Slaves to debt, fashion models speak out about catwalk misery

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Paris: 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 expensive.
“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.

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