Behind NY's catwalks, legal contracts abound

Behind the scenes of New York Fashion Week, reams of legal contracts bind together designers, models, hair and make-up artists, photographers, stagehands, lighting technicians and even celebrities flaunting their clothes.


T Jones Abss / Photo: Pixel Formula

These days fashion contracts can range from a premium price of up to $65,000 to rent the main runway at Lincoln Center where the top designers tend to show, to a smaller designer's DJ contract including a clause that the DJ must have the right to publicly broadcast the music they pump out during the show.

"No one ever sees all of the business and legal work that goes into creating these shows," Susan Scafidi, director of Fordham Law School's Fashion Institute, said. "There are reams of contracts that have to happen."

Below is a peek of the kinds of negotiations that take place in order for each of the 90-plus shows to happen.

THE TENTS: The fashion shows most familiar to the public are those at the IMG event at Lincoln Center, where tent rents range from $16,500 to $65,000. Contracts for these venues are generally non-negotiable, and, like most Fashion Week-related agreements, subject to secrecy. The IMG contract, Scafidi said, "has confidentiality written all over it."

Some of the standard provisions cover lighting, seating and how long the designer will have access to the tents. Tent contracts also require that literature for each show includes the event's full name, and that a designer's sponsors don't conflict with the week's official event sponsors. With Diet Pepsi as a sponsor this year, for instance, Diet Coke would likely not be approved.

MODELS: While fees and other details are typically included in a designer's contract with models, the issue lawyers on both sides worry about most is how the models' images will be used in advertising, social media and other outlets.

Designers usually want to be able to use the images "in perpetuity." Models' representatives try to limit that contract language to a more defined period, typically six months, said Ali Grace, deputy director of business and legal at model management company Wilhelmina International Ltd.

For prominent models, the contracts will be heavily negotiated, often at the last minute. Typically, design houses present their own contracts to the model agency and the agency edits the language and tries to persuade the designer's representative to agree.

MUSIC RIGHTS: IMG has a contract with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), the organization that controls music rights. For the fashion shows, ASCAP allows designers to play most artists without worrying about the record companies claiming copyright infringement, said Steve Gordon, an entertainment lawyer who discussed the topic at a panel held at Fordham Law School last week.

Designers who show away from Lincoln Center at smaller spaces such as art galleries need to purchase ASCAP licenses themselves, or ensure any contract with the DJ includes a clause that they have the right to publicly broadcast the music they play.

SPONSORS: Designers use sponsors to help defray the costs of the show. Because that involves using the sponsor companies' trademarked logos as well as how the companies' names will be used, lawyers are needed.

An issue that sometimes arises is the conflicting sponsorship. For example, labels showing in Mercedes-Benz tents can't turn to other carmakers as sponsors. But if the designer is showing at another venue, automakers are fair game -- which is why the label Rag & Bone could sign up Land Rover for Fashion Week last September. That involved both a sponsorship fee as well as Land Rover providing cars to ferry Rag & Bone V.I.P. guests to and from their show, said Douglas Hand, an attorney at Baldachin Amburgey who helped negotiate the contract.

CELEBRITIES: Designers work hard to get celebrities to their shows, and the process often is complicated, involving negotiations over if the starlet will speak to the press, pose for pictures and what they'll wear, Scafidi said. The contracts however are nearly unenforceable, since no designer would want the bad press of suing a celebrity for non-attendance. (Reporting by Erin Geiger Smith, Editing by Eileen Daspin and Christine Kearney)

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