This season, as London fashion week was starting, Vogue posted a video following the new model of the moment Kaia Gerber (who is Cindy Crawford’s daughter). It was so far from the reality of being a model that I almost couldn’t watch it: Kaia walking for all the top designers in her very first season; Kaia entering her ‘home for the week’ (a hotel room bigger than my apartment); Kaia being driven everywhere in a Mercedes SUV; Kaia and her friends jumping around on her massive bed, clad head to toe in Chanel and ordering room service…
When I first started modelling I expected it to be just like that. It’s the picture pushed by the media and the fantasy of teenage girls worldwide. I thought that I’d be regularly flown all over the world for jobs, staying in exotic places with fabulous hotels and making lots of money every day. This has not been the case. And it’s not the case for 99.9 per cent of models out there. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do — but it’s high time to reveal the reality.
My first foray into full-time modelling was when I was scouted to go to Milan for a couple of months. Models are often sent ‘on stay’ to a different city to try their luck at getting work in that market. Nothing is guaranteed. No work. Not a single dime. I shared a tiny, one-bedroom apartment. And when I say tiny, I mean tiny. The kitchen was in the 1 metre x 2 metre hallway and our beds were so close that we could hold hands while we slept.
As it turned out, that was good for a ‘model’ apartment. When my New York agency asked me to hop across the pond for a couple of months they said they had a space for me in their model apartment. How much? Any bedrooms? Two. OK, not bad. And how many models does it sleep? Ten. That two-bed NY apartment might be raking in $20 grand a month when it’s full and we’re all crammed into bunk beds.
But if the agency is paying why does it matter? OK, let’s get this straight immediately. Unless a model is booked for a specific job that states the client is paying for their flights and accommodation, then everything is charged to the model’s account. Agencies may advance the model things like flights, accommodation, drivers, portfolios, website fees, basically anything they can think of, and then all of these costs are deducted from any jobs the model does.
This would not be a big deal if each job paid thousands of bucks but, again… myth. Some jobs do pay extremely well, but for most models they are few and far between. Those glossy magazines where everyone looks so fabulous? They don’t tend to pay at all. If I’m told I’m getting paid $100 for a magazine shoot, that’s a good day.
I am classified as an ‘editorial’ model, which means my looks are on the stranger side; not the girl next door. As an editorial model, I could spend my life shooting solely for magazines, which means I could potentially work all the time and not be paid for any of it. Not a cent.
And it’s not the easy work it looks from afar. With magazines, the hours tend to be long and the conditions far from ideal. I’ve stood in Trafalgar Square all day in just underwear in the middle of winter. Would you do that for free? It’s another industry-perpetuated myth that by doing magazines you’re getting exposure so you don’t need to be paid.
Another thing a girl needs to know in certain cities is to avoid ‘model promoters’. Model promoters are men who work for a club or restaurant and are paid (per model) to convince girls to go. If you choose to accept their offer beware. Steer well clear of the grey-haired men lurking in the ‘model area’. Don’t let the promoters persuade you to climb into a taxi with them. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
When I left Milan I went to London and finally started booking jobs. Not necessarily paid jobs, but I was happy for anything. London was the first time I experienced predatory behaviour from photographers.
Not long after I’d arrived from Milan, I was sent to a test shoot (a photo shoot just for your book — no one gets paid) with an older male photographer whose sole claim to fame was once shooting a supermodel.
I was starry-eyed about this. I still thought that one shoot could make your career, so I overlooked a few weird things because hey, he might be my career changer. I overlooked the fact that we were shooting in his house and there was no team involved, and the fact that he told me he once gave his 14-year-old daughter MDMA to try. He made me undress bit by bit until I was just wearing underpants and a sheer top. Then he said, ‘These pictures make me want to screw you — they should, you’re a model, that’s your job.’
I should have left there and then, and called my agency. But I didn’t. I just slowly tried to wrap the shoot up. I also never told my agency. I didn’t know if this behaviour was significant enough to ‘bother’ them with. I thought: ‘It was just words, he didn’t touch me.’ With hindsight, if it happened again I’d tell him where to go, walk out, and call my agency to make sure no other girl was ever sent there. I count myself lucky. I’ve heard far worse from other models.
It might sound crazy but I still love the industry. It’s exciting not to know what the next day may bring. It’s an interesting life —but it’s just not quite the way it seems on TV.