Fashion: Debt agony and Misery, Ekaterina Ozhiganova arose to defend Model's Right | Jeremy Spell Blog

They appear to be living the dream, walking
the catwalks of Paris, New York and Milan in
the most beautiful clothes money can buy.
But behind the glamour and the travel,
many models are earning mere “pocket
money”, tied by debt to agencies and afraid
to admit what they owe.
“The worst thing is that it is impossible to
talk about because in this industry people
only want to work with ‘successful’ girls,”
said 26-year-old Clara, who has appeared in
Vogue and walked for uber-hip labels like
Prada, Rick Owens and Comme des Garcons.
The London-based model, who is deeply in
debt to her agencies in New York and Paris,
only agreed to talk to AFP of the trap she
and many of her colleagues have fallen into
if her name was changed, fearing she
might never get work again.
Other models told AFP that they were often
paid in clothes and handbags and that they
were “almost never paid” for fashion
magazine shoots.
The model rights group Model Law, which
was set up earlier this year in Paris, said
debt is a bigger taboo than sexual
harassment since the #MeToo movement
lifted the lid on abuse.
– ‘Dubious’ practices –
The group’s co-founder Ekaterina
Ozhiganova, a Paris catwalk regular, said it
was time “to put an end to the years of
abuse, dubious practices and the flouting of
labour laws.”
Clara, who began modelling when she was
still at school, said that on her first Paris
fashion week “my agency gave me a car
(for castings) which I was sharing with
other models from the big Airbnb
apartment they had put us in.
“It was only later that I learned that I was
paying 300 euros ($350) a day for the
driver. I had signed the contract and I was
3,000 euros in debt” by the end of the
week, she added.
“Later I did New York fashion week. Every
model from overseas starts by going into
debt because the work visa is very
“Then you stay in a ‘models’ apartment’
which your agency charges you $50 a night
for a room you share with three others.
When the castings started I got really sick
and therefore missed most of them, so I
ended up going home $8,000 in the red,”
said Clara.
Yet she insisted her “situation is not
particularly bad”.
“I am still in debt to my agencies in Paris
and New York although I have since done
many jobs through them. For instance I was
in a big Paris show which had a 1,100-euro
fee, of which I got only 400. And I didn’t see
any of that because it was taken off my
Despite her difficulties, Clara insisted that
she is doing better than most models “who
are 16, hardly speak English and come from
poor backgrounds.”
Two highly experienced US models who
also talked to AFP described being “slaves”
to debt, with agencies at times talking the
lion’s share of their earnings.
But they said East European and Brazilian
girls — who now dominate castings — are
the most vulnerable to exploitation and get
the rawest deal.
One 24-year-old American model who has
appeared in Dior, Issey Miyake, Balmain and
Off-White shows, said debt had also shaped
her personal life.
She said she took a “professional decision
to only go out with men who were rich
enough to support me,” something that
“sat awkwardly with my feminism”.
Ozhiganova, 26, said she hopes that Model
Law can help “break through” the fear of
speaking out in an industry “where you are
quickly labelled as difficult if you ask
“People imagine models earn lots of money,
but that is absolutely not true. It’s only the
case for about two percent of girls”, with
male models even worse paid, she said.
The group said unpaid work was the bane
of models’ lives. “Only rarely are people paid
for modelling for magazines even though it
takes hours of work,” Ozhiganova said.
“Okay, it’s prestigious, but how are you
going to pay your rent?”
Model Law, which is in talks with a French
union, has already met with Synam, the
body that represents French model
Synam’s chief Isabelle Saint-Felix admitted
that Model Law had “some justified
demands” including that employment
regulations should be translated into
English given that most models working in
Paris do not speak French.
However, she questioned how
representative the group was. “They have
to narrow their claims and not make
general demands,” she said.
The treatment of models has become a hot
potato for the big luxury brands after New
York casting agent James Scully blew the
whistle last year on the way some were
treated at “cattle call” castings.
The incident prompted the two French
fashion giants LVMH and Kering — who
own some of fashion’s biggest names — to
join forces to create a charter to combat
The new rules also banned the use of ultra-
thin models and those under 16.
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