THE Bitter TRUTH ABOUT HOW easily a BERLIN BASED STYLING AGENCY IS FOOLING THEIR CLIENTS, PARTNERS AND STAFF, WITHOUT A LEGAL BUSINESS PERMISSION or PROPER PAYMENT FOR hired ARTISTS and THEIR ASSIGNED WORK.
CO-WRITTEN BY SUZANNE KIRSTEIN
A quick fact check surprisingly lead into deeper investigations: the Mumbai office address belongs to a shopping center and the Miami office once again is a privately own apartment. Not a single review could be found about them, except one for Miami, in which the anonymous writer confirms my suspicions about the dubious methods of Halfmann and Lenore. My first official interview was taken place in an overcrowded living room with three other people present whilst Lenore was busy doing a clients hair whilst we had a business meeting. Philippcame into the room and directly handed over the ‘artistic agreement.’ As the journey with my new bosses’ began, I had a gut feeling all was not as it seemed and so I stood by and listened carefully.
Phillip Halfmann co-owner of Prestige Artists, was born and raised in an area of Germany called Ruhrpott. He appears upon first impressions to fit into the image of a semi-serious model agent, asking young applicants to pay upfront for a so called TFP (Time For Print), in order to build their portfolio for potential clients. Aside from the ‘multi billion’ fashion business, where often Agencies can be unethical and unprofessional, Philipp insisted they have an excellent reputation within the industry. A TFP is usually used to support a newcomer or meant to enhance young creatives to establish their profession with less commercial production. Usually agreements do not contain any costs for the individual, except additional travel charges paid from every attendees own budget. These agents often use young creatives as working bees, unpaid and uncredited for their outstanding creations.
Up to this point, I had already spent four days of my time at the agency and I sent an invoice for a booked assignment of two days work I had completed and according to the conditions of their contract, the only one I had seen and was aware of up to that point. Two days after I started my investigations, I received a phone from Philipp and Sophia, who immediately questioned why I had even sent them an invoice, as had I not read both contracts that clearly stated, I was only hired for public exposure of my work and not to be paid for it. I informed them I was only aware of one contract, but I shared my concerns about their methods and some evidence of my discoveries, which set him off on a tirade of verbal abuse towards me and Lenore saying ‘How do I get rid of that mother-fucker’..me, and I had to hang up the phone.
Later, after scrutinising both contracts and their assignment papers, I discovered many contradictory clauses and paragraphs that were misleading or invalidated one another. I ascertained from their second contract, they were hiring me as Editor of the magazine but only as a ‘non-paid internship‘ for a period of one year. In exchange they would offer public exposure of my work in their magazine, which has less than 80 articles and a readership which is basically non existent.
I found even more evidence of the allegedly ‘working artists’ displayed on their websites. I discovered the featured artists have created their own portfolios over a period of time using their artistry and expertise, and as far as I can see have not been under contract to any agency especially, Prestige Artists. Sadly,Halfmann on the other hand completely disregarded my research and the many conversations I had with the artists. He still insists to be a highly professional artists himself. His images tell another story, as many of the artists confirmed via email or on the phone. ‘He has a choleric personality and is not a professional’ one of the former artists said in a call.
Their so called ’Big Client’s,’ Eminem, Oprah Winfrey and her interior designer Nate Berkus, are not featured on their website, social media orLenora’s Blog, even the boasted upcoming campaign shoot featuring the larger than life singer Adele…Nada.
PhilippHalfmann creates an American persona along with a smattering of fake talk, whilst he opens up a conversation about his previous career as tennis coach, the NBA league or plugs his book; He stated ‘I want to work with professionals, but you don’t have that in Berlin. Everyone is fucking lazy and smoking weed the whole day. They don’t wanna work. I mean look at the women in Germany, they’re all ugly and they don’t go into a beauty salon or take care of themselves. He had expressed his professional view over a coffee in a bakery around the corner from his office in Bellevue, saying: ‚I don’t work with those idiots, they should pay me for doing their shootings and build up their portfolios.’
The photographers name is not credited on any of the images that Sophia had posted on her own twitter account, and have been removed from her Instagram page. I spoke with the photographer who told me she was reaping the consequences from the shoot after having working with Sophiaand Philipp. ‚They had all flown in first class and taken an expensive suite in a luxury hotel but their luggage did not arrive. The shooting got delayed, the stylist was crying and Sophia rushed off to buy make-up somewhere down town. She said Philip was the assistant only, but he gave me his camera because mine was in my lost luggage. When I finally started taking photos of President Graber, I became aware of Philipp making copies of the images on his own hard drive, but as the whole production was so stressful and the President had taken a whole day off for the shoot, I just went with flow. The editors of Marie Claire were really upset about the whole situation and they didn’t wanted to pay for their horrendous bills they have sent them. Then in the car on the way to the Palace both of them were outraged that they may not get paid. At first I thought, okay, I want them to get paid as well, since in our business you sometimes have to pay for stuff from your own pocket and then you are reimbursed from the client afterwards. So I talked to the editors at Marie Claire about this but I already suspected that something was genuinely wrong about them. They had told them they are based in Croatia, which was clearly a lie.‘
As she continued to tell me more details about the days shoot the unprofessionalism of Sophia and Philipp became evident. ‚Sophia took dozens of pictures from behind the scenes and President Graber was completely outraged by her actions. There were at least fifteen security guards and I questioned how could someone be so unprofessional and violate the terms of agreement for the production. They both then said they wanted to sue the publication afterwards for the lost luggage, the flight and the hotel suite. They even tried to make a case about me, for using Philipps camera. He had enabled the copy right function in his camera, but I took the pictures. He had offered me his camera, otherwise I would have organized one myself. […] Philipp was nervous the entire time during the shoot, especially when I asked him, ‘why was there a second hard drive?’’
When we all returned to Berlin, Sophiasent both me and the client rude emails and was calling me multiple times over three days asking for an exorbitant amount of money. The final outcome was that I had lost my biggest client through their unprofessional and inexcusable behaviour. I discovered too late, that they the only agreement they had with the editors responsible, was for the make-up.
A day later I received an email from Sophia saying; during our last conversation on the phone, we said that we would talk again after you had finished your ‚project‘. Which was in matter of fact only the acquisition of new clients… Also, we talked about how you would make things clear in the future, if there is a fee for any work you do for the agency…‘ this I had already confirmed. She went on to say; ‘We spoke about how you did not indicate that you were going to charge us for the assistance you offered us, which we agreed was a bit unfair and expected…’ According to the first contract, it was the only possible thing to do, especially since many of the artists I had spoken to, confirmed what was happening to me: ‘We talked in great detail about being honest and upfront in the future when you are offering your help and if it pertains to any costs. Do you remember, in the end we agreed that your desire to receive money was not clear, or very fair since you were initially hired as an unpaid intern.’ However, I had never agreed to those terms either on the phone, nor during the interview, or in my last official email regarding this article. I was hired as ‘Art Director’ which befits my professional experience acquired over the last eight years.
Another contradictory paragraph in her email reads: ‘We agreed to start over with everything including your contract and status. Hence, this is why we have not paid the invoice. All fee’s, or charges need to be clear & spoken about in detail for approval first before any work is done.’ We had discussed this and I had made it clear, that I will not continue any further assignment without a proper payment for it. She continued in her email; ’This is the normal procedure for any working relationship. I greatly appreciate your understanding. I kindly ask that you please refrain from using the business cards you made voluntarily, now that your preferred status has been made clear. We are looking forward to working with you as a normal Prestige Artist for paid projects and shoots.‘
Answering this email and explaining again the evidence coming from various sources in-house, Halfmann wrote me:
It appears you have a poor understanding of the English language in writing and orally:
Nobody communicated a PAID art director position to you. You signed an ‘artist agreement,’ which applies whenever the agency supplies bookings to you when a client hires you to work as e.g. Art Director or Wardrobe Stylist for e.g. a photoshoot, and not a freelancer contract for a paid position as ‘Art Director.’
Hence we don’t understand why you would send us an invoice and expect payment nor do we understand how you were treated like a fool. Moreover, since poor communication cannot be a solid foundation for a good working relationship we have decided to terminate the artist agreement, effective immediately. Stop the use and/or distribution of any agency-related documents, emails or materials (e.g. business cards) nor promote/distribute any affiliation with the agency. Should you have any materials (e.g. pictures) in your possession we need you to either return or delete them from your hard drives as soon as possible and provide confirmation when deleting files from your hard drives.
I would also like to remind you that confidentiality & terms & conditions of the agency apply since you signed the artist agreement. We have no interest in pursuing this any further… On the other hand we will defend our reputation against unsubstantiated claims and violations against confidentiality & terms & conditions of the agency.
We wish you could luck with your career.’
Additionally to my invoice, I had asked to get a copy of my signed ‘artist agreement‘ and shehad answered: ‘Your Prestige Artists contract was already sent by Philipp,’ but I never received anything, except two outdated tubes of styling gel. At first, I might have only guessed the reasons why the agency has the urge to tie up creatives or fix the lack of clients. Now, one thing is certain; the methods of ‘Prestige Artists’ are more than questionable and unfair, but most importantly they are in many cases on the border of deception and being illegal, according to German and international commercial laws. Personally, I’m glad for trusting my inner voice and calling out a terrible sport. I stand for my own mistakes as well as my truth; but who ever commits a foul, gets the red card — both in fashion and sports. ☆
We stand for truth and honesty, as well as transparency. Our aim was to ensure, that no creative is harmed, treated badly and that human rights of every individual remains untouched. The B’SPOQUE magazine is still looking forward to a written statement of the agency, which will be published on our platform as well, in order to remain transparent and fair.