Tough Times Strutting Down the Catwalk

Models Feel the Squeeze as Fashion and Makeup Marketers Slash Spending

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NEW YORK ( -- Elite Model Management has awarded contracts to winning contestants from "America's Next Top Model" for the past five seasons, and this year will be no different.

But there's no guarantee there will be much work for the victor.

Sara Rotman, owner and creative director for ModCo
Sara Rotman, owner and creative director for ModCo
U.S. retail sales for apparel were down 2.8% year over year for the 12 months ending January 2009, according to NPD Group. And makeup and fragrance sold in U.S. department stores were down 3% and 6%, respectively, from 2007. Of course, that means less money for advertising featuring fashion models. Ad pages in Condé Nast's high-fashion magazines W and Vogue were down 24.5% in the fourth quarter of 2008. "We react to what is happening in consumer-land," said Neal Hamil, director of Elite Model Management North America, which represents models such as Dree Hemingway, Emma Balfour and Veronica Webb. "We have to make adjustments in the business right now, as we are a service business," Mr. Hamil said. "There's definitely less work out there."

Sara Rotman, owner and creative director for ModCo, an agency that develops brands for the fashion, beauty and entertainment industries, said models' rates have dropped between 10% and 30% n the past year, with some down even more. Models range in their experience and desirability, and rates can vary between $2,000 and $100,000 a day, depending on usage rights. These days, Ms. Rotman can get more for her money.

"People that were untouchable last year are suddenly accessible," she said. "It's highly competitive now. The clients aren't paying the money."

Stretching $10,000
Ms. Rotman works with all the big modeling agencies, including Elite and IMG Models, and called past rates "ridiculously pricey" and some even "downright foolish." Now things are different.

"I'm more able now to say, 'I have $10,000 and you need to send me good girls.' Last year they would have laughed and hung up on me. This year they send me good girls," Ms. Rotman said, noting that $10,000 is on the low end.

"You need to work with the customer," said Ivan Bart, senior VP at IMG Models. He said his agency is lucky because it falls under the umbrella of IMG World, which also does event creation and management. For example, IMG recently signed one of its models to become a fashion brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz. The luxury automaker was also the title sponsor for Berlin's Fashion Week, which IMG produced.

Mr. Hamil said Elite is poised to excel in this environment because of its size and large presence in New York. With Macy's consolidating its marketing efforts in New York, for example, a lot of smaller regional agencies will likely suffer, while New York agencies will gain, as has happened before. When legendary South Beach modeling agency Irene Marie Models closed up shop in February after reportedly seeing a 90% decline in 2008 revenue, Elite absorbed Irene Marie's TV department.

But unlike in Hollywood, where rumors of a merger of giant talent agencies William Morris and Endeavor abound, no linkups seem to be on the horizon for modeling agencies.

Some hope for future
Elite Models and IMG are privately held companies and declined to share details about revenue or the number of models thy have under contract.

Ford Models, the other big modeling player, was unavailable to comment for this article. Its CEO was replaced two weeks ago.

While Ms. Rotman -- who has worked for Carolina Herrera, Theory, Tory Burch and Victoria's Secret Beauty -- feels the crunch of reduced client budgets, she's optimistic about what they mean for the industry.

"The business cannot afford to maintain the types of rates we were paying two years ago," she said.

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