Marc Jacobs unwittingly made a very good case for increased government regulation of the fashion industry today with his flippant response to a piece on his (and others’) refusal to pay models fairly for their work. Here’s how it went down.
Earlier today, Jezebel ran a piece on how Marc Jacobs doesn’t pay his models except in “trade” (i.e. designer goods), despite expecting them to work very long hours for him during fashion week. Given the amount that it costs a model to travel to and from gigs at the world’s various fashion weeks, all that these models often have to show for their hundreds of hours of work is a mounting pile of debt to their agencies. (Jacobs, meanwhile, makes millions of dollars each year.) As previously reported, he also flouts the CFDA guidelines on casting underage models, because of “creative freedom” or some shit. He’s not the only designer who does this, but he’s certainly the most flagrant.
The only notable exception to this is in Paris, where strong labor laws dictate that runway models must be at least 16 (which decreases the pressure on young models to leave school), and designers must pay their workers in money. Crazy, I know.
In response to the Jezebel piece (and the various sites that picked it up), Jacobs simply doubled down:
This is proof enough for me that CDFA “guidelines” don’t mean shit, and this industry has absolutely zero capacity for self-regulation. Any why should it? The whole point of a capitalist enterprise is to make money, and even the “nicest” business owners are pushed by market forces to decrease wages, safety measures, and other overhead costs as much as possible. (And as you can see, Marc Jacobs is hardly a “nice business owner.”) But even Adam Smith acknowledged that state regulations are necessary in order to keep this system from producing a cartoonishly horrific world in which bosses floss their teeth with workers’ bones. Hence, laws are passed, quality of life is maintained, there are no bloody revolutions, people can afford to buy things, and capitalist society continues to function, albeit not as profitably as it would if those pesky child labor laws went away.
This all seems fairly basic, but for some reason, people often forget these ideas when faced with the uniquely special, creative and aspirational field of fashion. Well, guess what? Their job might be more glamorous than most, but models are workers just like anyone else, and as such, should be entitled to the same protections. Thankfully, organizations like The Model Alliance are now working to make this a reality.