Model, venue say Baltimore Fashion Week stiffed them

Isis King, the first transgender model to appear on "America's Next Top Model," worked Baltimore Fashion Week last August but says she has not been paid in full.
Isis King, the first transgender model to appear on "America's Next Top Model," worked Baltimore Fashion Week last August but says she has not been paid in full. (Photo by Colby Ware, Special to The Baltimore Sun)

Nationally known model Isis King is still waiting for her money. So is Marlin Mills, CEO of the Scottish Rite Maryland, which owns the Scottish Rite Masonic Center.

Both say that 10 months after last August's Baltimore Fashion Week, neither has been paid in full for their services by the event's founder, Sharan Nixon. The pair say they are considering legal action.

Claims that have come forward this week are the latest in a list of issues related to Baltimore Fashion Week, a multi-day fashion show that showcases designers, models, stylists and vendors. Last August's event also saw a last-minute change of venue and a performer's cancellation at the 11th hour.

"They are not welcome back here again, and I hope no one else welcomes them back to Baltimore," said Mills, who says he is owed more than $10,000 for housing last year's event, which spanned four days. "I let her in. We lost our shirts on it. I would have nothing good to say about the whole organization."

On Tuesday, Nixon acknowledged the debt to King. Nixon's attorney, Paul W. Gardner, acknowledged that she lacked funds last August to pay all that she owed, and that the nature of the once-a-year event meant that the debt would not be fully paid for a year. Nixon and her attorney did not respond Wednesday to calls and emails about the debt to Scottish Rite Maryland.

In past years, the fashion show has drawn participants from across the U.S. and internationally. The fifth annual edition is scheduled Aug. 17-19 at the Hilton Hotel in Pikesville.

King, best known as the first transgender contestant on the CW reality TV show "America's Next Top Model," says she is owed a balance of $600 from the $1,500 fee she was to receive to appear at the event. King's manager, who goes by the name Delano, emailed event sponsors Monday, urging them not to do business with Nixon or the event. He questioned Nixon's ethics.

"Many people came out to Baltimore Fashion Week just to see/support my client and it is saddening to see that Ms. Nixon really thinks she can do things like this to good people and get away with it," Delano wrote.

Nixon quickly released her own letter to event sponsors, saying she was "dismayed by the attack on my character."

"I am meeting with the appropriate legal professionals to ensure that my name remains clear," she wrote. "I would like to encourage you to stand beside me and my vision."

Nixon wrote that she and King had been in agreement on payment arrangements until a week ago, when they "were no longer acceptable" and King's manager "unilaterally attempted to abruptly accelerate the debt to a total payoff" within 24 hours. King and her manager deny those claims.

Nixon blames the shortfall on the last-minute change of venue last year. Nixon announced about a week beforehand that her plan to host the four-day event in Harbor East had fallen through. She said that she was not able to secure a lease with H&S Properties Development Corp. and eventually held her event at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in North Baltimore.

"We have every good-faith intention of paying Ms. King for her participation," Nixon wrote Monday. She said there are "certain trials and tribulations in any growth period. We regret that it happened, and we are working quickly to resolve this issue."

On Tuesday, Nixon referred questions to Gardner.

"The event didn't go as well as she [Nixon] had hoped. She didn't have enough money to pay everybody," Gardner said in an interview Tuesday evening. "Baltimore Fashion Week is an LLC that depends on money once a year. Anyone who didn't get paid would have to essentially wait until the next year."

On Wednesday, Mills said that he drew up a $16,000 contract with Nixon on Aug. 18 for the Masonic Center. So far, he says, he has received $5,200.

Shannon Rene' Justice, founder of The indiExhibit, an Ohio-based business that is a sponsor for this year's Baltimore Fashion Week, is bothered by the news of financial troubles.

"It's really stressful," said Justice, whose company has already paid Baltimore Fashion Week a vendor's fee and is contracted to provide up to 600 gift bags for this year's attendees. "You hear certain things from one side. It makes me feel caught in the middle. We are trying to figure out what we can do. We're a small nonprofit company. It's hard to have our name associated with a company that has its name all over the media because of a problem it has had with such a big name like Isis King."

Complaints from King and Mills follow other problems from Baltimore Fashion Week 2011. In addition to the last-minute change of venue, an entertainer canceled at the last minute: Ted Williams, the homeless Ohio man with the golden baritone who became an overnight Internet sensation.

Nixon said Williams made requests for hotel accommodations that soured the deal — accusations Williams' camp denied. Williams' agent claimed that budget cuts on Nixon's end were responsible for the severed contract.

Nixon's financial troubles appear to extend beyond her business dealings.

In 2004, she filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy for a $60,590 debt. In 2006, Nixon lost her home to foreclosure, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.


Recommended on Baltimore Sun