A new model agency is trying to disrupt the mould…

By Ella Alexander

The maltreatment of fashion models is a hotly contested industry issue right now. Last season, Paris Fashion Week was overshadowed by claims that Balenciaga’s casting agency had subjected its models to “sadistic and cruel” treatment.

The brand swiftly fired the company, which has thus far denied any ill­ doing, but not before James Scully’s allegations had gone viral. The veteran casting director asserted that 150 models had been made to wait in a dark stairwell for hours while a pair of casting director ate their lunch, leaving the young women “traumatised”.

“In their usual fashion they shut the door, went to lunch and turned off the lights to the stairs leaving every girl with only the lights of their phones to see,” wrote Scully on Instagram. “Not only was this sadistic and cruel it was dangerous and left more than a few of the girls I spoke with traumatised.”

It’s not an isolated incident – the poor treatment of young models is well known within industry circles. Jourdan Dunn has repeatedly spoken out about racism she’s faced at the hands of casting directors, while Edie Campbell said earlier this year that she’s seen “a lot of upsetting things. I’ve seen girls be told to run laps around the studio. It’s a cattle market.” In April, model Victoire Dauxerre said she didn’t think it was possible to be a successful fashion model without having an eating disorder. Contrary to popular belief, most models are not indulged divas – most are young, sometimes 15 or 16, and are working in a country far from home. It’s a lonely, often poorly paid existence where they are treated as cattle.

But times are changing. This month, luxury conglomerates LVMH and Kering agreed to a pledge whereby they promised not to use size zero women or anyone under the age of 16 to model their clothes. The charter pledged to make a dedicated psychologist or therapist available during working time and stipulated that models will also have to present a valid medical certificate to prove that they are fit for work.

Then there’s the launch of an independent agency that wants to revolutionise the way models are treated. Linden Staub was created by two former model bookers Tara Davies and Esther Kinnear­ Derungs in March last year, after they became disillusioned with the way in which their former agency treated its clients. Although they won’t divulge the name of their previous employer, they’re happy to explain where it went wrong.

“It’s not always the scandalous breaches of human rights that are reported in the mainstream press,” says Davies. “It can be as small as a model not understanding why she should dress a certain way for a certain casting, clients discussing models in front of them as though they aren’t present or don’t understand, not understanding how their account works or no one explaining to them. Belittlement, exploitation and mistreatment is daily.”

Linden Staub’s business model is unique in two ways. Its first premise is that it’s a mother agency in a main market, which means it doesn’t take models on placement from other agencies. This gives the founders the opportunity to truly invest in its clients’ careers without having to consider the objectives of other agencies. The other key policy is to pay its models the day after a job – a transformative move given that a lot of models end up waiting months for a pay check to come through.

“The model has done the job, so we chase up the money,” explains Kinnear ­Derungs. “She has done her bit, so as her agency, we do ours. In a nutshell, we don’t see models as a business commodity.”

Aside from its next day payment policy, the agency also offers an accounting demonstration to its clients when they first start making money to help them better understand how to work their finances as a self­ employed adult. The founders also operate a 100 percent transparency philosophy whereby its models are able to talk to them about anything, regardless of how challenging or embarrassing.

“In general, we treat our models like humans not as products,” says Davies. “Does this seem like an extreme statement? Sure, but anyone who has been in the industry for a while knows that the opposite can often be the reality. We offer our girls full support however they need it. This can be emotional support, financial support or business support.”

So far, Linden Staub’s formula has paid off – its models have worked for Vivienne Westwood, Burberry, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana and Michael Kors. The agency’s overriding goal is to empower their clients and make sure that they’re utilising the opportunities that the profession offers in all aspects of life, during and after modelling.

“Often, models’ intellect and education are underestimated as it is not considered an academic vocation, people look down upon them,” says Davies. “On a larger scale, there are a lot of egos in the fashion industry; people like to exert their power and, sadly, this is often negatively onto others.”

The tide could well be changing for models, and it can’t come soon enough.

View the article on Harper’s Bazaar Online here.