Update: Following reports of model and agent exits, the Trump Organization issued a statement on Friday confirming its withdrawal from Trump Model Management. In an email obtained by Mother Jones, Trump Models president Corinne Nicolas explained the reasoning for the split.
"The Trump Organization is choosing to exit the modeling industry," Nicolas wrote. "On the heels of the recent sale of the Miss Universe Organization, the company is choosing to focus on their core businesses in the real estate, golf and hospitality space." The organization sold the pageant to talent group WME-IMG in 2015 following Trump’s remarks on immigration.
"Trump Models, during its 18-year run, was an amazing success and we are immensely proud of the opportunities that we have provided to so many talented individuals,” Nicolas wrote.The New York Post also confirmed the agency's shuttering on Friday. Trump Models represented big names like Pat Cleveland, Yasmin Le Bon, and Carol Alt. No word yet on when the agency will officially close, but its website and Instagram account are still up and running.
This story was originally published on April 3rd, 2017.
Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States, but his name also refers to some decidedly non-governmental programs, including residential buildings, a sizable global collection of hotels, wines, ties, and golf courses. Lesser known, though, is Trump Model Management, the New York-based modeling agency that represents some notable names in the fashion industry. Founded in 1999 under the name Trump Models Inc. and briefly changed to T Models, due to Trump's scuffles with then-part owner, Annie Veltri, the agency began representing the likes of Yasmin Le Bon, Hannelore Knuts, and Ali McGraw, and later went on to sign Carol Alt and Pat Cleveland. (All of those women are still represented by the agency today.) But, following blowback from Trump's presidential campaign, its future has become somewhat unclear.
In mid-February, Refinery29 learned of a boycott of Trump Model Management by industry makeup artists, stylists, and photographers via Facebook. "I'm committing from this day forward, I refuse to be a part of any job or project that includes casting from Trump Models," hair stylist Tim Aylward wrote in a post to his friends. "Fellow HMU, photo, and production friends, has there been any conversation about an organized boycott within the industry?" His message to his peers was clear: Stay away.
According to a source who asked to remain anonymous, shortly after Aylward's Facebook status (and the boycott that followed), some Trump Model Management agents began exiting the company. This wasn't a case of agents staging a walkout, in which they all resign simultaneously; rather, a handful of agents that departed left one by one, on their own terms. Refinery29 spoke with Gabriel Ruas Santos Rocha, a former employee of Trump Model Management for over five years, who left the agency on March 24. Three days later, Anti Management, his boutique agency that seeks to improve models' working conditions, was born. At the moment, Rocha has secured four agents (from both Trump Model Management and elsewhere), a full accounting department, a board of directors, and over 20 models (again, a mix of Trump and non-Trump alums).
According to Rocha, issues plagued the agency last year. "The people who got the worst of it were the models; they'd arrive on set and people would say, 'Oooh, you're from Trump [Models]? How dare you,' or 'Why are you still with them?'" he told Refinery29. "The girls would explain how hard we worked for them, how much they trusted us, and how we never made them feel unsafe: They were constantly harassed by employees on shoots, especially by other models."
On the Trump organization's landing page for Trump Model Management, its description reads: "Founded in 1999, Trump Model Management is one of New York City’s top modeling agencies. With a name that symbolizes success, the agency has risen to the top of the fashion market, producing models that appear on the pages of magazines such as Vogue, on designer runways, in advertising campaigns and blockbuster movies." And while the latter is true — Hannelore Knuts was just shot by Steven Klein for Vogue Italia, and model Amelia Rami just walked Marc Jacobs' fall 2017 runway — the idea that the Trump name is (still) a symbol of success has certainly been challenged.
Just how involved POTUS is with his elusive modeling agency, even after divesting his businesses upon taking office, is nebulous. Several investigative reports on Trump Model Management paint the agency in a negative light: its former models equate working for the company to "modern-day slavery" (in which they made little to no money, due to abnormally high fees charged to the models that resulted in them amassing large debts), immigration violations, and subpar living situations. (i.e. a "model apartment" that, at times, housed 11 habitants in a two-floor, three-bedroom space).
Trump's views on immigration become particularly sticky when Trump Model Management is concerned, especially since the agency has been accused of the illegal trafficking of models by the models themselves. Throughout Trump's campaign, the ending of the H-1B visa program was a central focus of his rhetoric, as a means of preventing foreign workers from being employed illegally in the U.S. Essentially, this would forbid the hiring of models from outside of the United States, including those sent over by sister agencies. When questioned about whether or not the allegations were true, executive vice president for management and development within the Trump organization Ronald Liberman didn't deny or confirm claims of hiring models illegally.
Financially, a 2016 disclosure filed by Trump's campaign showed that he raked in approximately $2 million from the agency, in which he holds an 85% percent stake. It's difficult to discern whether or not Trump Model Management's employees espouse his values, but several models repped by the agency, including Cleveland, have spoken out against issues like racism, sexism, and politics that plague the modeling industry; Cleveland and Trump don't share the same political views, so it seems like their relationship is (or was) all business. Lesser-known models, however, have had it worse.
"When all of the chaos started, I got word of a lot of models getting ready to leave, but they didn't know what to do," Rocha told us. "They were facing certain situations in their daily work, and after standing by us, eventually, they decided it was time to make the best decision for themselves...But many of these girls have never worked with anyone else, so how could they go to another agency? It could be unsettling for some." Though transferring between agencies is quite common, much like changing jobs, a model could incur possible financial losses and debts during the transition.
The whole scenario might sound a lot like the John Casablancas-Eileen Ford shakeup of the '80s that sent the modeling and fashion industries into a whirlwind of rumors and trade-offs, aptly dubbed the Model Wars, which ultimately resulted in a $32 million lawsuit and the end of a friendship. And while model-poaching happens often in the industry, Rocha underscores that Anti's launch isn't a walkout or boycott. Although the new agency's name could be perceived as negative (i.e. anti-Trump), it's not: Rocha cited an alternative definition for the word in Meriam-Webster, meaning "serving to prevent, cure, or alleviate".
Anti will merge all of the categorical boards into one (as opposed to Plus-Size, Men, New Faces, etc., as to not "box" the models in, limit their booking potential, and to increase model-agent intimacy), and will have a dedicated employee to work with the models one-on-one to expand publicity opportunities focused on their non-model lives (i.e. what you'll see on their Instagram accounts, but not in a campaign). Anti is also committed to representing models from all walks of life — regardless of race, color, size, ability, or creed. All of this is being put into place to ensure models are branded in the most appropriate way possible.
Rocha is set on building a privately-owned agency that views its models as clients, putting their personal and professional needs first. He insists the agency's name is in no way associated with where he and several of his colleagues found their footing in the modeling world. But an agency with such positive core values could be inclusive and refreshing for an industry that tends to favor dollar signs over people. Will Anti be as impactful (and successful) as its lofty, industry-shifting ambitions?
Refinery29 spoke with casting director James Scully, about the founding of a new agency filled with Trump Models alums. Scully, a prominent voice in the fashion industry who's vigilantly called out the lack of diversity on certain catwalks, is in full support of Rocha's latest project. "The closure of one agency and the start of another is not a new concept, but the difference is that [Anti] is an agency with good people and good intentions," Scully said.
Scully recalled Trump Model Management's early days, back when it was called T Models in an effort to disconnect the agency from the already-contentious Trump name. "Even when that agency opened — and this was when the Trump staff was [still] at Elite — there was already a stigma then; they changed the name to 'T' just so that people could wrap their heads around booking models from anything associated with his name," he said. "The name was 'T' for a long time because [Trump's name] was perceived negatively even then. Some things have definitely not changed, and now, it's just compounded."
"Because of this, a lot of people would have suffered an unfair end; I don't know how long that agency could stay open," he said. "At some point, girls and agents would have started to leave anyway, it would have burned itself at some point. I think Gabriel is doing what the natural thing would have been to do next: It's a smart idea to pull as much of the agency together as possible and get [another agency] underway. They're basically rescuing a very uncomfortable situation."
But Scully doesn't think designers need to boycott Trump Models entirely by completely ceasing work with its reps and roster of models. "There are really great agents and models that I've worked with for many years there who have lives and families, and that is where it becomes uncomfortable," he said. "As far as the boycott and his name, I could care less...But the tricky part for everyone is when it involves those on the inside, because this time, it's about the people, and that's what makes it particularly hard. But, at the end of the day, I'm happy [some of Trump Models' agents] decided to do something [positive] about it, rather than just letting the whole thing dissolve."
The future for Anti looks pretty bright: In addition to snagging a name like Shirley Mallman in its very first week, the agency has confirmed partnerships with several international agencies that are in talks to send over more models. By September, Anti plans to have a full office up and running in Soho, and hopes to grow its representation to 150 models by the next season of New York Fashion Week. As for Trump Model Management, time will tell if the agency will continue to be mired in controversy, and, if so, whether other agents and models will end up defecting.
We've reached out to Trump Model Management for further details on the current (and future) state of the company, and for comment on the founding of Anti Model Management, and will update when we hear back.