Image: Ralph Lauren

A longtime Ralph Lauren model is suing the company – and HBO – for allegedly engaging in an “elaborate fraud scheme” to use her likeness without her authorization and without paying her. According to the complaint that she filed in a New York state court on Monday, Anastassia Khozissova claims that in 2004, “Ralph Lauren, himself, approached [her] to be one of their core models” for the the Ralph Lauren brand, and “since then, has used her as his muse for a number of collections.” Beyond such authorized uses of her image, including in its ad campaigns, Khozissova argues that the New York-based brand has been slapping her face on additional advertising materials without her knowledge. 

In the newly-filed complaint, Khozissova alleges that she is “one of the foremost fashion models in the world,” having worked with Chanel, Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Celine, and Prada, among many other brands, including Ralph Lauren. In terms of the latter, Khozissova says that she was “singled out as one of the primary models” for the brand, and as a result, “has maintained a long-standing relationship with [it] … since 2004, drawing mass media and marketing attention” in the process.

Despite her well-established relationship with Ralph Lauren, Khozissova claims that in 2014, she “discovered what she considered an elaborate fraud scheme within the Ralph Lauren Corp.” in furtherance of which the company “used and is continuing to use [her] likeness in its stores around the world without properly compensating [her]” for such use. To be exact, Khozissova asserts that photographs of her are currently being used in Ralph Lauren Corp.’s stores in Moscow and on Madison Avenue in New York, as well as at the brand’s Polo Bar restaurant in New York. 

More than that, she alleges that images of herself – presumably in the form of authorized Ralph Lauren ad campaigns and/or other marketing materials – are being used in other contexts outside of what she had previously agreed to (and was paid for). For instance, photos appear in “Very Ralph,” the 2019 documentary about Ralph Lauren that is “airing on HBO’s cable television network and Internet streaming services,” and are also included in fashion journalist Bridget Foley’s Rizzoli-published book “50 Years of Ralph Lauren,” all “without [her] written consent or permission.” 

The aforementioned “unauthorized” uses have enabled Ralph Lauren to exploit her image “for its own advertising and trade purposes” and have generated “tremendous value for the Ralph Lauren Corp,” per Khozissova, who claims that as a “direct result of Ralph Lauren Corp.’s continual and unauthorized use of the photographs” at issue, she has “suffered and continues to suffer damages” since Ralph Lauren has allegedly failed provide her with “proper compensation for said use.” (Khozissova asserts that she is routinely “commands fees of $4,000.00 -$5,000.00 per day or $400.00 – $600.00 per hour”).

With the forgoing in mind, the model claims that both Ralph Lauren and HBO have run afoul of New York Civil Rights Law s. 50-1, the state’s right of privacy statutes, which prohibits the commercial use of any person’s likeness – i.e., name, portrait, picture, etc. – without their written consent. As a result of their “knowing use” of photographs depicting her without her permission and without compensating her for such use, Khozissova says that the two defendants are on the hook for $20 million. 

A Larger Issue in the Industry

Hardly the first case of its type, no small number of models have lodged similar allegations in the past, arguing that brands with which they have worked with – such as beauty giant L’Oreal, as well as Elizabeth Arden and Bed, Bath & Beyond, among others – have made use of images of them outside of the scope agreed upon in their contracts.

For instance, as model Kata Greaney asserted in the lawsuit that she filed against cosmetics brand Elizabeth Arden, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and modeling agency MSA, among others, in 2014, she argued that while she did not know that the images from a photoshoot she took part in for the marketing materials for a New York spa would be used “on packaging, front and back, in connection with national campaign for the sale of a bathrobe,” her agency was “aware” that the scope of the use was going to exceed that specified in the contract and allegedly “failed to inform [her] of such widespread usage” and did not “provide competent advice and counsel” about it.

Around the same time model Berenice Mosca filed a $1.6 million suit against L’Oreal USA Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and advertising firm RGA Media Group Inc. for allegedly using her image on L’Oreal packaging without the authorization. And before that, a group of models filed a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit against over seven model management companies, two advertising firms, L’Oréal USA Inc. (the American arm of the world’s largest cosmetics and beauty company), and Procter & Gamble for failing to compensate the models for the repeated use of their photos on product packaging.

At the same time, buzzy Paris-based brand Vetements came under fire last year when model Angie Sherbourne claimed that she posed for photos for the brand in 2014 on the basis that the images would only appear in the budding young brand’s debut lookbook. Fast forward a couple of years, and in lieu of an agreement laying out the specific uses of the image, Sherbourne’s image had been re-released by the brand in 2016, and used as part of a large-scale marketing campaign “around the world.”

The modeling industry has faced criticism, particularly in recent years, in connection with a laundry list of longstanding and problematic practices – from what WWD’s Lisa Lockwood called “notorious slowness of payment [and] what can be a lack of financial transparency on the part of modeling agencies” to the failure of agencies to act on the best interest of their model clients when it comes to the terms of the terms and the scope of their individual per-job-contracts with brands, thereby, leading to potentially widespread unauthorized recycling of images for which the models are not paid.

Big-name agencies have been quick to report advances on many fronts, with IMG, for instance – the company that reps big names like Amber Valletta, Carolyn Murphy, Gigi and Bella Hadid, Gisele, Kate Moss, and Miranda Kerr, among many others – telling WWD last year that in addition to ensuring that models “are paid in a timely and fair manner” and that “their statements (including their fee and IMG’s commission) [are made] available,” they also “place strict time limits on the use of the model’s image and prevent his/her image from being used in perpetuity or re-purposed and/or sold to other brands.”

A rep for Ralph Lauren told TFL, “This lawsuit is entirely without merit.”

*The case is Anastassia Khozissova v. Ralph Lauren Corp., and Home Box Office, Inc., 159860/2020 (NY Sup.).