Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The poverty of high-fashion models

Through interviews, [sociologist Ashley] Mears investigated the financial state of the (unnamed) small modeling firm she worked for in Manhattan. She found that 20 percent of the models on the agency's books were in debt to the agency. Foreign models, in particular, seem to exist in a kind of indentured servitude, she writes, often owing as much as $10,000 to their agencies for visas, flights, and test shoots, all before they even go on their first casting call. ...

Mears details how, in the fashion world, there is typically an inverse relationship between the prestige of a job and how much the model gets paid. A day-long shoot for Vogue pays a paltry $150, for instance, while a shoot for Britain's influential i-D magazine, which Mears calls "one of the most sought-after editorial clients for a model," pays absolutely nothing, not even the cost of transportation or a copy of the magazine for the model's portfolio.

The alternative to high-fashion poverty is to be a "money girl," working for catalogs and in showroom fittings, jobs that pay well and reliably. The best-paid model at Mears' agency, for instance, was a 52-year-old showroom model with "the precise size 8 body needed to fit clothing for a major American retailer. She makes $500/hour and works every day." But the commercial end of modeling is widely derided within the industry as low-rent, as mere work without glamour. Once a model has done too many commercial jobs, she is thought to have cheapened herself, and it's exceedingly difficult for her to return to high fashion.

So many models operate against their short-term interests, hoping that by investing time now they will hit pay dirt later in the form of fame and a high-paying luxury ad campaign.
--Libby Copeland, Slate, on the high price of staying in the glamor game