May 24, 2016
Fashion Models Sue Management Agencies for Exploitation, Labor Law Violations
Modeling agencies sound like Hollywood producers and Washington DC politicians. Where are humans not being exploited? Are tenured faculty exploiting ambitious graduate students?
Eight of the biggest modeling agencies in the world are going to court next month to fight a case that threatens to lay bare the horrors of the modeling industry.
If successful the suit could see thousands of models compensated, cost the agencies in excess of $100million and change the way they do business forever.
Daily Mail Online has spoken to models, including several bringing the suit against a series of agencies.
The agencies - Wilhelmina Models, Wilhemina Models International, Elite, Click, MC2 Model and Talent Miami, MC2, Next and Major Model Management - represent the biggest in the modelling world.
All have told of how they experienced a world where sexual harassment, pressure to have cosmetic surgery, eating disorders and drug abuse are common.
But it is the agencies' alleged circumvention of labor laws that forms the basis of their case.
There are claims of thousands of dollars deducted from their paycheck in spurious 'expenses'; extortionate rent charged for model apartments; late or missed payments and interest charged on advances that keep all but the most successful girls indebted and dependent on their agency.
The case is to be strongly defended by the modeling industry, who say that it would devastate them and that the claims are baseless.
They say models get a fair deal, and that claims of financial wrongdoing are entirely untrue.
The case began when Louisa Raske, who began her career while a sophomore at high school, noticed her face on a box of L'Oreal hair dye in CVS. She had never been paid for its use.
'I was with a lawyer who was a friend. So we questioned it. My agency said they couldn't find me. I was like, that's impossible,' she told Daily Mail Online.
The image had been re-licensed for use across various territories and the same had happened to numerous girls.
Louisa explained: 'I contacted the other girls and we were like, 'Let's do this.'
New York attorney, Christopher Kercher, took on the case last spring.
'We realized this was about much more than just some agencies withholding payment. This was about the whole business model,' he said.
Now 35 and living in Miami, Raske was a sophomore in Atlanta, Georgia when she was spotted.
She said: 'All you can think about is you're excited to be a model. When you're 14, 15 you don't think twice about money.
'It's such easy prey and on top of that a lot of the girls are coming from Europe or Russia and don't speak English.'
In the US agencies take 20% commission on every payment made to models.
They also take an additional 20% from the client in a finders' fee, so on a $1,000 job the model makes $800 and the agency $400.
There are then expenses deducted - with the biggest cost housing.
Raske lived in a model apartment when she moved to Miami after signing with Next.
She recalled: 'There would be eight to ten girls and they'd charge each person $1,200 to $1,500 per month. They might be paying $3,500 on the apartment if that.
[. . .]
According to model Rachel Blais the problem is not limited to the agencies named in the suit.
Despite the fact that she was in regular work Rachel recalled living on $75 a week in New York.
[. . .]
'When I was 19 my agency asked me to have liposuction. That's how they also get you into big debts. They pay for it but then you owe them.
'When I said I didn't want liposuction they said they had put together a little list of photographers I should be 'hanging out with,' wink, wink, sleep with.'
For Rachel the slide from financial into sexual exploitation is very real.
She explained: 'I've been to clubs in New York where I've seen the supermodels partying with their agents. But I've also seen girls struggling and what they ended up doing.
'There's this culture of normalizing the use of your body to make money. Escorting or however you want to call it.
'I don't know a single girl who hasn't been told you're going to be the next supermodel. You're going to make lots of money. So this creates a lot of expectation and you're young, so you keep going, you keep hoping and you keep getting exploited.'
Today's suit is not the first time models have sought to take on the agencies.
In 2002 six Californian models brought an antitrust suit against eight major agencies: Elite Models Inc, Ford Models Inc, Wilhelmina Model Agency Inc and five other New York based agencies.
According to attorney Andrew Hayes who represented the models: 'The claim was that the agencies had agreed, in the 1970s, to all claim to be exempt from the New York law that limits their commissions to 10% of the models' bookings.
'The basis of the exemption was that the agencies were "personal managers", and not booking agents.
'This was absurd because the 'personal manager' exemption only applies for managers who are only incidentally involved in securing bookings for their clients.'
Lorelei Shellist, 57, was among the models. Now a designer, author and empowerment coach living in Los Angeles, she said: 'I knew that I wasn't going to retrieve any money because the statute of limitations had already run out. But I didn't care. I wasn't doing it for the money.
'I was doing it because I wanted to advocate for the newbies, because they were double dipping, they were taking these extra expenses as well as overcharging girls for being in their books and whatever other charges. Nobody had your back.'
She said: 'If you asked questions you were considered trouble and they'd show you the door.'
She recalled: 'I lived in an apartment outside of Paris that was owned by [Elite agency founder] John Casablancas.
'There were five of us in that apartment and I remember him coming up with some 15 year old Swedish girl and them going into the bedroom together and then him coming out about an hour later. That girl was working like crazy after that.
'There were favors. That's part of the exploitation.
'The girls that were doing well were going out with the agents and the photographers.'
Carolyn Fears was also in the 2002 suit. Now 46, Illinois born Carolyn was 19 when she signed with Ford and moved to New York. She recalled: 'I didn't know how bad things were until I got my first paycheck.
'There was a $1,500 deduction. I went up to my booker and I said, 'I was just curious what this was for?'
'I didn't know that Eileen Ford was standing behind me. And she said, 'You listen here missy. I don't see you on the cover of Vogue.' I was terrified they were going to fire me.'
Carolyn later discovered that the fee was for her inclusion in Ford's book.
She said: 'It sounds like a legitimate expense but if there's 100 models in that book and they're each paying $1,500, how much does that book actually cost?
'When I once told them I would like to see receipts they said it's not possible.
'You never knew what your paycheck would be and I never saw a single contract showing how much any client actually paid.'
Eventually the agencies settled. Andrew Hayes recalled: 'In total a settlement fund of over $20million was set up. A few thousand models submitted claims and each model received 100% of their allowed claim.'
There was also, he said, an injunction which 'required greater transparency by the agencies in negotiating their contracts with models – specifically, telling them that the commission rate was negotiable – and requiring the agencies to provide documentation of the expenses and other charges that would appear on models' statements.'
If the experiences of the models bringing today's suit are representative of industry practice, then the injunction seems to have had little impact.
Speaking today Andrew Hayes said: 'The costs of the litigation had the effect of clearing out some of the old guard. John Casablancas [who died in 2012] sold to Eddie Trump [who is unrelated to Donald Trump] and the Ford family also sold.
'But it's been over ten years so perhaps it's not surprising that there has been some serious backsliding.'
Lorelei Shellist describes this 'backsliding' as a 'slap in the face.'
However the model industry is fighting hard against the case.
Former president and partner of Ford, Joey Hunter – who began his career as a model for the agency - has little sympathy for any of the models or their claims.
In a staunch defense of big agencies he dismissed the picture of systematic abuse painted by the models in both the forthcoming lawsuit and the suit, in which Ford settled, in 2002.
He said: 'The should be focusing on the scams that exist not the legitimate agencies. We give a print out with every check. You can go to the accounting office and get a print out of your account.
'We're taking chances with them. We feel that they're going to work. We front the money. A lot of these girls never pay their debt. Nobody sues them for it. We take it on the chin.
'I'm not saying that there's not an agency out there that could be ripping them off. But if I speak for the big agencies believe me nobody's ripping them off.'
And Robert Hantman, attorney for MC2, said the current lawsuit is without merit.
He explained: 'We have proof that the models were paid on time and any expenses that were deducted were reasonable.
'Financially this [suit] would devastate the modeling industry. Models are developed. They're not generally born.
'They're developed and when they're developed they're making no money. The modeling agency's advancing money for apartments, head shots, transportation, trying to help subsidize them till the reach the point where they can make money.
'This case is nonsensical, it lacks logic, and it urges a result which would destroy the modeling industry in New York. It's just absurd.
'He added: 'I can say this MC2 will never pay a penny and if this isn't dismissed we're going to try the case to its conclusion.'
EXCLUSIVE: Sex for contracts, pressure to have cosmetic surgery and lose weight, fake fees by their own agents - 'Hell' of exploited models to be revealed in landmark court case
World's biggest modelling agencies face bombshell claims as they try to fight off lawsuit which could cost $100 million
Former and current models claim they were ripped off by the agencies with fake fees and bogus expenses charged against their earnings
Agencies say the class action could devastate their business model and is baseless
One model tells Daily Mail Online she witnessed one boss sexually exploit a 15-year-old girl who was 'rewarded' with more work
Models claim they were put up in battery farm conditions then charged a fortune for the privilege
5'11, 110lb model was told to have cosmetic procedure to slim her thighs
Different model was told to dump her boyfriend while he was serving in Afghanistan - and take up with an A-list celebrity instead
Another was on $10,000 a day shoots - but her blue-collar father in Ohio had to send her checks for the groceries she was so hard-up
By Laura Collins For Dailymail.com
Published: 08:43 EST, 24 May 2016 | Updated: 15:47 EST, 24 May 2016