Caribbean Fever - Your ONLY destination to all things Caribbean and more
The seedy secrets of the high fashion world have been exposed in an explosive class-action lawsuit filed by models against their powerful agencies.
The group – who have been photographed for global campaigns including L'Oreal, J. Crew, Macy's and Neiman Marcus - allege that thousands of dollars in payment were withheld from them and their pay checks were docked by spurious, unexplained 'expenses' in the early 2000s by some of the world's largest model brokers - Wilhelmina, Next, Major, Elite, MC2 Models and Click.
The lawsuit also claims that they were forced to live in cramped 'model apartments' – where, in one case, nine models shared a two-bedroom condo – and charged exorbitant rent.
Several of the models also made sinister claims that their agencies ordered them to lose weight, work out more, see a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.
One model, Vanessa Perron, was instructed to 'have a procedure to make her thighs slimmer (and even offered to recommend a facility to provide this service), along with instructing her that she should lose weight, change her hair, dress differently and work out more'.
Top modeling agencies Wilhelmina, Next, Major, Elite, MC2 Models, and Click have been slapped with a class-action suit by their own model clients, including Marcelle Almonte (left) who claims her agency was clearing a significant profit from her overpriced rent
Model Eleni Tzimas (left) claims she Elite Model Mgmt required her to be photographed in bathing suits multiple times a year so they can monitor her figure. Melissa Baker (right) claims she is still owed tens of thousands of dollars in compensation from her agency
Another, Eleni Tzimas, who had a contract with Elite Models for seven years until 2005, alleges that the agency controlled her career and her personal life.
'Elite required Tzimas and other models to be photographed in bathing suits multiple times per year so that Elite could monitor their weight and figure.'
Models, including Tzimas, were also required to attend dinner and social events 'attended by famous persons, such as Donald Trump, in furtherance of their careers'.
The civil lawsuit, filed in New York Supreme Court and obtained by DailyMail.com, is seeking to recover unspecified amounts in wages and damages and is demanding a jury trial.
The suit reads: 'There is nothing beautiful about the way the modeling industry in New York City treats its models. The Defendants – some of the largest and most powerful modeling agencies in the City and the world – have systematically taken advantage of the models they claim to represent by unlawfully diverting millions of dollars in value from the models to themselves.'
A newly filed suit was submitted by plaintiff, Louisa Raske, as a class representative. She is being represented by law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.
Ms Raske, who began modelling as a high school sophomore, had a contract with the agency, Wilhelmina, from 2001 until 2005 but started out on the books of Next in 1997.
In around 2012, while living in Miami, she noticed her face on a box of L'Oreal hair dye in CVS. She had never been paid for its use and had not been in contact with Next since 2009.
The suit states: 'Having been caught red-handed, Next then admitted to Ms. Raske that it owed her money.'
The latest suit was filed by plaintiff, Louisa Raske, who claims Major Model Management Inc, used her face on a box of L'Oreal hair dye without paying her
Model Alex Shanklin alleges that Wilhemina demanded he check in at the beginning and end of the day with his schedule, and at times waited 90 days to get paid
Model Vanessa Perron (pictured in 2005) was instructed to 'have a procedure to make her thighs slimmer' and 'lose weight, change her hair, dress differently and work out more'
Next eventually sent Raske $31,000 – but according to the suit, she has not been paid in full for the use of her image.
This was not the only instance.
Model Melissa Baker had a contract with Click agency until 2010, 'when she left New York to move back to Ohio because Click was not paying her for work', the suit claims.
Baker worked a number of major brands, including L’Oreal and Sports Illustrated, where she was named 2008 Swimsuit Rookie of the Year.
Similar to the other models' allegations, Baker claims that Click exerted control over her professional and private life. 'During her time with Click, it strongly discouraged Ms. Baker from turning down assignments, and Baker believed that Click would become angry with her if she refused work’ and ‘also required Ms. Baker to keep Click informed of her whereabouts at all times.'
She was measured and weighed when she visited the agency for check-ins and 'Click repeatedly told Ms Baker that her hips were too wide and that she should lose weight.'
It was also suggested to her by the agency and she dump her boyfriend, who was serving in the military in Afghanistan, and replace him with an A-List celebrity or athlete, to advance her career.
She also says she was paid $3,000 for a L'Oreal shoot but, according to her contract, would make more if it was used in an ad campaign.
Grecia Palomares, who had a contract with Wilhelmina Models, received only $300 for a $1000 job in 2014 after the agency docked $700 for 'unexplained expenses'
According to the suit: 'Ms. Baker learned several years later, however, that her image had been used for several years by L'Oreal in an international advertising campaign that reached multiple countries, including the United States, Poland, Portugal, France, Turkey, and Spain. Defendant Click Model Management, Inc. ('Click'), Ms. Baker's modeling agency, provided consent to the campaign even though Ms. Baker had refused it on the grounds she still had not been paid for the earlier uses of her photograph.'
The suit claims she is still owed tens of thousands of dollars in compensation.
The class-action accuses of the modelling agencies of wielding 'substantial control' over the models' lives – not just their careers.
They were under strict instructions about what they could talk about on photo shoots and in some cases were required to check-in with the agencies twice a day with their schedules.
They were also expected to inform the agency when they were going on vacation, had doctor appointments and meeting people for lunch.
They were also expected to 'Drop In' to their agencies - sometimes as much as several times a week, while they were often weighed, measured and inspected.
Alex Shanklin had a contract with Wilhemina from 2002 until 2004 and starred in campaigns for J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, Target, Macy's, K-Mart and others.
According to the suit, Wilhemina demanded that Shanklin let them know when he was going on vacation and check in at the beginning and end of the day with his schedule. At times, he waited 90 days to get paid, which Wilhelmina told him was 'standard'.
Model Carina Vretman had a contract with Wilhelmina from 2003 until 2007 and the agency, 'instructed Ms Vretman about things she should alter or monitor about her physical appearance, including when her hair should be trimmed or its color tweaked'.
The class-action also alleges that thousands of dollars in 'undocumented expenses' were regularly deducted from the models' pay checks by their agencies - in some cases, as much as 70 per cent.
Grecia Palomares, who had a contract with Wilhelmina Models, received a check for $300 in 2014 of the use of her image – despite the fact her income had been $1,000.
Model Carina Vretman had a contract with Wilhelmina from 2003 until 2007 and the agency, 'instructed Ms Vretman about things she should alter or monitor about her physical appearance, including when her hair should be trimmed or its color tweaked'
Wilhelmina kept $700 for expenses but 'provided virtually no supporting details or documentation' other than the labels 'WRITTEN OFF REVENUES' and 'APLD BAL WEST ACCT'. Neither was explained further.
The suit claims that the modelling agencies also offered 'advances' to models against their next pay check when they were struggling to make ends meet in fashion meccas like New York - but then 'charged substantial interest'.
'This practice is particularly insidious because the models only needed the 'advances in the first place because of Defendants' unlawful practice of not paying a model his or he wages until many months after the work had been performed (if ever),' the suit states.
The culture of 'model apartments' is also revealed. Many who start out in the industry are under 18, broke and in New York for the first time – so there was rarely another option and, according to the suit, made them easy to exploit.
In other instances, models were sent to other locations, like Miami, and needed short-term housing.
The suit claims that the models were charged 'outrageous' amounts for their digs.
Model Marcelle Almonte alleges that she was placed in a models' apartment in Miami by agency, MC2 Model and Talent Miami.
She claims she was charged $1,850 per month to stay in this two-bedroom apartment, which she was required to share with eight other models who had been similarly placed there by MC2 Miami.
'Four models were required to sleep on two bunk beds in each of the two bedrooms, and the nine models were required to sleep on the couch,' the suit alleges.
MC2 allegedly charged each model $1,850 per month – despite the fact the market-rate for the apartment was around $3,300 - suggesting that the agency was clearing a significant profit.
The models were not allowed to negotiate on their own behalf on each assignment – the agency determined their rate of pay, the number of hours they would do, location and who would pay for travel expenses.
'Defendants labelled models "troublemakers" or "difficult" if they rejected such assignments, and, on information and belief, retaliated against models who turned down assignments, including by not offering the models desirable work in the future.'
The result was – no one turned down assignments even if they did not agree with the conditions.
'Defendants also negotiated with clients and agreed to have some of their model paid "in kind", that is, through clothing, accessories or other merchandise, rather than in currency, for certain assignments, typically fashion shows.'
They had no say over what they received, the suit claims, and sometimes the 'in kind' payments did not materialize.
Vanessa Perron, wearing Badley Mischka Spring 2004 during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, was on the books at Next modeling agency for eight years. She was once on assignment for Harper's Bazaar in Australia and told by her agency that the magazine would cover her airfare. Perron discovered the price of the airline ticket had been deducted from her pay check
Models were not allowed to discuss their fees with the clients or any work problems they had – it all had to be directed to the agency, the suit claims.
The suit also claims they were expected to have 'composite cards' - photographic calling cards – and lookbooks (portfolios)- which were controlled by the defendants and for which the models were charged.
'Each of the Defendants made numerous improper deductions from its models' pay checks' – including mail fees, costs for test shoots, car service and airline tickets – and no model received paperwork for these charges.
In some cases, the charges were unfairly misleading and inflated. In one instance, an agency sent to a client promotional material for several models in the same overnight shipping package. However, the agency charged each model the full amount of the shipping cost.
Vanessa Perron, who was on the books at Next modeling agency for eight years, once booked an assignment for Harper's Bazaar in Australia.
She was told by her agency that the magazine would cover her airfare but once the job was completed, Perron discovered the price of the airline ticket had been deducted from her pay check. She was never reimbursed.
The suit states: 'Thus, aside from the fortunate few who reached the top of the industry or became 'supermodels', the majority of models were living pay check to pay check and were totally dependent on Defendants, thereby stripping them of what little bargaining power they had to begin with.'