Monthly Archives: August 2014

Gotham Magazine- Why Sara Ziff Founded Model Alliance

Why Sara Ziff Founded Model Alliance


Sara Ziff, founder of the Model Alliance, and casting director James Scully discuss how to improve working conditions in a business that isn’t always as glamorous as it seems.

Sara Ziff
James Scully joined forces with Sarah Ziff of Model Alliance to create a better work environment for models.

After Sara Ziff, who began modeling at 14, codirected the film Picture Me, a 2010 documentary about the highs and lows of the modeling business, she was determined to bring awareness to the often less-than-ideal working conditions in the industry—a disregard for child-labor laws, a lack of financial transparency, the encouragement of eating disorders, and instances of sexual abuse.

Ziff founded the Model Alliance in 2012 and immediately drew in big-name supporters like Coco Rocha, Milla Jovovich, and Fordham Law’s Susan Scafidi. The group scored its first big victory last November when child-model legislation went into effect (the law states that child models who live or work in New York State are protected by the Department of Labor, with the same rights and securities afforded to other “child performers”). But Ziff notes there is still tremendous work to be done. Here, she and James Scully, a leading fashion-industry casting director, discuss their ongoing mission to improve working conditions for models of all ages.

What was the impetus for founding Model Alliance?
Along with other models, I wanted to have a voice about our work and address issues, especially concerning the protection of kids in the industry. We got together and thought we would be more powerful as a group.

How did it come into being?
When I was in college, I studied labor and community organizing, and I had it in my head that I wanted to unionize the industry. I realized it would be impossible because models are considered independent contractors, not employees. Under federal law, they can’t unionize. So after some frustration, I met Susan Scafidi, director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School, who wanted to help. We met at a screening of my documentary about the industry. It was because of that film that I was really able to talk about the issues.

Sara Ziff
Elettra Rossellini Wiedemann and Sara Ziff at the White House to mark passage of the Affordable Care Act.

How did you get involved with the Model Alliance, James?
When I began in the industry over 20 years ago, most girls didn’t start modeling until they were 18 and had finished high school. It was so rare for them to be any younger. Back then, a model’s career never really hit [its stride] until she was in her late 20s or early 30s. Christy, Kate, and Naomi were the ones who pushed that boundary. Then the starting age started shifting downward, and it coincided with the Model Alliance trying to make it right. I was definitely on board

Why did the starting age for models get younger?
One of the first factors was the opening of Eastern Europe, where the ages of girls weren’t supervised. Also, there was client preference, which went from wanting a female aesthetic to desiring a very prepubescent body type. Editors would keep demanding these younger girls. By the time models started to go through puberty, the editors mistook that for weight gain. No one was winning at the end of the day.
SZ: When we looked at the law, we saw that child models were the only child performers not covered under the labor laws in New York State. When we spoke to lawmakers, they didn’t seem to be aware [of this loophole]. Even within the industry, they weren’t thinking of these kids as children.
JS: There were just so many children in the industry being taken advantage of.

One of Model Alliance’s initiatives was backstage privacy. Tell us how that came about.
Models were concerned about unauthorized photos being taken of them changing clothes backstage during New York Fashion Week. We needed to raise awareness and introduced a backstage privacy policy that encourages show producers to limit backstage access once “first looks” are called during a show.

Sara Ziff
Model Alliance members celebrate Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signing the child model bill into law.

Have things improved concerning the issue of overly thin models?
 While I was able to maintain a certain body type and eat whatever I wanted, I would hear criticism when doing shows that models were too skinny and anorexic. It wasn’t until years later that models came to me and said that they had gone to extremes to fit into sample sizes. A friend who was on the cover of Italian Vogue when she was about 14, was told by her agency to only eat one rice cake a day as her body started to fill out. This is a model I’ve worked with for years, and it wasn’t until years later that she told me she had been desperately ill.
JS: In Sara’s day, it was more unusual [for models to be anorexic], but then it started to become the norm. No one was doing anything about it. The people who could [do something] were saying they were, but they weren’t.

Part of the Model Alliance mission statement is to educate models about their rights. What do you emphasize?
When we formed our group, we established Model Alliance Support, our discreet grievance reporting and advice service for members. We encourage any model who has been the subject of unwanted sexual attention on the job, or who has experienced any other work related problem to contact us. We also talk to them about finances. Many girls getting into the industry are just excited to shoot with a well-known photographer or get on the runway. They need to treat modeling like a business because it doesn’t last forever, even if you’re one of the lucky ones.

Read more in Gotham.


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New York Observer: August Tastemakers

Tastemakers Ariana Rockefeller and Kerry Butler Tell Us What ‘Luxury’ Means to Them

From a garden terrace to truffles and caviar, these tastemakers offered their definition of luxurious living. Evan Jonigkeit

Evan Jonigkeit, actor

“My kind of luxury comes with a little bit of grittiness. While The Russian & Turkish Baths may be a little ‘janky,’ I feel fantastic after an hour of lounging around with a good friend, talking about the week and sweating out the drink or two I may have had the night before at The Narrows in Bushwick.”Ryan Korban. Photo by Patrick McMullan)

Ryan Korban, interior designer

“Luxury is having an incredible pair of shoes or an expensive bag that you wear to death. Or a formally decorated room that you use daily. The more worn-in something fabulous becomes, the better the story it will tell.” David Stark

David Stark, president and founder of David Stark Design and Production

“My definition of extreme luxury is not having to pack a bag to jump on a plane when I escape to my Miami home. Having a closet full of clothing there and heading to LaGuardia with just my laptop and keys in my pocket is the most liberating feeling ever.”Sara Story.

Sara Story, interior designer

“Luxury is finding free time to visit museums and incredible gallery shows. On my list (during my next few hours of free time!) is the Neue Galerie for its incredible mix of German and Austrian art, along with its Café Sabarsky, which has the best coffee and desserts. The New Museum downtown and David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea are two of my other favorites.”Ronny Kobo. Photo by Henry S. Dziekan III/Getty Images for ENK Fashion Coterie

Ronny Kobo, fashion designer.

“My definition of luxury living is the blessed freedom to truly experience this city, its art, food, people and global culture, and to have the rare opportunity to translate all that into fabrics and form. And then there’s Uber!”Chris Santos. Photo by Aaron Davidson/Getty Images for Food Network SoBe Wine & Food Festival

Chris Santos, chef

“There is nothing better than enjoying a beautiful day in the city. To me, the greatest luxury is being able to enjoy the sunshine without leaving my home. I am lucky enough to live in a building that has a beautiful and spacious landscaped roof deck. With built-in grills and incredible views of the city, it’s the ultimate luxury to host 50 of my closest friends for dinner parties while watching the sun set in the distance.”   Photo courtesy

Debra Larsen, founder of WorkHouse NYC, co-founder of Space 530 and principal at Transwestern Real Estate

“As I’m on my feet all day running between real estate projects, my luxury is massages. From taking the Space 530 and WorkHouse staff for a well-earned spa day at the Peninsula to popping into the ubiquitous Chinese walk-in shop—there’s no such thing as a bad massage in my book!”Anita Lo. Photo by Patrick McMullan)

Anita Lo, chef

“Like most chefs, I count as luxuries the usual trifecta of foie gras, truffles and caviar. But owning a high-end restaurant slightly alters this perception, as I have easy access to many fine ingredients. So luxury is not only the expensive ingredients, but also the ones that are hard to procure or bad for your health in quantities you desire: a just picked heirloom pepper, a Maine sweet shrimp at the height of its short season, or an entire tub of vacherin cheese.”Arianna Rockefeller Photo by Celeste Sloman/For New York Observer)

Ariana Rockefeller, fashion designer

“My definition of luxury is being able to find the most beautiful textiles from all over the world within walking distance of the garment center. Within an hour I can sort through the finest silks from Asia, linens from Italy and lace from France. It feels very luxurious to be at the fashion center of the world.”Kerry Butler. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for T.J. Martell Foundation)

Kerry Butler, Tony-nominated actress currently starring in Under My Skin at the Little Shubert Theatre

“I have two daughters with a lot of toys, so my idea of luxury is space. I also love going to a fancy hotel like the St. Regis for breakfast to start my day off right. That’s my idea of luxury in New York.”  

Read more at the Observer

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