Thinking has become fashionable - yes, that’s the look for 2014! Models' rights and model driven projects are what it’s now all about. Gone are the days of glamour devoid of substance and now are the days of models substantiating their own careers and drivng their own decisions.
When I began working as a model ten years ago, you never heard of models being involved in anything else. This was because of an expected conformity and financial security in the workplace. With my work for the Equity Models’ Union I couldn’t tell anyone for a very real fear of losing my agency and clients. However, that was more because of the threat of being black listed. However, Equity was received as a positive influence in the industry. Now its 2013 and the fashion industry is flourishing with services for models' health and organisations striving for workplace improvement. Starting with our Equity, soon to follow was Stand Up For Fashion (STUFF), the Model Alliance, the Models Sanctuary and British Vogue, jumping on the band wagon with the recent agreement with Equity's Code of Conduct. Even TED has had Cameron Russell talking and the Guardian newspaper is publishing opinion pieces about it. Models defending their rights and applying an intelligent perspective on the industry has aided a growth in substance where models are acknowledged to be able to think and have applicable skill sets, consisting of more than a talent for pouting.
This all started back in the 90s when scouts started traversing the globe for the next ‘supermodel’. This resulted in a huge influx of labour, still continuing today. A huge market influx combined with the economic crash caused fees to automatically diminish worldwide and rippled throughout the whole industry. The big girls now take the high street commercial and catalogue money jobs. These high street commercial brands and e-commerce clients used to be frowned upon like TV was by film actors. I used to be up for Italian jobs, once booked for Euro 30,000 but these are now snatched up for as little as Euro 5,000.
In Los Angeles, models used to strive to become SAG members. They'd pay thousands of dollars in dues each year for the opportunity to be casted in TV commercials with Union status. Productions that are classified as Non-Union, however don’t have to pay the excess fees charged by SAG. My agent in LA is pushing me not to join because the majority of clients cannot afford these rates and therefore the pool of work has diminished on the Union side.
Agencies have adapted to these decreased rates by taking on more models to compensate thus spreading the individual’s earnings thinner. These circumstances of the economy, mass supply of labour and the revolution of models' rights has seen a change where models have opened up to utilising their talents and skills developed through their experiences and to keep up with basic living necessities.
Ingrid Bredholt's Mardou & Dean
Their new grounding is branching out and utilising their unrecognised valuable understanding of the fashion industry to becoming producers, journalists, nutritionists, starting clothing lines and becoming more than just a face of something but a face for something. Yomi Abiola founded STUFF working for equality and diversity, a model and friend I met in Milan, Ingrid Bredholt is going from strength to strength with her brand Mardou & Dean, Smilte Bagdziune has launched her lollipop company TuTu, and Julian Okines published his own book, The Models Handbook and through his networking and hard work as a presenter/content producer, whilst modelling is now a producer at Fashot.
The Models’ Union at Equity is approaching its sixth birthday and the models’ committee is another example of where models put their thoughtful energy. The recent historical move from British Vogue signing up to the first documented photographic regulations for models has set a new bar of professionalism for our industry never before realised. We are still a long way off a completely regulated industry but some day (not far off from now) incidences of degradation and humiliation will be just stories and no longer experiences. Models, together may be driving the industry through applying their own talent as individuals, no longer being dolls for manipulation.
There are still many issues to be resolved such as the financial difficulties facing models (many of whom are still getting paid in trade), child labour laws not being applied in the US and the introduction of a filtering system for predators seeking work in the industry. However, models being recognised for their skills and applying themselves to contribute and work together is a congratulatory step for today’s modelling community and exciting for the future of the industry.
Victoria Keon-Cohen works with Wilhelmina in the US and has modelled for clients such as Reply, Versace, Levis and Vogue. She approached Equity with Dunja Knezevic to start the first trade union for models in 2007 and stood as Founding Chair of the Equity Models' Committee from 2007 - 2012. Having studied Performance Design at Central Saint Martin's her first job in film was Costumer to Robert De Niro on Killer Elite (2011). She is currently still working with the Models' Committee and is also making films in both the fashion and film industries. Equity Models’ Committee.