High price of supermodels is passed on to consumers

November 13, 1991|By Pat Morgan | Pat Morgan,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

Would you pay more money for an outfit because Linda Evangelista wore one just like it for about 60 seconds on a runway?

The link between soaring clothing prices and also-soaring model costs isn't quite that direct, but don't doubt for a minute that there is a link.

We have entered the era of the supermodel, with fees that have reportedly quadrupled in the last four years for the biggest stars among them Evangelista, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, Helena Christiansen, Yasmeen Ghauri and Karen Mulder.

Add to that reports of prima donnas with out-of-control egos who refuse to rehearse, complain about the clothes they are to wear and show up late for work Evangelista and Campbell get the worst marks for attitude and you have a juicy controversy.

Designers, or their business partners, are happy to change the subject from high clothing prices to the high fees charged by runway models. The models will point out that their fees are a drop in the ocean to big-name designers. Besides, they will invariably add, they earn every penny.

"I know there has been a lot of criticism, but people do not understand how tough modeling can be," says Helena Christiansen, discussing the topic in London between the major fashion shows in Milan and Paris. "Models have very short working lives, so we have to make the most of it."

While I don't buy the part about how tough modeling is, I'll grant Christiansen the other half of her argument.

Modeling at this level is very much like being a professional athlete; both have maybe a decade in which their earning potential is very high. After that, they must find other jobs, accept lower salaries or, if they've invested wisely, retire young to a life of luxury.

Let me be honest here that doesn't sound so bad. After all, these women will still earn more in 10 years than most of us will in 40. And they'll have it while they're young enough to enjoy it.

It's a little difficult to feel sorry for a college-age millionaire who earns up to $12,000 for a half hour's work on the runway. Or more. Last year, the design house of Lanvin reportedly set a record, paying Evangelista $20,000 for her runway appearance.

According to one Milanese designer, an exclusive meaning the model appears only in your show in that city with a model such as Cindy Crawford costs more like $50,000, plus first-class travel and a four-star hotel.

All those expenses are part of a designer's overhead. And overhead always eventually gets passed on to customers through higher prices.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy watching these models in shows (though I must admit I am bored with Linda Evangelista's above-it-all sneer, and after thoughtful consideration, I've decided her bright red hair just looks silly).

But I also think the models can overshadow the clothes, and the clothes are what this is supposedly all about.

Give us a little credit. Very few women delude themselves into thinking a Gianni Versace dress can make them look like Claudia Schiffer.

My guess is that customers even those who can afford designer labels would be happier to make a connection between the clothes and lower prices.

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