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Saturday, 4 August 2012

Behind the Catwalk, Suspicion and Suits

http://redalertpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/New-York-Times-logo.jpegAT a crucial moment some years back when New York's top modeling agencies were considering whether to raise the prices they charged clients, Monique Pillard, an executive at Elite Model Management, dashed off a memo to colleagues. The agencies, she wrote, would be ''committing suicide if we don't stick together.'' Noting that one rival at the Wilhelmina agency had warned her that such talk could give the impression of a price-fixing conspiracy, Ms. Pillard wrote, ''Ha! Ha! Ha!'' and dismissed the idea with an expletive.
The document is typical of the kind of evidence jurors in Federal District Court in Manhattan will be shown beginning June 1, when a complex class-action suit brought by a group of models against their former modeling agencies goes to trial. Though jurors may show up expecting sexy stuff, they will soon learn that the case has little to do with catwalks, lingerie or lithe beauties and everything to do with the interpretation of documents like the one lawyers now refer to as the ''Ha-ha-ha'' memo.

Is it evidence that Ms. Pillard knew she was involved in a price-fixing scheme? Or proof that she thought suspicions about such a scheme were way off the mark?
The fate of some of the best-known New York modeling agencies -- Elite, Next, Wilhelmina and Ford Models among them -- may hang on just such questions. Because the plaintiffs have charged the agencies with fixing the commissions of potentially thousands of models over a period of years and because damages in antitrust lawsuits are tripled, a verdict against the agencies could cost them tens of millions of dollars -- much more, the agencies have said, than they have on hand.
Some could face bankruptcy from the legal fees alone, say people with knowledge of the suit. The models have intimated in court papers, and in two related suits in New York State Supreme Court, that if they can't collect from the agencies themselves, they'll go after the personal assets of some of the biggest names in the modeling industry, like Dieter Esch, the head of Wilhelmina; John Casablancas, the founder of Elite; and the Ford family, which started Ford Models.

Culled from the New York Times


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