Marc Jacobs' decision to not pay his runway models and "looks" model this season continues to cause controversy.
Many New York designers do not pay the majority of their runway models. They do this not because they don't have the money — Jacobs' total show budget exceeded $1 million last year, and the company is backed by the world's largest fashion conglomerate, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton — but because they can. Runway work is considered prestigious and as independent contractors, models are generally exempt from many provisions of U.S. labor laws, including minimum-wage laws. It's not news to anyone in fashion that Jacobs does this (op-eds have been written about this in such underground publications as The Guardian) but it does seem to be news to many of the designer's customers and fans, who found the brand's dismissive Twitter response to the brouhaha disappointing.
Whatever one thinks of working runway shows for free, doing looks is different. Looks models spend long hours in a designer's studio trying on all the new garments and accessories from the collection while the outfits (or "looks") are slowly put together and styled. It is not considered prestigious, and it carries a significant opportunity cost to the model, who misses important fashion week castings, fittings, and shows to do it. For that reason, it has traditionally been paying work. According to a well-placed industry source, last season when Marc Jacobs needed a model for looks, he paid that model $100/hr for her services.
Hailey Hasbrook, the 17-year-old high school junior who wrote about her experiences working for Jacobs on her blog, stressed that she enjoyed the job but described some questionable conduct on the part of the designer, who kept her working two full days with end times of 2 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. for a total of over 30 hours unpaid labor.
Those hours also appear to violate several New York labor laws, which state in part:
No minor 16 or 17 years of age, in any week during which the school said minor attends is in session, shall be employed, used, exhibited, or caused to be exhibited as a model more than 4 hours in any 1 day in which such school is in session or 8 hours in any 1 day in which such school is not in session but not more than 28 hours in any such week...no such female minor shall be so employed between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Last I checked, school is in session during the month of March. That would seem to indicate that models of Hasbrook's age should not be required to work more than four hours on any weekday, or eight hours on a weekend or holiday. And that their work days should end by 10 p.m. — not 4:30 a.m. Even the most casual observer of fashion can recognize that many designers and magazines would appear to be in violation of these very laws.
If Jacobs thought giving a new face model payment-in-trade for looks could be a quiet little experiment in cost-cutting, he has certainly been proven wrong. At least about the quiet part.