by MIKE CHAIKEN
Fashion models are photographed in luxurious and exotic settings. They are seen indulging in the epitome of the good life in glossy magazines and gossip columns.
But COVID-19 has laid bare that life is not so glamorous for full-time fashion models. Defined as independent contractors rather than employees, a survey by the Model Alliance taken in March and April shows fashion models are living in a precarious situation as the economy – and the fashion industry ‑ has taken a nose dive because of the virus.
Of the models surveyed, the alliance reported 20% have found they did not have enough money to cover basic needs. Fifty-one percent said they could not cover essentials if they are out of work for more than three months.
Additionally, the survey said only 6% of the models had any form of paid sick leave or paid time off (another 6%). The models reported just 7% were receiving unemployment. Health insurance also was an issue as 79% of the models had no medical benefits.
Making matters worse for fashion models, the alliance survey said 55% of the models are owed money by clients and 49% were owed money by their agencies.
Connecticut born fashion model Kylie Frink, 23, has a firmly established career. She earned a spot as a model for television’s “Project Runway.” She said 75% of her annual income has come from modeling. (The rest comes from her own business and other marketing opportunities.)
Even though New York City is expensive, as a working model, Frink said she never had any problems paying the bills.
Then COVID-19 hit, said Frink. When the virus shut down the city, and the fashion industry, Frink said 90% of her income evaporated. Her last working day was March 3.
“I work every week and countless jobs have been canceled,” said Frink, who ended up coming home to Connecticut to live with her family. “I luckily have savings. But I am currently collecting the pandemic assistance (as a freelancer).”
Frink’s situation was made all the more precarious because she was one of the New Yorkers who caught COVID-19, having caught it from her roommate. (She said she immediately self-quarantined after the diagnosis. “I’ve been cleared since.”)
Victoria Henley also is a productive full-time fashion model having worked consistently since she finished in the top six of TV’s “America’s Next Top Model” in 2012. The Georgia native said she works about 300 modeling gigs a year.
Although modeling provides a good deal of income, Henley said she has made a point of diversifying her income stream. She owns a company, Magnifique, which trains models; she works as a fashion liaison with corporations and retailers; and she hosts a radio show and a podcast. Henley’s economic fall has been cushioned by her other endeavors.
“I have always believed in diversifying your career so you have a valuable back up option and alternative income stream,” said Henley.
That’s not to say Henley has been sheltered from the effects of the pandemic.
At the beginning of 2020, Henley said she was lining up a full calendar of work. But when the pandemic hit, she ended up with more “postponed and canceled bookings than I have every experienced in my life.” Henley said about 100 gigs were postponed or canceled, “so far.”
“I am sure there will be many more,” said Henley.
In the Model Alliance survey, models also reported agencies have been slow to offer guidance through the pandemic. The survey said 70% of the models reported getting no guidance or resources from their agencies. Seventy-seven percent of the models said the agencies have been no help in getting the models alternative work.
Unlike some of the models in the survey, Frink said her agency has been helpful in guiding her through the process of collecting government assistance due to loss of income. The agency also has been helping the models with digital casting so they can secure future work, said Frink. “But it has been slow.”
Frink’s biggest concern has not been for herself but for her fellow New Yorkers and the other people in the fashion industry.
“A lot of our jobs require traveling and I’m unsure when that will go back to normal,” said Frink. “I really feel for my fellow models who struggle to make ends meet.”
“I love my career,” said Frank. “This pandemic has shown that no industry is immune to nature.”
“Should the world continue on the trajectory it is currently on… modeling would completely cease to exist as a career,” said Henley. “I do not however believe this will be the case… events will resume and we will go about our respective careers as usual.”