April 8, 2015

In the name of fashion – The difficult life of a model

When seeing models shining bright on the catwalk, awash in the limelight of the show, with a flawless complexion and ideal proportions, many young women would give anything to be in their place for at least one single time. This because they are not familiar with the price there is to pay for even a single runway appearance.

The life of a model is anything but movie-like. The smile of a model hides a lot of work, tiredness and disappointment. And, more than anything, turndowns and letdowns. As not even the most beautiful models in the world get every casting they attend.

Even if it’s the dream job of every adolescent girl’s fantasy, a model’s life is surely not an episode from glam Hollywood movies.

What is apparent, meaning glamorous features in campaigns, magazines and catwalks, is just the tip of the iceberg. Still, the reality of it, the actual job description of a model, implies an endless series of castings, fittings and responsibilities not that well known and not that desirable, let alone glam. There’s actually little wonder about many models’ complaining of chronic fatigue.

If we are to take just the fashion week into account, for a single fashion show there are up to 400-500 models competing, out of which a mere 40-50 are going to be among the lucky ones. A fact which means that in order to get one single international designer runway appearance, the great majority of models need to attend dozens of castings and face an almost equal number of refusals.

Furthermore, in an industry generating USD 900 million a year in New York’s fashion week only, the models’ pay check account for just a tiny fraction of the economical impact of it all. The amounts truly colossal some models get don’t come from catwalk running, but from certain campaigns and editorials only “it“ models have access to.

If we set aside the big names in the business, most models earn between USD 1 000 and 5 000 for a show. If we, then, cut away taxes and the agency’s fee, what’s left probably is enough to pay for the rent, travel and other expenses of the venture. Some models even end up owing money after such an experience, because of not having accumulated enough contracts in order to cover the multiple costs it entails.

A Boston University study showed that, between the years 2000 and 2010, 47% of the models we’ve seen on the catwalk for fashion week have had one time shot breakthroughs. A career with a very brief window of opportunity.

Then, why do young women continue showing interest in the profession? Because the catwalks of a renowned designer have proved to be the ideal spot for getting discovered and earning a spot into the mainstream, to be the steady source for what the Americans call “the next big thing”!

Another rock in the road for this strenuous professional path is that young models very early in their career encounter: the don’t having a say in the way in which they are being shown or portrayed. Often times the designers and even their own agents will make requests that don’t necessarily coincide with the choices they themselves would have made for their person or their career. Requests are even more difficult to deny while every job, every contract, tends to be framed as a favour the agency is making to the model.

Despite being almost half a century old, the modeling industry is yet to be regulated. Meanwhile, the models still lacking the fame and influence to allow them to negotiate and navigate their own professional destiny continue having to weigh exactly how much they prize the chance of running for certain designers and on certain podiums, regardless of the context.

Models don’t even have an organisation protecting their interests. So far, not even a legal framework for providing them with a healthy work environment has been put into place. As a consequence, they don’t even receive medical insurance or any of the benefits any other type of employee usually receives with his payment package. This for the mere fact that they are being seen as an independent part to the employment contract, even if the idea of independence is, in itself, a very poorly framed one. This, as compared to freelancers, with a freelance journalist for example, that can offer his services and abilities to the media outlet of his choice, models work exclusively through an (only) agency. They depend on the agency! Fact which amounts to it having absolute power in this relation, with the model next to none. Practically, models are similar to freelancers for lack of a better comparison, without actually enjoying any of the benefits or liberties these do.

A paradox that is being tried to get undone by the initiative of a former model, Sara Ziff, who founded the Model Alliance. Thanks to perseverant lobbying on the political representatives of the state of New York, so far a few laws meant to protect underage models have been put into place.


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Photo: luxury.millionairematch.com