Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fashion Law Institute Panel on Child Performer Law


James Scully, Ali Grace Marquart, Husseina Sulaimanee, Sara Ziff, Doreen Small,
Pico Ben-Amotz, Richard Runes, Ava Smith, Roman Young
(All photos Laurel Marcus)

A new law has just been passed in New York State which could spell major changes for the modeling industry.  As of today, November 20, 2013, fashion models under the age of 18 will be protected by the child performer law which previously applied only to child actors in film, television or live theater.  These laws govern a child's working hours, schooling requirements and trust account payments as well as the need for their employer to provide a responsible person as guardian of the child if there is no parental figure available.  There is a tremendous amount of paperwork involved and most designers can't be bothered.  Fines will be imposed and the offending designer's runway show may even be shut down if the ruling is overlooked in accordance with spot checks from the Department of Labor.  Fashion week will be a true test of the law and the panel agreed that many modeling agencies will no longer be bringing underage models into the country. Clients will most likely want to find someone who is at least 18.

Cocktails before the panel discussion

I attended an event, appropriately enough at The Players Club, last night presented by The Fashion Law Institute. Professor Susan Scafidi, founder & Academic Director of the Institute introduced the evening's program. A panel of speakers well versed on the subject discussed the new law before a crowd of primarily Fordham Law students which is where the Fashion Law Institute resides.  The moderators were Ali Grace Marquart, formerly of in-house counsel to Wilhelmina Models and Doreen Small, formerly of in-house counsel to Ford Models who have joined forces in their own firm Marquart & Small as well as both being professors of Fashion Modeling Law at the university.  On the panel were Sara Ziff, founder and director of the Model Alliance (a model herself), Richard Runes, government affairs attorney, Huseina Sulaimanee, counsel for SAG-AFTRA, James Scully, casting agent, Pico Ben-Amotz, general counsel, New York State Department of Labor, Ava Smith, a Wilhelmina model and Roman Young, director of Woman/Image division at Wilhelmina.  Each of the speakers had something different to add due to their unique perspectives but all of them were feeling celebratory that the law was finally being mandated.

A lively discussion

"I'm not gonna tell you exactly how the sausage gets made" said Runes referring to how Senators Jeff Kline and Diane Savino introduced the bill to the senate and the assembly and it was passed three days later by the senate.  He also mentioned that there were adversaries to this legislation and therefore it was done with no publicity.  Change had been in the works since 2003 most likely brought on by the need to do something about modeling agencies hiring  girls of 14 or 15. Casting Agent Scully cited the influx of child models from Eastern Europe and Brazil.  Before that he said the norm was Cindy Crawford, in her 20's, and a buxom size 8.  As the pendulum swung and modeling agencies sought thinner bodies, the average age of a model went toward the pre-pubescent.  Models under 18 will still get work in Milan, Paris and Asia but not in New York which is where they really need to be to be successful.  Even California has strict laws governing underage models.

Roman Young, the Wilhemina Model scout summed it up when he said "I do not want to fly around the world and talk to teenagers all day."  Scully added that he had once tried to book 3 models for a shoot in Paris and was told they couldn't be reached as they were visiting Disneyland with their parents.  He pointed out the incongruity of them being at Disneyland today and in Chanel tomorrow.  He added that perhaps the modeling agencies will only bring over 1 or 2 special girls that they will fill out the necessary paperwork for, rather than 20." "There were (unchaperoned) children running all over Manhattan) he remarked. Lastly the panel agreed that there may still be a need to make some "tweaks" or impose a variance once Fashion Week rolls around again in February. 


We welcome our newest contributor Laurel Marcus: My formal education is in Journalism (B.S. from Boston University) and my past employment has included stints as a copywriter/feature writer for a public relations firm, an interior design director for the hospitality industry as well as a part-time stylist/personal shopper for anyone who has asked me nicely or seemed desperate enough.  I have appeared in Bill Cunningham's NYTimes column "On the Street" (I told everyone I was a "streetwalker") and my personal style is "in-your-face."



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