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PMAP at 30: An Insider’s Story

30 years in the making with PMAP’s current president Raphael Kiefer, the writer, and PMAP’s first president Ronnie Asuncion

To survive and thrive in the fickle fashion industry where names, faces, and trends come and go is no mean feat, but to stay relevant for 30 years makes someone — or in this case, something — simply iconic.

For that very reason, eight generations of beautiful models and their equally standout friends and supporters gathered for a grand reunion at The Peninsula Manila to celebrate the 30th year of the Professional Models Association of the Philippines (PMAP).

It all started in 1987 when Manila’s top models such as Tina Maristela, Tetta Ortiz, Suyene Chi, Izza Agana, and Lingling Gonzalez, to name a few, banded together for a common cause.

“To put the ’80s in context, it was a time when models were working daily luncheon shows, dinner galas and even the occasional afternoon buyer’s shows,” shared PMAP’s first president, Ronnie Asuncion. “A group of models then collectively saw the need to improve working conditions and compensation. PMAP was born from a struggle and firm resolve to be recognized as a worthy participant in the Philippine fashion industry. Our two main goals were to professionalize and uplift our industry.”

Those were seemingly lofty goals for a group of gorgeous mannequins who sashayed the runways, and posed and preened for television ads and fashion editorials. But with an unparalleled passion and purpose, the brave pioneers set out to fulfill their mission. “PMAP was able to standardize the rates, improve the working conditions, and as a result became the benchmark by which all models are measured,” Asuncion added. 

As a junior member back then, I witnessed how the founding members stood their ground to shake up the status quo­­­ (jungle rules, basically!), and fight for what they believed in. For the first time in the industry, models had rate cards that specified minimum talent fees and working hours. Contracts were finally drawn to formalize — and more so, legitimize — agreements. 

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To uplift the industry further, the same models held themselves accountable by setting the highest standards when it came to professionalism and discipline in the workplace. The PMAP had a code of discipline that every member had to uphold. And they disciplined their ranks when needed.

But the most significant achievement of PMAP and its members during those early years was being able to ignite the same purpose and passion among upcoming models who would carry the torch from generation to generation. Models who would selflessly share their time, effort and talents to protect and grow the industry they love.

The journey from 1987 to present day was far from easy, and was in fact fraught with challenges that differed across generations. But, galvanized by a common mission, past presidents and members carried on and ensured that PMAP’s goals were upheld and brought forward.

“With each arrival of a new generation of models comes a different set of challenges in the workplace,” said past president and supermodel Tweetie de Leon-Gonzalez. “Our successors have been able to manage quite well by adapting to the changing times, and consequently, practices.”

At the onset, the challenges were about establishing ways of working, embedding systems, and changing mindsets. These evolved in the mid-’90s when I was president. Agencies and models were sprouting left and right, and PMAP needed to step up its game and become more competitive. So, we did this by constantly growing and training our pool of models, and creating visibility through partnerships (we produced fashion superstar Rajo Laurel’s first gala, for example) while upholding industry standards.  

By the mid-2000s, there were opportunities to further improve the state of the industry by ensuring that models were paid fair compensation that was commensurate to the number of working hours, including fitting and rehearsals, as well as the type of show. And, as it turned out, there were issues revolving around the cancellation of models’ bookings with no just cause.

Rissa Mananquil-Trillo, who was then president, said, “My position allowed me to effectively address all these issues. Together with the board of PMAP, we gathered all of Manila’s top fashion show directors in a meeting and successfully implemented a comprehensive rate guide for the different classifications of shows (from regular fashion shows to swimwear shows, jewelry or product launches, models acting as mannequins, and gala launches) as well as provisions to protect the models, such as strict working hours, overtime fees, rehearsal and fitting fees, and cancellation fees.

“By implementing a comprehensive rate guide and addressing issues on work ethics, professional fees, and working contracts, PMAP further improved the working conditions for models and professionalized the modeling landscape,” she added. “Today, even seasoned models who are not members of PMAP benefit from the association’s rate guide and provisions because many clients, directors, and producers have followed the association standards.”

Fast forward to today where new challenges abound. “With the social media explosion, markets have grown exponentially alongside a model’s reach and exposure,” says de Leon-Gonzalez. “This widespread visibility makes every model both easily available and vulnerable.”

The onus then is on current president Raphael Kiefer to stay relevant in a fast-paced and borderless new world.

“The big picture goes back to the purpose of PMAP, which is to make the modeling industry better,” Kiefer says. “Making models better is our main purpose. And what better way to do that than from the ground up? We have been doing open go-sees. I want to train models from the bottom up because I find younger models are more receptive and willing to learn. As mentors, we can help them steer their careers the way they want.”

One wonders, though, if this is indeed enough to keep PMAP relevant and on top of the modeling industry today and in the coming years. De Leon-Gonzalez replies, “Banding together in pursuit of protection of rights via shared experiences and wisdom will always keep the association a relevant force and establishment in the industry.”

Meanwhile, PMAP’s staunchest supporter and top fashion show director Jackie Aquino shared, “PMAP is easy to support as it provides a fair playing field, which I’ve have always believed in. That is how one can pursue excellence, after all. And I have always maintained that all models should be part of the association. Imagine the collective voice models can leverage to help improve the industry. PMAP is relevant, and will stay relevant as long as the association stays true to its objectives and remembers its history, with all the sacrifices and triumphs.”

Kiefer stated confidently, “The next five years will be very exciting for the Filipino model. Tradition is not being broken; it is being updated.  Same values, different context. We will always remember and honor the past, but we are looking towards the future.”

Now, that’s definitely something to watch out for. But let’s make that the next 30 years, not just five, shall we?



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