay Anna is also on that list. In fact, I’d put my money on it. Who wants to harass Anna Wintour about an unpaid invoice?
It would appear as if clients not coughing up the cash is quite a common occurrence in the modelling industry, for which Next is well prepared. The model? Not so much. While the agency has a strong incentive to chase up clients on payments which they have advanced to their models, what about the clients that don’t qualify for those all-important advances? I suspect the incentive is considerably less– hence  an account statement that looks like Anna’s. Next won’t make that 20% commission but it can still deduct its ‘miscellaneous charges’ from the models other earnings. In the contract, Next promises to make “diligent efforts” to recover all payments  clients, but adds that in the event that a client refuses to pay the amount, all legal representation and/or debt collection will be charged to– you guessed it, the model.
As if this wouldn’t be enough to send any model running for the hills had she known the true extent of Next’s breach of money management, the agency also permits itself in the contract to keep up to $5,000 of a model’s earnings, just in case they incur any expenses additional  expenses on the model’s behalf at any point in time.
One wonders at this point why anyone in their right mind would ever sign such a contract. Bare in mind that most models aren’t yet 16 years old when they sign with their first agency. Most models are in and out of debt with their agencies throughout their careers. A common story: model racks up thousands in debt in aggressive markets like New York or Paris, agency sends model to work it off in less mainstream but more but cost-effective markets such as Germany and Australia. ‘Rinse and repeat’. 

No matter what industry, no matter how much you’re earning, none of this sounds right does it? The three models  filing the suit are so convinced that Next’s breach of money management is so extensive and so serious that they’re not just after the compensation. They want the court to enforce Next to open its books to reveal exactly what they’ve been up to. If the allegations are true and there are other models who have had considerable earnings withheld, this could be the beginning of the end for the industry giant. Call in the auditors!

Q: Guess who just bought FORD models (Anna Jagoszinska’s new agency since she left Next)?

A: Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin, whose business partner was arrested several years ago in the French Alps for suspected involvement in human sex trafficking.

Wow, that’s a disturbing thought.

  1. Maybe these models should read their contracts before they sign them! I feel only slightly bad for them, and thats directed towards their stupidity for not reading their contracts. In a way it serves them right. BUT that doesnt mean I think they shouldnt be paid in a reasonable time…they should.

    • Agreeing but how anyone at Next can sleep at night for handing out those kind of contracts to girls mostly under 16 that can barely speak English is beyond me..

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