Documenting The Work Behind The Walk

Sara Ziff in Style, October 26, 2010

Media Source

“It was a rinky-dink project we just did on the side with no agent, no PR. We had no intention of making it an exposé,” model Sara Ziff said last night at the Fordham Fashion Law Institute’s screening of her documentary Picture Me. Intentional or not, the 80-minute doc, shot with Ziff’s then boyfriend Ole Schell, has caused quite a stir since premiering in theaters last month. The camera follows Ziff (left, with Schell) on the runway circuit, which means cameos from the likes of Lisa Cant, Cameron Russell, Gilles Bensimon, and even Karl Lagerfeld.

The film shows modeling’s glitzy side—in the course of the flick, Ziff earns enough to buy her first home in Manhattan (at 20) and out-earns her NYU professor father—but its darker aspect, too. Sexual harassment, eating disorders, poor money management, and working conditions for pubescent models are all tackled, and post-screening, a panel of industry experts and legal scholars gathered to discuss. “The business should be regulated,” said panelist Chris Gay of Marilyn models. (He’s also Ziff’s agent.) “It would be very tough for us to regulate from within.” Nian Fish, acting chair of the CFDA Health Initiative, agreed. “A lot of people in our industry are not sympathetic because of that check,” she added. “They think, ‘Well, she’s getting paid.’” Fish currently tackles eating disorders and underage employment guidelines through the Initiative. But Ziff is setting her sights on a bigger problem: namely, the lack of formal professional organizations for catwalkers. (As independent contractors, models have little in the way of workers’ rights.) “I’ve been talking with my adviser at school about how best to start something, whether it may be a labor union like SAG [is] for actors or a nonprofit organization,” the Columbia University senior said after the panel talk. “That’s what’s I’m going to do after I graduate. I want to see it happen and to do it full force.”

—Bee-Shyuan Chang