updated 24 Dec 2010, 13:04
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Fri, Nov 05, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN
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Hazards of a model's job
by Cheche V. Moral

THE MUSIC was upbeat and the set as grand as befitting a designer making his homecoming gala after winning the prize in a Paris tilt. Two female models were just about to step on the runway when, suddenly, and to everyone's shock, a klieg light exploded and fell on them.

The women had to be rushed to the E.R. to take out the shards of glass that hit, according to accounts, one on the face and the other on the arm. This was in Manila in the mid-'90s.

"When I heard about that, I started [the practice of] taking out an accident insurance for my models, especially for out-of-town shows," says fashion and events director Jackie C. Aquino, who takes the insurance money from his production budget. "It doesn't cost much, and it's for my peace of mind."

It's a practice, however, that's not a standard in the local modeling industry, but is one that fashion insiders are hoping to correct.

Recently, nine of 40 models wobbled, slipped and fell on their heinies one after the other on a slippery spot on the runway of a gala show.

Most local models aren't protected by insurance if they get injured during a fashion show.

Major objective

"We don't have an accident insurance, and we're discussing that," says Phoemela Baranda, a model and TV personality who's just been elected president of the Professional Models Association of the Philippines (PMAP), the 23-year-old organization of Filipino "models protecting other models," as its tagline says.

Accident insurance will be a major objective of Baranda's leadership.

Ariel Lozada, the director of Furne One's show where the models slipped on the runway, explains that the slick spot was caused by an oil and water leak from the overhead fog machine, aggravated when well-meaning maintenance crew wiped the puddle with table napkins midway into the show.

"Each time a girl fell, it reminded me of my own recent ordeal and it was hard to watch," Lozada adds, recalling his own accident in Stockholm in December, where he slipped on ice and broke his leg. "I wanted to stop the show. Instead I told the girls to take off their shoes."

The wooden platform shoes were initially thought to have caused the slips, but some of the models still struggled to stay on their feet even as they walked the runway barefoot.

"I always tell my models, 'It's your game. I can only be in control up to a certain point'," Lozada says.

He believes technical suppliers should also be held responsible, and that not only models should be insured but the entire technical and production crew as well.

Lozada, who's been directing shows for 12 years, says the incident on One's show was the first in his career.

A few years ago, in an Inno Sotto gala show, some electrical wiring short-circuited backstage, resulting in power outage in some parts of the Makati Shangri-La ballroom. No one was harmed.

"Technical vendors should insure the crew," he says, adding he had had to conduct an investigation after the show on what caused the mishap. (It was found that the laminate flooring for the runway alone couldn't have caused the slips, as it wasn't as slick as, say, Plexiglas or Formica.)

"I think what happens in the production should be the responsibility of producers. Models should be insured by their agencies. Models must make sure they have insurance," Lozada says.

Thorny issue

However, for PMAP, which isn't a modeling agency, this is a thorny issue. Ramp models affiliated with the organization and are paid on a per-project basis don't get similar protection as TV commercial models like Baranda, who are usually insured by clients.

Baranda says they're looking into the paperwork involved in procuring accident insurance for their members.

"We're also looking into a health card. We will study [the technical aspects of] these, we just had our first meeting."

Frederick Peralta, who was the featured designer in the 1990s show that injured two female models, says he couldn't recall who paid for the models' hospital bills.

As for Aquino's practice of buying insurance for the models he hires, Joey Espino says, "It's a good gesture at first, but it should be [taken by the industry more as] a responsibility more than awa... Clients here even [fleece] the director's fees! There's no money being an agent, and you work like a caregiver."

Espino, a fashion show director who also produces Philippine Fashion Week and heads Cal Carrie's, a modeling agency, says modeling isn't considered a profession by the government, such that there are no strict policies on models' fees and taxes to be paid. Ergo, when things go awry, models can't turn to the government for protection.

"I've been talking to [counterparts] in Thailand and they said the modeling industry is now regulated by their government, so models now can command a flat rate, they get higher fees," he adds.

"[Accident insurance] is a dark area in the modeling industry. There's no association among modeling agencies. Luka-luka naman ang mga agents. Ina-undercut pa yung model."

Espino, who admits his agency has no accident insurance for its own models, says it's an unwritten code that a show's producer would take care of the model if something goes amiss.

Designers' responsibility

As for avoiding booboos in the actual show, Peralta says it's the designers' responsibility to make sure things are "safe" for the model from top to toe.

"Designers always have time to do a fitting before a show, to see to it that everything is safe," he says. "Shoes have to have slip guards, or at least some masking tape on the sole." It's the designer's duty to make sure, for instance, that there's no unnecessary breast exposure.

"As a model, you have to wear everything that's asked of you, but it's also your responsibility to inform the designer if you're uncomfortable."

Lozada agrees on the importance of doing a fitting more than an actual dress rehearsal, the latter now typically done away altogether.

"If it doesn't fit or if it doesn't work, I discourage the designer. You will be surprised-Inno Sotto, Cesar Gaupo, Pepito Albert, they're quite open [to such suggestions]. They listen. Fitting is the process of minus-plus."

Lozada and veteran model Marina Benipayo are planning to conduct a workshop for models on what to do if they fall on the runway. Benipayo wore the finale dress in One's show, and was essentially the last woman standing who fought, and won, against the slippery runway, platform boots and a behemoth of a train notwithstanding.

"It could happen again, so we want to teach models what to do," says Lozada.

In 2008, Benipayo's contemporary, Suyene Chi-Sia, famously hammed it up when she fell on the similarly slick runway floor of Randy Ortiz's gala show. A handful of veteran models, including Baranda and Tweetie de Leon-Gonzalez, also teetered but maintained their composure throughout. The show was directed by Aquino.

Big difference

Of course, models falling on the runway isn't unique here. It's easy to trawl YouTube for videos of even the highest paid supermodels staggering in treacherous heels and dropping on their fannies at designer shows.

The big difference is that models doing the collections at Fashion Weeks in the West are insured.

"It's mandated," Aquino says. "When I was working in New York, designers were required. There was a blanket insurance for everyone involved in the production."

Espino agrees. In New York, he says, there's a "different kind of sensitivity" for models. They may lose face, careen off and fall down on the runway, possibly get bruised or, worse, even break a bone. But there's the comfort of knowing whose door to bang on when and if it happens.

These are conditions Baranda and her troop are hoping to achieve.

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