Nike may have indirectly sued adidas for allegedly poaching employees to launch its Brooklyn Farm and more recently, Dolce & Gabbana threatened to sue Philipp Plein for luring employees away. But where the industry sees the most action in regards to alleged instances of poaching is with models. The latest battle in a long line of similar lawsuits is between The Lions Model Management and rival DNA Model Management, centering on model Adwoa Aboah and her alleged threats to call upon her powerful mother to help her avoid completing her contractual duties.
According to the lawsuit filed in New York state court by New York-based The Lions last week, DNA is on the hook for allegedly interfering with its contract with 25-year old Aboah. In its suit, The Lions alleges that it entered into a contract with Aboah in 2015 – when she then a virtually unknown model – to be her exclusive agency in the U.S. for a duration of three years.
Despite the fact that the contract is slated to remain in effect in January 2018, Aboah – who has appeared in ad campaigns for brands ranging from Miu Miu to the Gap and walked for many of the industry’s biggest brands – allegedly jumped ship to DNA Models, likely because DNA offered her more favorable (read: profitable) contract terms.
The Lions alleges in its suit that Aboah threatened that her mother Camilla Lowther – who is a friend of DNA’s owner, David Bonnouvrier, and a “very powerful [figure] in the fashion industry” – would “cause The Lions problems in the fashion industry unless The Lions agreed to release Aboah from her contractual obligations.” Additionally, The Lions claims that Bonnouvrier, himself, made the same threat to The Lions that Lowther would harm The Lions if it tried to block Aboah from switching to the new agency.
The Lions has accused both Lowther and Bonnouvrier of “intentionally and improperly” interfering with its contract with Aboah.
Despite The Lions making clear that it expected Aboah – who is not named in the lawsuit – “to fulfill the obligations” of her contract, and demanding that DNA cease its attempts to interfere with Aboah’s contract, DNA announced earlier this month that it is now representing Aboah, thereby prompting The Lions to file suit.
(Note: Models.com - where Aboah is on the "Top 50" ranking, the site's list of models "who are poised to become the next generation of supermodels" - currently lists her New York agency as both The Lions and DNA).
While The Lions is seeking an “unspecified” amount of damages in connection with Aboah’s breach of contract, chances are, the number is in the millions given the frequency with which Aboah is landing ad campaigns. The model management agency claims that prior to signing Aboah, she was earning “virtually no modeling fees” and under its watch (and as a result of its investment), has become “one of the top models in the United States.”
Last year, New York Models filed a very similar suit against Women Management and model Sui He – sans the powerful mom part – after He jumped ship to the rival agency, breaching her three-year contract. In its suit, New York Models claimed damages of upwards of $1 million, arguing that it incurred "significant expenses and costs, both in terms of time, money and opportunity in building up the model to the point where she can book regular work," making He’s contract breach particularly damning.
The parties ultimately settled the lawsuit, at least in part, with He returning to New York Models to complete the duration of her contract.
The lawsuit at hand will likely also be settled out of court, as that is the marked pattern with these suits, but not without a fight given the money that is at stake for The Lions. More to come ...