There is a certain clever big brand agency that has owners who admonish their staff to stay relevant when it comes to global financial news. That staff is required to be aware of all that dull matter as seen in the gray margins of...”The Financial Times”…“The Wall Street Journal” ..”Bloomberg News” .
They are encouraged to contemplate the meaning of all those terms esoteric to an industry more in tune with the details of who is marketing the current cult T-shirt , as seen in the meta-cool street-style blogs.
That “euro-crisis”, what could it mean? “S&P dips”., “ESM bonds”…it’ll all blow over right? If it does, will things return to what they were in 2007, when being middle class meant wanton access to credit, wildly disposable income and a new bag every month?
The relationship between consumer spending indexes and modeling industry rates might seem like a odd thing to cross-reference . However, like any other business, that industry finds itself riding on the crest and fall of a global economy that has become as unpredictable as the design direction at Balenciaga.
There is one clear consequence of that cliff-hanger of a euro-crisis rumbling through the Paris agency scene , right this minute and the rumbles now reverberate all the way to New York. As model rates plunge through-out Europe, several Paris-based agencies have been rethinking their operations and re-positioning their ships to head straight for the big bounty markets of Manhattan. A New York office has longed seemed the apex of the industry’s financial windfall but now it might well be a vital means to survival, globally. New York has always been a deep market, with everything from power bookings at Vogue through to a glut of catalog and e-commerce gigs, which while not massive in terms of rates, acquires value through the theory of the volume booking.
That deep vein has carried not only the big flagships powering back and forth on the strength of their 300 model board, it has also sustained those tiny agencies that populate the lower end of the spectrum. Whether by showroom division, or a regular stint with loyal sportswear client there has always been a means for survival for the monolithic and the miniscule.
But what will it mean when there is an insurgency of modeling companies swooping out of the unstable European scene to try to eat their way into the American market share?
In Paris, the constant hiss was that a lot of new players have already been docked in place. Of course there’s the long rumored out-post of Elite Paris, allegedly to be titled “Societe” said to be on the brink of activation. If that is the case, will staffing Societe mean cannibalizing the employees (and board) of a pre-existing big ship? And furthermore, will the strategy on hand be to shift every girl with an Elite Paris base around the axis of Societe? As such it would represent a huge realignment of the NY agency scene, even as smaller players like Silent Paris are also rumored to be repositioning itself into New York after the recents conflicts with its earlier off-shoot, Silent New York.
If there were but two new variables out of Paris that would indeed be a hiss, but when word surfaces that two more entities are shopping for New York offices, then what you have is a roar. If not for money, then also much of this new market thrust is for control. For years the inability to define the booking path of models placed in New York has irked many a Paris agency. There has always been the phenomena of girls absconding to New York (and fleeing those high French tax rates) and becoming unavailable for those lesser money bookings in Europe, all the time lowering the revenue flow. One Paris agency owner, under the security of anonymity, divulged that a New York presence was essential for his business but that moving across the New York chess-board is not as easy as it might seem at first glance. “ Do I need a New York office? Absolutely. The European market is going down . Only in the US ( except for the Kate Mosses of the world ), you can get the same prices as before. But then I think it' s hard to compete with long lasting experienced NY agents, if you don’t know well the key players “ , disclosed our agency maven. And that means that an experienced New York agent, with a legacy of connections, contacts and alliance, has more value than ever before. Given the scarcity of the population that is.
As such, all the big ships have battened down the hatches in an effort to lock up their blue chip girls even as they lock down the power bookers. It effectively guards against an interloper trying to create that fast forward management company. Purchase a raft of campaign stars, add marquee booker to the formula import a client list from the competition , et voila! The Instant Agency.
Ultimately, every relevant New York brand in this business has arrived at its power position through a long evolution. This is an industry conceptualized and given its business language, some 70 years ago by the husband and wife team of Eileen and Jerry Ford. There was nothing instant there and nothing instant about John Casablancas’ glamorization of the business of the model in the 70’s. It was a process, albeit a ruthless one but once successful, the windfall was phenomenal. Casablancas and Marie succeeded in their great vision...rendering the GIRL the priceless commodity on the fashion market. Out of that breathlessness of the Elite years, came the unlikely spark in the form of the rebellion that was the downtown driven ethos of Paul Rowland’s Women. And of course, as a reaction to that heedless (and successful) ethos came the corporate power grid of today’s market leader, IMG.
But the times and the clients of this time are what will forge the next business evolution of the modeling industry. The past management formulas were wired into their place and time, shaped of course, by the economic context. Will Paris succeed in taking New York or should New York’s stalwarts hold the ground, in that fray? One thing is sure... the management company that best succeeds in interpreting and addressing what the fashion market really needs at this moment , is the one that will best capitalize on the turnovers and turmoil roiling through the boards right now.
Will Jan 2013 witness a whole lot of girls with a new body of agency credits to their name? Those are the signals. A volatile and unpredictable industry shifts one more time. But ultimately, that strange vocabulary of money , as parsed in “The Economist” will shape the final word on the matter.