An Interview with Victoria Keon-Cohen of The Model’s Union

I recently met with with model Victoria Keon-Cohen to learn a little bit more about the Model’s Union.

Can you give me a little background on your own career
I started modeling when I was 15 yrs old – this is my 10th year. My major clients include: Dior, Chanel, Versace. Levis. Vogue Pelle, photographer Rankin, Armani and Replay I’ve worked in Australia, New Zealand, Milan, New York, Los Angeles, Germany, Athens, Paris and I’m now based in London. Throughout my career I finished my VCE studies and completed a BA (Hons) for Design for Performance from Central Saint Martin’s University in London.

When did the idea of a representative organisation for occur to you?
Model Dunja Knezevic and I first came up with the idea of a Models’ Union in 2007. We had both started working in Australia but gone our separate ways around Europe and the US. We bumped into each other in London on a job and got into a discussion about how frustrating the industry can be and wanted to do something about it. Not to attack the industry in any way but to implement positive and sustainable change for everyone.
Equity Union membership provides models with GBP10,000 facial disfigurement insurance (24 hrs day) Legal advice and support accounting nutritionists and counseling a representative committee (which i am the Chair and Dunja the Vice-Chair) that meets quarterly to advise and campaign on behalf of the Union on changes needed for our industry.

What were the issues that most concerned you?
Fashion week conditions, girls getting photographed as they were getting changed backstage, no food or drink on jobs, a general lack of accountability and transparency with agencies and clients. Sexual harassment. Models not being able to say ‘No’ to anything because of intimidation and mistreatment. there was a huge issue of models being afraid of becoming blacklisted from their agencies and clients if they complain. Significant changes are that models (both male and female) have been speaking up about their experiences. We were very careful about how we went about starting the Union. By having it as a branch of Equity we were drawing on their pre -existing experience and strength. We somewhat explained it to our agencies who didn’t understand why it was necessary. This wasn’t because they were bad people but just that they didn’t know about some of the bad treatment that occurs. Since the Union’s conception, models are no longer as afraid of coming forward with issues and doing something about it.

Other achievement: ‘The Model Programme‘ which is an alliance between the Association of Model Agencies (represent all major agencies in London), the British Fashion Council, the London Development Agency (government organisation) and the Equity Models’ Union. This alliance negotiated the new Code of Conduct which has set a foundation for better working conditions in the industry.

This includes, designated breaks, assured food, secure changing areas, set fees for shows which increase on the amount of shows a designer as produced (previously models would be expected to work for free or ‘prestige’ for major designers).
This document i sent to Sara in September last year and she has used it as a reference in building the Code of Conduct in NY.

How far has your plan to establish a representative body come so far?

In early 2007, upon heavy public scrutiny of malnourished and emaciated models on the catwalk Baroness Kingsmill, on behalf of the British Fashion Council conducted the Model Health Inquiry (MHI). This indicated that a support system had to be laid down for models and for the industry to conduct itself more responsibility. Following this, in December 2007 myself and Dunja Knezevic founded the Equity Models’ Union to act as an independent organization for models to campaign for positive change throughout the industry. It has been established for 3 years and we represent just under 400 models in the London market. It is generally accepted in the London market and we are publishing a magazine about the Union with supporting quotes from Jamie Dornan (top male supermodel) and casting directors based in London. As above we have negotiated regulations for fashion week (the first documented workplace terms and conditions for models anywhere), am working on appropriate crediting for models in published media (this is to identify the model as a person, not a prop whose work goes unrecognised). We have developed an acceptance in the London market where models can discuss their issues openly without fear of blacklisting.

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