What a can of worms frockwriter's post about the top Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia showgirls opened up earlier this month. Via a series of anonymous comments, the Sydney agency whose models dominated the event, Chic Management, was accused of the "malicious undercutting" of other agencies via its relentless "Chic exclusives" (16); of supplying underage models; and even "bringing down" the Australian fashion industry. Although Chic declined comment, the head booker at Priscillas Model Management, Lizzi Leighton-Clark, told us that Chic's offer of models for what she understood was "either contra or at an extremely low rate" was a "massive disservice to the industry". Meanwhile, reps for three designers who booked Chic exclusives - Akira Isogawa, Toni Maticevski and An One To Noone - told us they went with the agency because it offered top girls at an attractive price. While casting director Mark Vassallo said "only a small discount" was applied to his MBFWA showgirls and that show rate negotiation is commonplace around the world. Vassallo added the complaints smacked of sour grapes and suggested Chic's rivals should "get out of the office and start scouting for new talent instead". But Chic could be the least of their concerns because as it emerges, the world's biggest model agency is about to put up its shingle down under - apparently helmed by none other than Chic's gm.
Although IMG's Australian headquarters told frockwriter they as yet knew nothing about a new model division, Chic Management reports that its general manager, Danielle Ragenard, has given notice and told the agency she is heading to start up IMG Models in Sydney at the end of July. Ragenard is on gardening leave until July 6th.
UPDATE 22/06: In an overnight communication between IMG's New York headquarters and the Sydney office that has been relayed to frockwriter, the Sydney division has been informed IMG are "extending our capabilities and resources for IMG Model clients in the Australian market", with a formal announcement to be made at a later stage.
Although speculation has been rife in the Australian modelling industry for months about IMG's plans, the news does appear to have taken some in IMG's Australian division by surprise.
And Ragenard might not be the only one to jump ship.
According to one industry source who did not want to be identified, "Senior players at every agency are talking to IMG. It's shaking up quite a few people". According to another source, "The impact on the Australian market is going to be huge. I don't care what anyone says".
What is the potential significance of IMG Models opening up in Australia?
Although Chic Management also declined to comment on the IMG Models news, shortly after IMG acquired Australian Fashion Week, Chic director Ursula Hufnagel told me in a 2006 interview for The Sydney Morning Herald that she believed it would be "unethical" for IMG to open a model agency in Australia, given the size of this market.
IMG is the world's largest sports and lifestyle marketing company, with 130 offices in 25 countries. IMG's fashion arm, IMG Fashion, owns the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week events in New York, Berlin, Miami, Tokyo and Sydney, among numerous other events.
IMG Models, which has offices in New York, Milan, Paris, London and Hong Kong, represents some of the biggest names in the business, from the world number 1 and 2 Lara Stone and Joan Smalls, to Kate Moss, Gisele Bundchen, Daria Werbowy and, outside Australia, Australians Miranda Kerr, Ajak Deng and Montana Cox. Within Australia, Chic Management represents Kerr and Cox and in the Sydney market, Deng (whose 'mother agency' is Melbourne's FRM Model Management).
The reaction from other model agents has been mixed.
“This is a free market and if IMG are going to open up here then so be it" said Priscillas Model Management founder and director Priscilla Leighton-Clark. "But we have fantastic Australian-owned agencies here which have produced great girls, everyone from Elle Macpherson to Bambi Northwood-Blyth. Look at Julia Nobis, Abbey Lee Kershaw, Miranda Kerr. And I think that’s really important. We need to be proud of who we are and who we can produce here".
“Sydney is a very flooded market as it is at the moment and it’s a very competitive market in a very flat sort of industry, so it depends on where they’re intending to go exactly" said Chadwick Models director Martin Walsh. While Catherine McGill, general manager of Viviens Models Management, noted “We welcome the competition, as with anyone opening. I’m prepared to compete with anyone as best we can on even terms”.
1/ lara stone/models.com
2/ kate moss/models.com
3/ gisele bundchen/models.com
4/ joan smalls/models.com
5/ candice swanepoel/models.com
6/ miranda kerr/frockwriter