Federico Pignatelli, Founder of the Iconic Pier 59 Studios in New York, and His Mission to Protect the Rights of Models (Exclusive Interview)

Federico Pignatelli, Founder of the Iconic Pier 59 Studios in New York, and His Mission to Protect the Rights of Models (Exclusive Interview) February 25, 2019
Models Shane Seng (L), Simone Aptekman, (C), and Dajia Wilson (R), together with Federico Pignatelli during the signing of the Model's Bill of Rights in New York City. © Guild Magazine 2019.

On February 10th, 2019, during New York Fashion Week, the founder of Pier 50 Studios and Industry Model Management, Federico Pignatelli, held a press conference to introduce to the world the Model’s Bill of Rights. The comprehensive list of fundamental rights models should expect from their agencies and clients has been a much talked about subject in the industry of modeling since Pignatelli first discussed the matter last year. The Bill is essential to the mission of Pier 59 and has led to the banning of multiple agencies from shooting at the studio, one of New York City’s most important creative spaces.

The Guild Team was present for this important event, as we firmly believe in protecting the rights of models. Pignatelli has taken the step to bring to light the hidden realities models can face in their careers at the hands of corrupt agencies, and we were honored to talk with him, and three of his models, during this significant event in the history of the industry.

Founder of Pier 50 Studios and Industry Model Management, Federico Pignatelli, discusses with the press his mission to protect the right of models across the industries of fashion and advertising. © Guild Magazine 2019.

– Thank you for inviting us to this important event, Mr. Pignatelli. As an introduction to the reason why we are here today, what was the spark within you that motivated you to enter the art and fashion industry, open your own modeling agency, and leave behind a career in finance and investment banking?

I started my career in Italy as a financial journalist, a far cry from what this business and industry is about. After becoming a trader and portfolio manager, I went into investment banking. But, since my young age, I have had a passion for photography. After I became successful in the financial business and had enough capital to invest in this industry, I went on to build this beautiful facility that is Pier 59 Studios. As a photographer and videographer by passion, I enjoy this business very much. It was a dream come true, and a way to cultivate my love for photography and videography.

When you are talking about fashion and advertising, you also talk about the people in it. For this reason, I decided to open a modeling agency. I wanted to make this modeling agency an example of good business and behavior because I know that though the industry has grown dramatically during the past 30 years, it is virtually unchecked and unregulated. It is important to set rules and protections for the benefit of the model, which of course translate to the interest of the client. Once there are rules and guidelines to follow, this protects everyone in the business.

– The Model Bill of Rights is a significant step for the protection of models and their rights, especially here in the United States. It is important to me as a photographer, as the model is the subject through which I can express my art. What else do you feel is needed to change the worldwide collective consciousness about the treatment of models?

I strongly believe the media can play a tremendous part in this. As we push to bring awareness to the world about the unfair treatment of models, the more modeling agencies can become informed about this movement, and be part of it. Agencies should also assimilate these rules and regulations, as the more models become aware of their rights, the more business savvy they will become. There is nothing in the bill of rights that is not logical! It is common sense that we need to protect the rights of the models. It is about bringing common sense to this business. I hope that it is adapted quickly, as it is so necessary.

– You have ruffled some feathers in the industry since you announced your plans to draft this bill last year. What is your advice to professionals in the industry who might object to this important mission?

I am used to ruffling some feathers (Mr. Pignatelli laughs)! Until recently, many did not know how models are treated. But now they are aware, and the media has made people aware. Business professionals, as the end users of the models, should protect themselves. Now that they know there are problems within this industry, they should do the right thing. Once they know a model is not being treated well, they are also liable. My advice is for them to protect the models, and also protect themselves by supporting agencies that are doing the right thing.

Clients also play an essential role here. It is crucial for them to demand that the agencies follow the rules. Clients pay agencies and the agencies don’t pay the models. The agency then uses the model’s money to run their business. It is unethical and illegal.

I want clients to be understanding of the fact that while they are doing the right thing, there is an intermediary between them and the models that might not. They need to ask the agencies actively, “have you adopted the Model’s Bill of Right? Are you paying the models?” This would prevent them from also being held legally liable.


– Thank you, Mr. Pignatelli. Now Simone, as a model in this industry for the past six years, what are your thoughts about this crucial step in the protection of your rights and that of your colleagues?

The Model’s Bill of Rights was born of very specific grievances models experience, especially financially, such as not being paid on time or at all, not having a copy of their contract, or even facing threats of deportation. It was written by Federico, a group of models and I about those experiences. It is the voice of the models. It is protection for the models.

One of the many important matters covered in the Bill is the standardization of contracts across the board so that models being signed know they are not signing their rights away. Many times, there are things in these contracts that are predatory, and this Bill of Rights is a huge relief.

Another important thing is that Pier 59 is insured. If a model has an accident, they are protected, and that is not the case for many studios. It is something no one talks about, and The Bill of right covers this. The Bill also addresses concerns about 01 Visas.

Something else I like about the Bill is that it makes the statement that it is transferable, and if you move to another agency that has adopted the Bill, you remain protected.

– Thanks, Simone. Now Dajia, for you who are new to the modeling industry, what does the protection of the bill of rights mean to you?

I have only been signed with The Industry Model Management for 6 months. They are my first agency. I personally do not know the abuse many models have been through. I have heard the stories, and I feel lucky that I have joined this agency under this Bill. Anywhere I go I feel safe, as everywhere we go, we are insured. The agency also makes sure we are protected, researching photographers, creative teams, and locations before we sign a contract. We are never in a situation that is predatory. I also do not have to question where my money is going. Whenever I have a financial question, my agency will immediately pull up my information. It is completely transparent. This is very important when this is your career and livelihood. I cannot imagine being in an agency that does not provide this protection to its models.

– Thanks, Dajia. For you Shane who have been in this industry for 8 years, and probably have witnessed so much, what does the Model’s Bill of Rights mean to you?

Until I met Federico and my current agent at The Industry Model Management, I did not know what we could ask or not ask from an agency. There was a time I worked for a very big client, and I was so excited about it. It was then I decided to ask my agent at the time what were my rates. I was told it was “to get my face out there,” as this was such a big client. After this, I felt it was best not to ask questions again as I worried my agents would feel offended by my questions. I signed with The Industry Model Management one month ago, and I am excited not to have to worry about when I will get paid. I just want to model and do my work without having to worry about finances. – GM




To see the Model’s Bill of Right, visit:

© Guild Magazine 2019
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