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23-03-2012
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Why Modeling Is, Technically Speaking, A ‘Bad Job’
by ASHLEY MEARS
The day I signed with a modeling agency in New York, a manager sat me down to explain the terms of our working relationship. I was excited to be there, even a bit giddy to be signing a modeling contract, but not so much as to miss the crucial terms: in exchange for exclusive representation and a standard 20% commission from my earnings, the agency would promote and manage my modeling career. As managers to the self-employed, agencies arrange opportunities for models to work in exchange for a cut of their success, but they are not liable for models’ failures. A manager explained as much as he handed me the contract, stating, “Here’s where we don’t promise you the moon and the stars, but we’ll do our best to get you there.”

“Agencies arrange opportunities for models to work in exchange for a cut of their success, but they are not liable for models’ failures.”

The “moon and the stars” is a pretty good way of describing the heights of a modeling career, with top models grossing millions a year, traveling the world, and socializing with celebrities. Yet according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, models earned an estimated median income of $33,000 in 2011, an admittedly dubious figure given that the Department of Labor lumps together artist and fashion models with product promoters. Earnings among models within an agency are enormously skewed, with some earning over $100,000 a year, while others are as deep as $20,000 in debt. Among the 40 men and women models I interviewed as part of a sociology research project, their incomes ranged from a male model in $1,000 debt at his agency to a female commercial model who grossed $400,000 in a year.

Average earnings are nearly impossible to predict as monthly incomes fluctuate wildly. That’s because, in addition to being poorly paid, work in the cultural industries is structurally unstable and on a freelance, or per-project, contractual basis. These are what sociologists call technically “bad jobs,” akin to other work arrangements in the secondary-employment sector, like day laborers and contingent workers who piece together an irregular living. Such jobs require few skills and no formal education credentials, and the work provides no health or retirement coverage.

However, unlike other “bad jobs,” modeling is high-status work. Though the odds of making it big (or a living at all) are low, modeling is regarded as glamorous work, especially for women. In American popular culture, modeling is celebrated as a prestigious career for young women, any teen fashion magazine will convey as much. Hence my initial excitement at getting a foot in the door.

“But once in, I started to see a work arrangement with large structural inequalities.”

But once in, I started to see a work arrangement with large structural inequalities. As freelancers, models work for themselves, and in contractual terms, bookers work for them receiving commissions for arranging jobs that models secure on their own. This working relationship is more complicated than it might appear, however, because it feels quite different than what it formally is. It feels more like models are precariously clinging to the tastes and preferences of their agents and clients.

Consider, for example, some of the open critiques directed at models by agents and clients throughout their working days. Among the dozens of brutal comments I heard, in interviews and in my own work experiences, a sample: hearing that one has thick ankles, one’s head is asymmetrically shaped, one is too “street-looking,” one has a bad mustache, one’s shoulders are too narrow, one’s scar too prominent, one’s nose is busted, one has too many freckles, one’s *** is too big, and so on. Comments that would otherwise be flagged as sexual harassment in most workplaces are routinely and publicly spoken, propelling models to keep on their toes at all times.

Additionally difficult are the day-to-day ambiguities of trying to keep in favor with very people models pay to look out for them. Glamour combined with low entry criteria means that the model market attracts more people than it should, resulting in overcrowding and steep competition. A steady stream of new faces enters into an agency, while old ones are filtered out, and models can be “dropped” by their agencies with little or no warning. This creates a sense of substitutability — the sense that if you don’t like the terms of market, there are tons of competitors eager to take your place. Taken together, these kinds of experiences put models and their agents on drastically unequal footing.

In addition to being a “bad job,” I realized that it’s also an expensive one. Modeling requires extensive start-up and maintenance costs, which agencies incur and deduct from models’ future earnings. These add up quickly. My agencies charged a lot and often for a range of things one would never imagine, from daily bike messenger services to transport books from one client to the next, to the costs of composite cards, and even a charge to include my card in the “Show Package” mailed to Fashion Week casting directors. These expenses were billed against my prospective earnings and automatically deducted from my account. Foreign models can be deep in debt before they ever start castings in a major city, considering the costs of visas and plane tickets. This means models will not see their first paycheck until they book greater than the sum of their debts. After signing my contract in January I began working in magazines, catalogues, and shows by the end of the month. I did not get my first check, for $181.06, until mid-April (prior to this I received voided checks clipped onto a page-long list of expenses, many of which didn’t make obvious sense).

A model who leaves an agency with a debt is legally bound by contract to repay it, though agencies don’t often bother to pursue these debts, since failed models are an unlikely source from whom to recoup losses. Instead, agencies write off negative accounts as a business loss. However, models’ negative accounts will by contact transfer to their next agency should they attempt to model elsewhere, which is unlikely as agencies are hesitant to represent models with existing negative balances from unsuccessful stints at prior agencies. In other words, once in debt, everywhere in debt. What in some ways resembles indentured servitude is a routine part of this independent contractor agreement.

“What in some ways resembles indentured servitude is a routine part of this independent contractor agreement.”

Finally, getting paid can be an ordeal. Payments are slow to come, and they might not come at all. Designers and advertisers are risky liabilities to agencies because they too face a turbulent market. Demand for fashions can change quickly, investors may suddenly pull financial backing, and fashion labels, boutiques, and advertising start-ups can, and frequently do, go bust with little notice. Also common are clients in good financial standing but nonetheless chronically renege on payment.

Some agencies have a policy of advancing earnings to models within one week of the booking. However, if a client fails to pay within a specified time, typically 90 days, the agency will rescind the money from the model’s account until paid in full by the client. Hence, the agency pays its models for doing a job, but if a client defaults on the agency, the model must return the funds. In an effort to reduce their own risks posed by delinquent clients, some agencies pay models only after receiving the client’s payment; should a model want her payment immediately after the job, she’ll have to take an advance on the owed money at a loan rate, typically 5%. And like a bank, the money is recoupable. In other words, if the client doesn’t pay, the model takes the loss, not the agency. Given high expenses and client delinquency, modeling is risky work.

“If the client doesn’t pay, the model takes the loss, not the agency.”

By maintaining an independent contractor relationship, agencies are able to deflect market risks like expenses and delinquent clients as a model’s individual responsibility. Yet in such a relationship, we should expect models to have more say over their expense accounts, the kinds of jobs they have access to pursue, their clients’ payment histories, and, if nothing else, a voice to express these concerns without fear of replacement.
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24-03-2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by iRyan View Post
Would it be silly to submit pictures to an agency in London if you live in America?
No it wouldn't be silly because London is a fashion capital too around the world, maybe if you are looking into modelling you can submit to New York, London, Paris and Milan.

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24-03-2012
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Originally Posted by terpischoria View Post
Do you think it's possible to mix modeling and undergraduate studies? I know it'd mean less intensive modeling... would that be harder to get agency and modeling opportunities?
Lily Cole did this so yes everything and anything is possible. Best of luck

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25-03-2012
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Originally Posted by Mariann View Post
No it wouldn't be silly because London is a fashion capital too around the world, maybe if you are looking into modelling you can submit to New York, London, Paris and Milan.
Certainly it's not it's not "silly" ... and he could submit anywhere he wants and yes, London is a fashion capital. But ... it would be a waste of his time an his money, even if they like his look .... especially because he lives thousands of miles away on the southwest coast of the US. See my post above (#646) ... to read why it's best to start with a good mother agent at home, first. And this is how and why it's usually done this way.

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25-03-2012
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Originally Posted by BetteT View Post
Certainly it's not it's not "silly" ... and he could submit anywhere he wants and yes, London is a fashion capital. But ... it would be a waste of his time an his money, even if they like his look .... especially because he lives thousands of miles away on the southwest coast of the US. See my post above (#646) ... to read why it's best to start with a good mother agent at home, first. And this is how and why it's usually done this way.
I did see your post. I'm not saying to not have a mother agency closer to where he lives, all I am saying is that most models have applied to the fashion capitals and live in one place. For example Isabeli Fontana resides in Brazil yet she has agents in New York, London, Paris, Milan and I think in other ares. Same with Lindsey Wixson as she resides in Kansas and she has agents in Paris, Milan, New York and London. So it's possible for him to do the same. That's just my own way of seeing it.

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25-03-2012
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Lindsey Wixson and Isabeli have agencies abroad as they were placed in NY, LDN, Paris and so on by their motheragents. You can still try to do it without motheragency but I'm not sure if it works out. And especially for male models I wouldn't recommend this at all. Agencies don't risk something when it comes to male models. And especially in London they have enough promising domestic boys on development. If they take a boy from abroad (which I doubt), it still could financially easily go wrong, London is extremely expensive and pay rates for male models are very low....

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06-04-2012
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I thought a mother agency was one that you first signed with. So not every model has a mother agency?

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06-04-2012
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No ... some local agencies don't have the contacts to place you with other agencies overseas .... so it just depends on the agency and how they work.

Instead, you may have a different agency in different markets, without a mother agency at all ... as long as it's clearly defined in each contract you sign and you do not overlap. (Or you would owe both agencies commissions ... so you have to be sure about what you may and may not do in each city.) If you do not have a mother agency, you will have to make the connections on your own ... which makes getting repped elsewhere even more difficult. And you won't have a manager who is directing your career, which includes working closely with you to develop you for bigger and better things.

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Last edited by BetteT; 06-04-2012 at 12:35 PM.
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06-04-2012
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Oh okay. I guess some models rely on themselves and sign to agencies abroad... those that probably have money saved up I guess. You do get models that rely on themselves.


Last edited by Mariann; 06-04-2012 at 12:39 PM.
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14-04-2012
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Hey I've just thought of something. Say if a model had the money to fly abroad to apply to agencies in the fashion capitals, wouldn't it be cheaper to just sign with an agency that has global offices like Elite, Next and IMG?
Cause I have noticed that these agencies seem to sign their models to offices in various cities
Miranda Kerr is with IMG in London, Paris, Milan and New York. Abbey Lee Kershaw is signed to Paris, London, Milan and New York with Next. Asides signing with Why Not agency, Candice Swanepoel is also with those IMG offices.
Hannah Holman and Bambi Northwood Blyth are signed with various Elite offices in Paris, Milan, Barcelona, etc.
I think Julia Hafstorm and Barbara Palvin are signed with mostly IMG offices also.
Of course how could we forget when Lara Stone left Elite for IMG and she is signed with those offices there.


Last edited by Mariann; 14-04-2012 at 01:06 PM.
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14-04-2012
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^ IMG and Next are the ones who always keep the girls in house. With Elite and Ford it's a bit more complicated, there were times when they struggled to collaborate together. Elite Europe usually feeds into Ford, Marilyn and sometimes Elite NY, too. Ford NY and Ford Paris are not so fond of each other.
I don't understand your point completely. If you were signed to a good agency in London who don't have offices all over the globe (Select, Storm, Premier, Viva, FM, Union and Tess), it would their task to place you at other agencies. You wouldn't travel to to New York or Paris to get your placements done on your own, your London based agency would be responsible for that.

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14-04-2012
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cologne_rocks View Post
^ IMG and Next are the ones who always keep the girls in house. With Elite and Ford it's a bit more complicated, there were times when they struggled to collaborate together. Elite Europe usually feeds into Ford, Marilyn and sometimes Elite NY, too. Ford NY and Ford Paris are not so fond of each other.
I don't understand your point completely. If you were signed to a good agency in London who don't have offices all over the globe (Select, Storm, Premier, Viva, FM, Union and Tess), it would their task to place you at other agencies. You wouldn't travel to to New York or Paris to get your placements done on your own, your London based agency would be responsible for that.
Yes I know but it costs the agency money and most agencies are dealing with the recession therefore don't wish to invest in expenses so some aspiring models may have money of their own and are self reliant who will apply to agencies in other cities. It would be cheaper to sign with an agency that has global offices because they are very closely linked more so than Elite and Premier let's say because they do work together as do other agencies. It's just it seems easier if a girl applied to one agency lets say Next and it might be cheaper and easier even for the agency themselves to sign her to the other Next offices. I hope you understand what I am trying to say now. I could be wrong but it's just an idea that popped into my head.
What do you mean by Next and IMG keep the girls in the house?


Last edited by Mariann; 14-04-2012 at 01:34 PM.
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14-04-2012
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Please be aware that it actually costs the model money to travel to castings and jobs. Agencies almost never pay for anything these days. They may (for a very, very promissing model) front the money to the model ... as a draw against futrue earnings, but if she doesn't work enough, it then becomes a debt that the model must repay.

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14-04-2012
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I thought agencies paid for model's travels if she was signed to them and she was a top earning model.
I thought that your idea of a loan or investment would be issued to the model for travels if she's really quirky and likely to make them big money.
What about very young models like age 15 or 16 whose parents can't afford to pay for her travels and she is already getting booked for many campaigns and runway shows.

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14-04-2012
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^ Agencies pay for nothing. They just borrow you the money, and then they will reduce the expenditures they made for you once you earn money. A model is always in the debts in the beginning of her career because the agency pays for your online book, printed book, compcards, travel cots and so on.
As for young models... No agencies usually don't ask parents to pay. If it was like that, there wouldn't be any models from Eastern Europe. During fashion week the agency would advance the money for flight tickets and hotel rooms. For campaign/catalogue bookings, the client would have to bear the costs.


Last edited by cologne_rocks; 14-04-2012 at 05:18 PM.
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