Supermodels claw riches from beyond the catwalk

Sindy-style dolls of fashion's big names look set to be a lucrative business.

Alan Hassenfeld, the chairman of Hasbro Inc, was playing tennis with film producer Jean-Yves Lefur when Mr Lefur asked whether Hasbro would be interested in making a toy doll which looked like his supermodel girlfriend, Karen Mulder.

Shortly after the game Mr Hassenfeld contacted Mr Lefur and told him that Hasbro wanted to follow up the supermodel doll idea. They subsequently agreed that three Sindy dolls should be manufactured that would be modelled on Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell as well as on Karen Mulder. Mr Hassenfeld wanted to see them in toyshops where they could compete with Barbie dolls for the affections of doll-mad schoolgirls.

Yesterday Hasbro's supermodel dolls were unveiled in Paris for the first time, although because of production problems they will only appear in the shops this summer. The supermodels themselves will be entitled to pick up a royalty of at least 5 per cent of the wholesale price for each sale.

It is all a long way from the catwalk where Claudia, Naomi and Karen first made their names. But the deal symbolises the way the modelling industry is rapidly diversifying away from traditional lines in order to exploit the supermodels' growing notoriety.

Modelling is already big business, particularly for the supermodels' agents, who take up to 40 per cent of each dollar earned by their models.

Elite Model Management and Ford Models, the world's largest agents, are private companies that do not disclose their accounts, but industry experts estimate that they together turn over about $150m each year, representing between one-third and half of the entire industry.

That does not mean that their positions are impregnable. Far from it. Ever since supermodels became household names, the conventional model agencies have become increasingly vulnerable to - and touchy about - the cutthroat competition that is closing in on them from all sides.

The models want the agents to take less commission, the leading fashion houses are trying to reduce what they pay top models for appearing on the catwalk, and rival agencies are trying to entice away the larger agents' highest-earning assets, the supermodels.

New income streams from licensing and endorsements and from publishing and television contracts are like manna from heaven for the cash-strapped agents, who will do anything to improve their flagging margins.

Last week, when I talked to Katie Ford, the Harvard Business School graduate who is currently running Ford Models, she initially refused to be interviewed about why she has lost so many models.

But when I asked if it had something to do with the successful diversification strategy being pursued by Mark McCormack's IMG modelling agency, she immediately launched into a withering attack on the agency which has lured 10 models away from Ford. The defecting models include stars such as Lauren Hutton, Ralph Lauren girl Bridget Hall, Almay girl Vendela, Patricia Velazquez and Elaine Irwin. So far only Ms Velazquez and Ms Irwin have returned to Ford.

Ms Ford criticised IMG, saying it had failed to find exclusive cosmetics and fashion contracts for the top models it had hired, and she claimed that IMG was boasting excessively about its endorsements and licensing capabilities.

"They are very strong when it comes to pitching to our models, but so far they have not delivered what they have promised. They may have obtained a sunglasses licensing deal for Lauren Hutton, but we've done just as many licensing and endorsement deals for our models. For example, Christie Brinkley has had a sunglasses and a jewellery deal, and Veronica Webb has had a contract for Conway Stores, [the clothing chain based in the US]. I'm in the process of negotiating ownership licensing deals where our models will end up with equity in the licensor. Don't let IMG tell you that they are the only ones who are proactive. We are proactive too. We don't just wait for the deals to come to us."

In spite of all this criticism, Mr McCormack's IMG Models, backed as it is by the $1bn-per- year IMG group, is, in theory at least, better equipped than any other agency to dominate the industry as it changes.

"No one else is totally global," Mr McCormack says. "It is not easy for the other agents to challenge us. We have 70 offices in 29 countries, which is very expensive. They are manned by experts in merchandising, publishing, licensing and sales and marketing." Licensing alone earns IMG's celebrities royalties in excess of $120m per year. Mr McCormack also has a television production company and an events division that is trying to set up a series of a mobile catwalk tours, and IMG is trying to sell the exclusive right to film the catwalk shows to television companies.

Chuck Bennett, the head of IMG's modelling division, believes that Ms Ford's comments on IMG are mis-conceived. "The last time I looked, Ford did not have a staff of 28 full-time licensing specialists around the world - as we do - to generate opportunities for their clients. It is true that we have so far only completed one licensing deal for our models apart from the more commonplace calendar deals. However, you should not judge our success in licensing by the number of deals we have done."

Mr Bennett said there were many reasons why his models have turned down licenses: "Two years ago one of our stars refused Mattel's request to lend her name to a supermodel doll because she needed to consolidate her position in the fashion industry first. On other occasions, I have advised top models not to license their names because I felt they would obtain more income if we were able to develop their images first by setting up endorsement deals for them. Licensing is not just something to add on as soon as she becomes well known."

That explains why IMG is currently specialising in setting up a string of endorsement contracts for its top models. Stephanie Seymour has recently endorsed Diet Coke on a television commercial and Tyra Banks has done the same for Nike Shoes.

"You will only be able to tell whether we are the best licensing company for models in five years' time," Mr Bennett said. "For the moment, we have to rely on our models having confidence in our ability to maximise their income through licensing programmes when the time is right because they know our track record with other celebrities."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advisor – Ind Advisory Firm

$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick