The shuttering of a boutique modeling agency isn’t usually a subject for national debate, but when it is partially owned by the president, that changes things. When news hit last week that Trump Models might be closing its doors, few were surprised. President Trump’s polarizing reputation has taken a toll on many of the businesses that bear his name, but his modeling agency faced a particularly difficult challenge. In a leaked email obtained by Mother Jones, Trump Models’s president, Corinne Nicolas, saluted the agency’s success over the past 18 years and shared the news that the Trump Organization parent company was phasing out its modeling segment to focus on business interests in golf, hospitality, and real estate.
The email followed a week’s worth of speculation spurred on by The Washington Post’s exposé on the high-profile women who’d left the agency. Once home to fashion icons including Carmen Dell’Orefice and Pat Cleveland, what it lacked in influence it made up for in the prestige of its iconic supermodels. Founded in 1999, and calling itself T Models at one point, it never rose to powerhouse status. Though it launched several faces over the years—including redhead editorial favorite Katie Moore, Steven Meisel muse Hollie-May Saker, and Sports Illustrated star Mia Kang—the agency attained modest success. Ironically, its greatest achievement may be the one farthest removed from its founder’s ideals: When it launched its Legends division in 2012, it helped to revive interest in models over 40.
The end of Trump Models already has given rise to a series of fresh endeavors. With several models from its Legends board following one of the agency’s top bookers, Patty Sicular, to Iconic Focus, an outpost dedicated to representing older talent, and with onetime Trump Models agent Gabriel Ruas Santos-Rocha, recently founding his own agency, Anti Management, the models and managers appear to be rebounding quickly. Still, the closure may have an impact beyond the formation of new agencies.
With rates down and hundreds of agencies jockeying for the same work, modeling is more competitive than ever, and while business losses are common, in the case of Trump Models the situation may have been exacerbated by its connection to the president. Trump’s history of derogatory statements about women made him a dubious choice for the business of beauty, yet he continuously sought a niche for himself within that world. In the beginning, his reputation for glitz may have added a degree of notoriety, but ultimately he may have become a liability.
There were reports of boycotts from behind the scenes, and many models were said to have questioned the ethics of working for an owner whose political views were at odds with their own. If there’s a lesson to be learned from the closure of Trump Models, it lies in understanding the impact of the current climate on fashion. Another modeling agency founder turned president seems unlikely in the future, and the resistance directed toward Trump’s companies proves that no business is immune to politics.
This story originally appeared on Vogue.
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