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April 20 2014

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3 posts tagged "Sara Ziff"

Model-Slash: Advocate Sara Ziff

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Before Sara Ziff founded the not-for-profit Model Alliance, she was just another runway regular. The 29-year-old walked the runways for Marc Jacobs, Chanel, and Dolce & Gabbana and shot ad campaigns for H&M and Tommy Hilfiger. But when she left modeling full-time to study political science at Columbia University, she used her spare time to edit footage taken during her modeling career into a 2010 documentary, Picture Me. “It allowed me to start making sense of my experiences,” Ziff says. “Without Picture Me, I don’t think I would’ve formed the Alliance.” Following the film’s warm reception, other models began reaching out to her with their own stories.

So with a little help from the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University, Ziff and model-turned-scribe pal Jenna Sauers formed the Model Alliance earlier this year to help educate and advocate for models. At just a few months old, the Alliance already boasts over 200 members, including big names like Coco Rocha, Trish Goff, Doutzen Kroes, and Milla Jovovich.

Many of the Alliance’s goals are in line with those of the CFDA Health Initiative. “There have been efforts within the industry to promote healthier standards, and while I think any effort in that direction is a good thing, I don’t think that real, lasting change comes from the top down,” says Ziff. “It has to be a grassroots effort, and you have to involve the models themselves.”

The Alliance is rolling out new programs during the Spring 2013 New York shows. One workshop will advise beginning models on business necessities like how to negotiate a contract, do taxes, and even set up a bank account; another will focus on career transition possibilities for models exiting the runway. The Alliance has also set up a discreet grievance reporting system for models facing unjust difficulties within the industry. “Modeling is a business like any other, and it’s in models’ best interest to treat it as a business and to understand their rights,” says Ziff, who still works part-time as a model. “In a funny way, when I went to school, I was desperate to escape this industry and move on, but now I realize fashion is part of my world, and these are my people.”

Photo: Thomas Iannaccone

Models We Stand

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“For too long, the modeling industry has been like the Wild West,” said Coco Rocha at last night’s launch party for the Model Alliance, a new nonprofit group organized by models, for models. Top models including Doutzen Kroes, Crystal Renn, Missy Rayder, and Ajak Deng stopped by the Standard Hotel to toast the cause. The Alliance started as an idea established by model Sara Ziff (the filmmaker behind the revealing documentary Picture Me), explored in a paper she wrote while studying community organizing at Columbia University. Ziff, who at 29 has now been modeling half her life, understands firsthand how young girls are often mistreated in an industry without real labor regulations. For example, catwalkers often begin working in their mid-teens, and many never get the chance to finish high school. They can go through an entire day of walking back-to-back runway shows without actually making any money, getting paid in “trade” (a.k.a. designer clothes) instead. And, there are still a great deal of complaints about backstage photographers taking unauthorized pictures of the girls changing. Typically, the models don’t speak up about these inequities because they know they’re highly replaceable. “Most models’ clout is as tiny as our size zero frames,” Ziff told Style.com. So she teamed up with former model and current fashion writer Jenna Sauers to give these girls a voice, and developed the Alliance along with the support of the CFDA and the new Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School. “Having experienced the highs and lows of this industry, I am ultra-excited about this,” said Rocha. “But we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Photo: Wendell Teodoro / Getty Images

Documenting The Work Behind The Walk

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“It was a rinky-dink project we just did on the side with no agent, no PR. We had no intention of making it an exposé,” model Sara Ziff said last night at the Fordham Fashion Law Institute’s screening of her documentary Picture Me. Intentional or not, the 80-minute doc, shot with Ziff’s then boyfriend Ole Schell, has caused quite a stir since premiering in theaters last month. The camera follows Ziff (left, with Schell) on the runway circuit, which means cameos from the likes of Lisa Cant, Cameron Russell, Gilles Bensimon, and even Karl Lagerfeld.

The film shows modeling’s glitzy side—in the course of the flick, Ziff earns enough to buy her first home in Manhattan (at 20) and out-earns her NYU professor father—but its darker aspect, too. Sexual harassment, eating disorders, poor money management, and working conditions for pubescent models are all tackled, and post-screening, a panel of industry experts and legal scholars gathered to discuss. “The business should be regulated,” said panelist Chris Gay of Marilyn models. (He’s also Ziff’s agent.) “It would be very tough for us to regulate from within.” Nian Fish, acting chair of the CFDA Health Initiative, agreed. “A lot of people in our industry are not sympathetic because of that check,” she added. “They think, ‘Well, she’s getting paid.’” Fish currently tackles eating disorders and underage employment guidelines through the Initiative. But Ziff is setting her sights on a bigger problem: namely, the lack of formal professional organizations for catwalkers. (As independent contractors, models have little in the way of workers’ rights.) “I’ve been talking with my adviser at school about how best to start something, whether it may be a labor union like SAG [is] for actors or a nonprofit organization,” the Columbia University senior said after the panel talk. “That’s what’s I’m going to do after I graduate. I want to see it happen and to do it full force.”

Photo: D. Dipasupil/Getty Images