He Saves Fashion Models From Financial Chaos
“You want to stay current and trendy like all the other girls,” Ms. Pring said. “But you know what? I don’t need all that stuff. I can pay down my principal faster with that money.”
Mr. Tumminia isn’t someone who hangs around with models and turned it into a business. He attended his first and only runway show last year, at the invitation of Ms. Graham. He favors blue button-down shirts and wears his hair in a close-crop that might be called the PricewaterhouseCoopers look. (He worked at the firm for eight years.) His social life revolves mostly around his girlfriend, his dog and spending weekends at his country house in the Hudson Valley.
“This is who I am,” he said at his firm’s office in SoHo on a recent morning, with magazine covers featuring Ms. Kloss and Ms. Graham proudly displayed on a shelf behind his desk. “My sign of success was not having to wear a tie to work anymore if I don’t want to.”
Four years ago, an investment adviser that Mr. Tumminia knew referred a model to him who needed help structuring her finances. At the time, he was working on behalf of affluent families in New York, small businesses and nonprofit organizations.
He helped the young model with onerous tasks like setting up a monthly budget and got her thinking about long-term objectives. She referred her model friends, and Mr. Tumminia soon realized he had hit upon a niche.
“Athletes, entertainers, writers — they all have advocates for them,” Mr. Tumminia said. “We are striving to be advocates for the models, to quarterback their financial life.”
Models are self-employed freelancers who don’t receive consistent paychecks, nor do they have taxes deducted by an employer. Modeling agencies bill clients and pay the models after the money rolls in, minus the agency’s fee. But it’s not so easy to keep track of an invoice from six months ago when your main downtime occurs on an Alitalia flight from Kennedy Airport to Milan-Malpensa or to set aside 40 cents of every dollar when you are not much older than a teenager.
“You get your first $10,000 check as a young person, and you want to go spend it on a Chanel bag,” Ms. Graham said.
Ms. Pring, who began modeling at 15, said: “I’ll never forget the first time I paid taxes. I was not at all prepared. It was a terrifying experience. As far as saving and money management, you’re on your own completely.”
Mr. Tumminia charges by the hour instead of taking a percentage and works with his model clients in specific, limited ways. He helps them separate their personal and professional lives financially, develop a monthly spending plan and set aside money for quarterly income tax payments, while also encouraging them to start thinking about long-term goals like retirement. He coordinates with a model’s agency to make sure no outstanding payments are owed.
He does not do tax preparation or give investment or career advice. His main role, as he sees it, is to impose order on a chaotic financial situation.
“Our job is to set up their life in a way that is efficient, effective and allows them to focus on their career,” Mr. Tumminia said, adding that, as a model, “you make a great living, but the way the money comes in the door makes your life more challenging.”
Mr. Tumminia offered Ms. Pring advice on buying an apartment, and he also advised her to set up a retirement fund.
And as Ms. Graham’s career was on a fast ascent, he cautioned her to hold off on the Ferrari and the villa in Cap Ferrat. His advice: Don’t change your life. Accumulate, accumulate, accumulate. But if you want to buy an apartment, that’s fine.
“He’s very conservative,” Ms. Graham said. “But he knows that when you’re working hard and making money you want to enjoy it.”
For Mr. Tumminia, who said he still had in his bank account the money given to him when he was a child by his Italian grandmother, working with models has made his “very programmatic, very technical job” more fun and interesting. He said his mother called him when she saw Ms. Graham on television.
Still, he hasn’t started hanging out at the Boom Boom Room or yukking it up with André Leon Talley.
“I know my role. I know my place,” Mr. Tumminia said. “There’s nothing sexy about your finances. But it’s one of those things that if you do well, it leads to a successful life.”
An earlier version of this article misstated Michael Tumminia’s age. He is 47, not 48.
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