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

Dear Reader, a few weeks ago I stumbled over Philipp Halfmann and Sophia Lenore, the husband and wife  team who own an agency called Prestige Artist. The Agency allegedly provides high-end fashion editorials produced both in Berlin and overseas. Having worked in this business for over seven years now, I could clearly see, not everything that glitters is actually gold. Philipp and Sophia have their official office address at a privately owned flat in Bellevue, Berlin. Many freelancers allow themselves the luxury of working from home, but it is rarely the case to manage a whole agency from a private residence, especially with the international reputation and dependences in Mumbai, Miami and New York according to their official website.

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.

As I delved deeper into the agency’s numerous websites featuring many eminent artists and their outstanding work, I discovered there were very few artists actually working for the agency. None of their websites connect to any of the promoted artists social media platforms or their websites and credit them only with shortened versions of their names. Some of the images were taken from Instagram accounts and credited with random non existing names. Most of the artists I have spoken to said they have never received any payment for any professional assignments to date.  One of their hair and make-up artists informed me, after I had seen her work in Philipp Halfmann’s image collection, that she had worked three times with him and never received any promised assignment or payment.

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. 

Within a few minutes I received the second contract via email, which stated I was hired as editor but only as a‘non-paid internship‘ for a period of one year.  A few minutes later, she called, talking sweetly and asking me to explain my usual hour and daily commission fee for my profession as a journalist and editor. She then said in an extremely irritated voice that she had created that internship for me‚ and it would be a huge opportunity. I explained on the contrary, I am a skilled editor who offers his expertise and artistry and expects to be paid for his work as a professional freelancer. Sophia was understanding on the phone, as she has given me a little training but obviously disappointed I was not going to do all their worked for free. 

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.

My meetings with Philipp Halfmann and SophiaLenore were mainly held in various hotel lobbies and never in an any official office, so I decided to check upon the legal framework of their business. I could not find any official evidence or registration of their model and artist agency in Germany or the USA, or any proof they are official freelancers, except the relic of Halfmann’s former career and a company called IAAPH GmbH, under which he published fitness literature. On our last official meeting, I wanted to know how long the agency had been in business and he responded, that he and Sophia had founded the agency approximately eight to ten years ago, but as I discovered, no trace of official documents or evidence of their existence by the common register portal of the German federal states.

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. 

A few days later, I had a conversation with a business contact at a PR agency who informed me, Prestige and especially Sophia Lenore were often espousing they’re working with big overseas clients and both their team and Art Directors are working on their many upcoming events. My source informed me, they only lend out clothes for one client and they have never met the‘Art Director,’ only plenty of assistants which change like the seasons. 

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.

Sophia Lenore is American and originally from New York and has a special gift of illusionary marketing talk, which various sources confirmed from within the international fashion business. It appears the Abendschau every Thursday, is the only client they seem to have according to one of my sources who has been working with them over the past year. They also mentioned they have never received a pull letter from SophiaLenore or Philipp Halfmann, which ensures the responsibility for any samples being loaned in case of damage and describing the purpose of the production which is mandatory for every agency, publication or stylist. Neither have they ever seen someone else, other than the Lenore’s changing assistants and who are the only artist I have met at their studio.

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.’

Halfmann also mentions a previous shoot and showed me his copies of the imagery, which he and Lenore had done with the Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic for Marie Claire RU. He said; ‘Our luggage got lost and we had to meet the president, so we made it happen.’ He had proudly implied, that he had shot the motifs himself; while upon a closer look on the official page of Marie Claire Russia, shows the images of Grabar-Kitarovic, although Halfmann had told me they haven’t been published yet. These images expose another journalistic cruciality, which is rarely found on Halfmann or Lenore’s various platforms—the credits. These images are credited to another photographer based in Berlin who wished to remain anonymous at this point. But on her instagram she has an Insta Story archive with credits from behind the scenes; Make-up by Sophia Lenore and Phil Halfmann listed as only an assistant on the shoot.

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 week later during a discussion about professionalism I was told at least three times, ’Do your fucking job, Direct the arts.’ I still haven’t received any payment for my work, neither any new assignments regarding their big clients, which again allegedly should have been scheduled for the upcoming month. During my years as freelancer, as well as an employee, I have never experienced a company with such unethical and unprofessional behaviour, a company without legal permission, forcing young creatives into unpaid labour under illusionary conditions and ‘ghosting’ their employees after they reach out for their basic right to be paid.

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: 

‚Dear Alexandre,

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. ☆

#EDITOR’S NOTE: 

The quotations of Halfmann and Lenore are based on the conversations, phone calls and meetings we had, which I clearly noted after every assignment or occasion. Other accusations have been proved through interviews with listed artists and semi-linked professionals or by the author of the used imagery. All artists will remain anonymous, to protect them from further damage to their reputations through Prestige Artists and to ensure their professional career or the authorship of their references.

Halfmann has declared, that investigative journalism is ‘dead…Nobody would have the balls to do it anymore and if, there would be a legal lawsuit forced by five lawyers to protect their public reputation.’ Lenore has always used her public exposure to support diversity and subcultures, we honestly hope that this article doesn’t reflect negatively on the public perception of people with an ethnic background. 

We stand for truth and honesty, as well as transparency. Our aim was to ensure, that no creative is harmed, treated badly and that the human rights of every individual remains untouched. The B’SPOQUE magazine is looking forward to a written statement of the agency, which will be published on our platform as well, in order to be transparent and fair. 

Alexandre Renaldy
Posted by:Alexandre Renaldy

Editor in Chief, Work: The Corner Berlin, flair magazine, H.O.M.E.; Signature Places, Vestiaire Collective, EVE images, B'SPOQUE magazine etc.