Beauty is only the promise of happiness.
In the dangerous whirlwind of events where one has to constantly adapt to new sceneries, behind the veil of glamour and dreamy bohemian setups, hides a harsh reality — the glittery world is full of cunning mazes.
This sensational book sheds light, for the first time, on the most secret facets of the world’s finest profession, that of the fashion model.
It’s not only a memoir, but the frank confession of an incredibly brave woman. In order to survive in an eccentric scene where all the actors change rapidly, this brave woman made herself. She created her own universe. She won the right to always remain natural, desired, feminine, and talented and became her real self.
Chapter 1. Early Bird
I came to get my classmate at the entrance of the auditorium, where her classes were held, and then we went to the opera. I was attending music school, and Modest Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov was on the program. My classmate said that she had enrolled in paid modeling classes offered at the National Fashion Center of the famous Tamara Agency. I loved looking at magazines and watching fashion shows. I was hip, but I had never really thought about a modeling career.
“Miss, how old are you? Are you at least fourteen or fifteen years old?”
The velvety voice of Tamara Viktorovna had a magical effect. A few minutes later, I was leaving my phone number for the director of the agency, Gontcharova. The director called me the next day and offered me a free professional modeling course. To become a real swan and spread my wings, I would learn how to hold the correct posture, walk gracefully on heels, and apply all the subtleties of makeup.
The beauties standing on the podium were very prestigious and tall. They seemed like real goddesses. My size was considered average, one meter seventy-five.
“Your growth is not over,” said Natalia, the choreographer. “You have to install a pull bar in your apartment and hang on it to lengthen your spine!” she said.
I installed a pull bar in the apartment, and sometimes I worked there at night, without really believing I would be successful in the business. But after the first official and fruitful photo shoot for the fall collection of a local fashion house, I was chosen as a model among confirmed models for the main fashion shows. The girls were all very different, and our interests rarely converged. My punk rock period was over, the music had changed, and our outings to underground dance parties with friends became regular.
The first person who noticed my potential for a modeling career was the beautiful Italian, Tony. A year earlier, we had been sent by a Christian Organization, like child victims of the Chernobyl disaster, to Italy for the Christmas holidays, and we had gone with our schoolmates to an incredible event organized by Catholic Charity Funds.
“Anna is a model, Anna is a true model” said Tony to the guests of her pizzeria, run by a big family north of the Adriatic coastal town.
At our special English school, I had a friend named Ilya, a big fan of the British band, The Cure, Ilya asked us to call him Robert, because it was the name of the band’s soloist. Ilya told me that if I were black, I would look like Naomi Campbell. During our walks and phone conversations, he used to sing to me the Kraftwerk song from their 1978 album The Man-Machine:
She’s a model, and she’s looking good.
I’d like to take her home, that’s understood.
She plays hard to get; she smiles from time to time.
It only takes a camera to change her mind.
Chapter 2. Japanese Gambit
Yoyogi Park is a large park near the Meiji Shrine. The subway station adjacent to the park was the closest to the apartment where I was staying, by the contract with the agency. I had come from Paris to Tokyo for six weeks. My driver was called Hiro, and we started each morning with a ritual of listening to the song “Don’t stop me now” by the group Queen.
“Without this divine music, I cannot run the engine of this guy,” joked the driver-manager caressing the wheel of his minibus.
Hiro’s job was not just to bring the girls to the rendezvous, but also to present each model during the casting, to tell the client about her latest achievements, and to describe in a few words the nature of her character and her closest modeling plans.
There were hardly any days of rest. Days without filming were full of castings, and weekends were devoted to photo shoots. Up to three shoots could take place in one day: the first from six in the morning to eleven o’clock, the second at noon, and then an evening shoot. It was our youth that saved us. It’s no secret that Japanese brands and magazines preferred very young doll-like girls with marble skin. Any tan was formally forbidden, and there was a separate paragraph in the contract on this subject. One girl was sent back to Canada and was forced to pay a fine after tanning on the beach one weekend.
The Japanese lexicon does not contain abrupt expressions. Customers and photographers called the models they liked “my sweet girl,”“my pretty lady,” and “kawaii.” The Japanese language is designed in such a way that there are practically no curses in it. They were always flattering and difficult to refuse. Just answering “no” was a problem. It was this circumstance that turned one of my incidents into an unexpected urban adventure. Usually, we were brought by the agency’s minibus to the castings, but for the morning shoots, we had to take the tube. This was the era before mobile phones or GPS, so all we had to go by was a map, drawn either by the manager or the client, and after getting out the subway, the only directions were the big billboards where the station names were written in the Latin alphabet. For example, one of our drawn maps might say, “Go on foot to Honda, then to the left of Motorola.”
One morning in May, I was rushing to arrive on time for my client, but when I got out of the subway, I found myself in a labyrinth of nameless streets, each one just like the other, trying in vain to find at least one passerby who could point me in the right direction. But each one I asked, looking at my map and address, sent me in the opposite direction of the previous one. After an hour and a half in this maze, with no place from which I could make a phone call, my rescuer finally appeared.
“Hai, hai!” he said.
A little Asian man in an elegant suit with a metallic briefcase in his hands made an affirmative gesture with his right hand without looking up. He walked in front of me and looked back every ten seconds to see if I was following him. I do not know why, but I trusted him and followed the stranger in silence. We walked on like that, for about twenty minutes, winding the labyrinths of the busy Roppongi district, until the man stopped in front of a small two-story house.
“Hai!” he said again.
This part of my story was really inexplicable, and it ended very unexpectedly. It was a sort of initiation. Subsequently, I never had any orientation problem in the cosmopolitan megalopolis, and by the end of my stay in Tokyo, I could even speak a little Japanese with taxi drivers. The stranger in the elegant suit took a pair of traditional Japanese knives out of his slim briefcase and, by kneeling like a knight, offered me the relic as a gift, then disappeared immediately After a long delay, I arrived at the studio for my photo shoot, where, waiting for me was an excellent green tea, an assortment of sushi, and a Japanese shiatsu massage.
Chapter 3. Paris: First Days
Stephan was waiting for me at the Charles de Gaulle airport. It was very hot, late August day. We settled into a black convertible Mercedes. And the happy Frenchman managed to describe to me how my first days in the capital of haute couture would go. The first Parisian agency, with which I signed a contract after winning the Miss Photo title at the national competition Supermodel 1996, was called Idole. A Bulgarian, Alex, was the wife of Michel, the director of the model agency. She came to Minsk for the beauty contest and was part of the jury along with singer and songwriter Dmitry Malikov and a film director, Vladimir Yankovsky; they choose me. It had to wait until my sixteenth birthday in order to legally cross all the borders. It was the first time I had ever flown alone, and I liked it.
The agency office was located just in front of the Eiffel Tower, on the glamorous Avenue Montaigne on the right bank of the Seine.
“Now, let’s take the measurements,” said Samantha, the director of the booking.
This procedure takes place almost every week for beginning models, and every extra millimeter is taken into account. I had always been naturally thin and never followed a diet. Calories consumed by themselves, and I even had to gain weight for certain clients, in order to keep a certain chest size.
“We are going to send you tomorrow to meet Karl Lagerfeld at the Chanel fashion house; he has an office on our street!’ said Samantha. ‘And now, shopping! You have to transform yourself: you must become a true Parisian,” she said.
I had only about a hundred U.S. dollars in my pocket, but the agency made a commitment to pay all the costs. At accounting, I was given five hundred francs for a week. The apartment where I stayed with two other Russian models was located in the seventeenth arrondissement, and I could get to the agency by bus or the Metro. They gave me a map of the city that I had to study in detail because I sometimes had a dozen castings a day.
I was hired right away, from the first casting. At the rendezvous, the famous and futuristic Japanese designer Issey Miyake invited me to present the youth collection. Thanks to that, I could repay the agency for my air tickets and my renovated wardrobe. But expenses accumulated quickly. We had to pay the agency rent for our apartment and often photo tests with photographers. There were also phone calls, the photo prints, and the courier services to be paid. So, even though I had work, I found myself in at the end of the month. Something had to change.
In the aforementioned small agency, there were “queens,” that is, “superior” girls, and now, a young lady decided to eliminate her rival and spread rumors on her.
We met with Sylvie in casting, and she invited me to her house for lunch. As we ate, she told me about her life. She said that she had been living in Paris for five years, that she had just broken up with her boyfriend, an Italian photographer, and that she was now trying to fall in love. As we talked, Sylvie rolled a joint and offered me a puff. That evening, after returning to the agency’s apartment, I found that someone had put a bag of marijuana in my bag. The next day, I was summoned to the director of the agency Michel.
“Anna, how is it possible? We have a contract, and you trade drugs?” said Michel, clearly angry. “Sylvie told us everything! You’re in town with a bag filled with marijuana!” he exclaimed. “What must we do? Tomorrow, there’s a special dinner being held at André’s. Be ready, otherwise we will have a serious talk about your future in Paris. It cannot last! Do you understand? Is that clear?” he finally said.
Chapter 4. Dinner at André’s Place
It was the weekend; I did not want to go to this agency dinner. I had a strange feeling about it, but I could not cancel.
Alex called me to confirm the dinner time and to try to show me who was the boss. The famous fashion photographer André was ready to meet new models of the agency.
“Anna, this photographer can change your life, as he has done for many models,” she said, very seriously. “André just took the shots of Karen Mulder for the covers of Vogue and ELLE and we cannot miss such a fabulous opportunity. Stephan will pick you up tomorrow at five o’clock in the afternoon. Wear the clothes we bought together, please.”
When I first arrived in Paris, there were only colorful rave-party clothes in my arsenal, clothes which were fashionable in the mid-nineties. My favorite clothes were exclusively blue and I dreamed of dying my hair blue which I would have done too, if I hadn’t signed with the agency. But everything Alex had bought me was black: a black miniskirt, a fitted black jacket to lengthen the feminine silhouette, a tight black shirt, and black high-heeled shoes.
The dinner was held in a chic, multistory apartment with a terrace. In addition to Michel and Alex, there were two other models from the agency were there.
“Hi, André! Let me introduce you to the new delivery that has just arrived,” Michel said.
André tapped Michel on the shoulder and invited us in. The living room walls were full of photographers he had taken. After the main course, André approached Natalia, a blonde from Riga, and whispered something in her ear. Both climbed the glass staircase, and we all stayed downstairs drinking champagne.
“Alex, what do you think they went up there for?” I asked. I was interested.
Alex pretended not to have heard my question and continued his conversation with a beautiful brunette from Romania. Natalia came back downstairs. Her hair was disheveled, and there was not even a trace of her scarlet lipstick. She headed directly into the bathroom where she stayed for at least half an hour. Then André himself came down and, as if nothing had happened, finished eating the food he had left on his plate. I went out on the balcony to smoke. I wanted to go back to my apartment as soon as possible and listen to music. I had an uncomfortable feeling, and Natalia’s worried look spoke for itself. I knew this did not suit me, and I was ready to end my relationship with the agency if it persisted in demanding such dinners. That’s when André himself joined me on the balcony.
“Natalia, is she your friend? We have a wonderful view from here, don’t we? You can see and admire the Grande Arch,” said André.
I did not answer and instead just lit a new cigarette. André “gallantly” lighted up my cigarette me and asked, “Do you want me to show you my pictures upstairs?” he asked.
“Maybe, you want to come tomorrow to the Pin-Up studio with your friend for a photo shoot? It might be possible for you to get a test shot.”
André was unpleasant. There were traces of Natalia’s lipstick on his neck. I gave him an icy look and went back to the living room to ask Alex to take me home. She must have sensed my determination. She did not object.
“Yes, of course! Darling, you don’t need to worry! Stephan will drop you off right away. Whatever you want. It’s important to get some sleep well, and you have to work on Monday!” Alex said.
Chapter 5. ¡No pasarán!
“Miss, what’s your name? I heard from a colleague that you are looking to change agencies?” said Ada.
So, I met Ada. The majestic brunette with rapacious eyes approached me in the hallway of a room where dozens of beauties were queuing for a casting. Ada was the agent who represented a model from Tallinn. After the casting, we went for coffee at a nearby café, I told Ada that I was dissatisfied with the agency I was working for and I wanted to find a bigger agency.
“I think that you will like Marilyn’s management a lot. As for your agency, they will settle all the affairs themselves; there is nothing to be afraid of,” Ada said reassuringly.
Ada suggested not leaving this important matter for later and we went immediately to the offices of Marilyn agency located near the Place Vendôme, a legendary square became home to the Ritz Hotel and some of the world’s most prestigious jewelry stores. On the way there, Ada told me that she would be taking ten percent for her services, but that it was the agency that would pay the ten percent on the basis of the twenty percent usually applied. She also offered to take care of me personally for an additional ten percent of my personal income. I didn’t rush to reply; I wanted to see what the new agency would offer me.
“Well, Ada, for me, the girl suits us, what about papers?”
The Parisian agency Marilyn Gauthier was one of the most sought after in the capital. It is to this agency that Kate Moss, a beautiful world-famous English model, owes her triumph. The agency also represented the aristocratic top model, singer and the future wife of the French president, top model, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, аs well as many other stars of the podium and magazines. The booking manager was a Mexican, Carlos. Carlos was once the lover of John Galliano, and he had many great relationships in show business at all levels.
“Get ready, it will not be easy here. Carlos prefers American women and men; Russian girls, and Slavs in general, are for him the third or even the fourth category! There are only two Russian models at the agency. But this agency is the best in the city, have no doubt! If they accept you, then they have a plan for you,” explained Ada, as we returned to her small car, parked at the main entrance of the office, Rue de la Paix.
Nothing to say, it all looked very promising, and the office desk looked extremely professional. It seemed like they only made stars!
To obtain a new work permit, I would have to leave the country and then return with a new visa from the new employer. I would have to go back to Minsk and cross the border again. This would not be easy though because while I was traveling, the first agency decided to take revenge on me, slandering me in the eyes of Marilyn Gauthier and accusing me of being a drug addict and a prostitute. Thanks to Ada, this complex situation was resolved, and the new agency sent the request for my visa to the French consulate. There was no turning back. The freedom, which I had got used to during few months in Paris had, infected every cell of my young body. The plans I once had to go to the Linguistic College and then study at Oxford seemed far away. Originally, I had wanted to study music, but there was no musician in the family and nobody supported me! The prospect of an independent life in Paris was the only possible means of development, and the deep desire for inner growth was reinforced by self-confidence. My command of English was my asset.
Chapter 6. Admiral
A friend close of my family, Adrian, a diplomat, offered to introduce me to Jean-Pierre, a retired admiral. Jean-Pierre invited me to a tea room in the sixteenth arrondissement, where I also met his beloved French wife. Older French women have become a source of inspiration for me. In Paris, as nowhere else, they are neat and refined, incredibly organic. The admiral’s wife was no exception — a little coquette with a perfect hairstyle and manicure. She seemed eternally young!
“My friend, an archaeologist, is leaving for Egypt on a two year expedition, and she has a beautiful apartment in a quiet pedestrian crossing not far from Parc Monceau. It’s a great place for you, Anna!” she said.
I was not friends with Mila before leaving for Paris. She was also under contract after a competition, and now she was fighting to keep her place at another agency. We decided to room together to share the costs, but all the documents were in my name. During the week of spring parades devoted to new ready-to-wear collections, Mila was chosen only twice; as for me, I had a dozen fashion shows.
The girl sank into silence for a few weeks, but there was nothing I could do for her. With her phenomenal stature of about one meter eighty, her blond curls, and her eyes the color of the sky, she had been at the top in her own country. But now, in Paris, things were different. She would soon end up leaving Paris.
The offer of the flat was a gift of fate. This beautifully furnished apartment, in shades of apricot, was just perfect. Jean-Pierre took care of all the document-related worries and became a financial guarantor.
It was not easy to rent an apartment in Paris, and the agencies took advantage of it, tripling rents for visiting models and thus ensuring total control over the girls and what was happening in these apartments.
I enjoyed talking to the admiral. He liked taking public transport and taught me to choose a seat facing in the direction of the moving train when I settled into a metro wagon.
“It is necessary to walk in life as if with a sail, so that the wind takes you over the waves!” he said.
Jean-Pierre was absolutely romantic. At seventy, he laughed like a kid, liked to talk about his adventures as a sailor, and dreamed of spending the rest of his days away from the metropolis.
“Too bad my wife does not share my dreams of leaving Paris! She needs the city, the shops and the theater, but as for me, I need an island!” said Jean-Pierre.
Looking at the admiral’s wrinkled face; I could easily imagine him like the writer Ernest Hemingway, wearing a sea cap, caressing his purring cat, and lighting up a Cuban cigar!
Years later, Adrian Mikhailovich told me that Jean-Pierre had realized his dream and left Paris, giving up everything to live in Cuba, and that he had married again. In spite of my fond thoughts towards Madame Jean-Pierre, I was sincerely glad to hear the news.
Nothing beats human freedom. When we live in permanent struggle trying to compromise with others, we certainly acquire new qualities. But sometimes an opportunity arises and, we can leave the chosen path and embark on a new journey. Such an act of honesty deserves much respect. Jean-Pierre had the right to live his life; he left everything he had to his ex-wife, and he went to live in retirement. I think and I hope that this was absolute happiness for him. After all, only a truly happy person can make the world around him or her more beautiful; the human desire for happiness is therefore a quality inherent in nature, without which the stages of evolution of cosmic consciousness and modern quantum leaps are unimaginable. Happiness should be the norm!
Chapter 7. Secrets of Madrid’s Court
“My advice to you, darling, is to think about what you will do next; time passes very quickly. I’m already twenty-five years old, yet it seems like I arrived only yesterday,” said Vera.
Vera took a sip of whiskey in a crystal glass, and then the pretty blonde lit a cigarette. I looked at her beautiful hands with interest. Platinum blonde, she looked a lot like Sharon Stone. We flew together from Paris to Madrid to present the famous Spanish fashion house Loewe; we were put up in a spacious, luxurious room at a five-star hotel located in the main square of the city. The window of the room overlooked a magnificent fountain.
“Today, you are their favorite model, but tomorrow, a new star will appear; and you, you will be forgotten. As long as you’re sixteen, think about your future and keep a cool head! And do not relax!” Vera said, very seriously but lightly at the same time.
Vera’s words were etched in my memory. There was something very natural and spontaneous about this girl. I liked her a lot. Vera taught me how to do a manicure properly; her delicate scent and her white silk night dress just emphasized the natural elegance. Vera could not fall asleep without emptying the mini bar. I was very worried: How would she walk on the podium tomorrow?
“Do not worry; I only have one dress to wear at the parade tomorrow. And then I fly to Ibiza with Frank,” Vera explained.
While Vera drank her cocktails, she told me about how the agency worked and who the main protector was.
“There are people to whom you cannot refuse anything, you follow me? If you want to stay afloat and stay in Paris, be ready to give in. And then, time heals!” she said.
Time, time … This word came out of Vera’s lips endlessly. It seemed that she escaped with each new sip of alcohol and puff of tobacco.
“Remember, darling, it is Frank who decides everything. He directs Marilyn herself; she is his courier, understood? Marilyn’s sister does the accounting. Befriend her, smile!” Vera said.
Vera’s imposing tone, as before, did not clarify the entire puzzle. I did not ask who Frank was and what he was doing, but I remembered his name and decided to put off any disturbing thoughts until the next morning. I woke up often during the night, and in the morning, I found Vera asleep in the armchair near the coffee table with an ashtray filled with butts. I decided not to wake her and went for breakfast in the lobby of the hotel.
Taking my morning cup of aromatic coffee, I remembered a Harold Robbins’ novel about a modeling agency in Manhattan, which I had read during the summer holidays while I was still in school: in the midst of a multi-stage detective story, passionate love affairs rapidly unfolded around the girls from the agency. All the women were looking for a pure and great love, and would do anything for their boyfriends. I wondered: Who did Vera like?
Was there a soul mate in her life, or did everyone see her beauty and take advantage of it?
I decided it was probably the second. But despite that, her soul was alive and beautiful. The twenty-five-year-old woman accepted the situation as the natural course of events, with frank resignation and without regret. Looking closer at Vera, I saw a child in her, the little girl that she once was. Vera, vulnerable but firm, would find her way.
Chapter 8. Frank and Marilyn
The main office of Sonia Rykiel was located on Boulevard Saint-Germain. I worked regularly with the designer, and there was a planned fitting. Sonia loved her models, and during lunch, she would often come to join the same table as the girls in the famous Café de Flore, opposite the studio.
“Anna, you have a call,” said the maitre d’.
I was very surprised when the maitre d’ called me by my first name, I did not know who, with the exception of the people from the agency, could know where I had my lunch break. On the phone, I heard the voice of Marilyn, the director.
“Honey, have you not finished yet? We want to invite you for dessert at the restaurant across the street. Come to Brasserie Lipp, please, I’ve already settled everything, and you’re free today.” said Marilyn.
I was completely dependent on the agency, as they were preparing my work permit and my visa and my papers were about to expire. It was clear that I had no choice.
“Darling, this is our beloved Frank,” Marilyn said, with her beautiful round body, an eagle profile, and impressive brown mane. After slipping into her chair, she carefully studied the menu. An energetic man of a certain age endowed with a diabolical charm who was, in my mind, very similar to Woland from Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita. As for his height, he was neither short nor tall, but just tall enough. Franck seemed to be in his late forties, his mouth slightly twisted, with brown hair and black eyebrows, one higher than the other.
“And now, Marilyn, tell us what needs to be done quickly and effectively for Anna’s career to take a new turn. Do you think we should change the color of her hair? How are her breasts? The teeth are good. I think you already know what’s best, don’t you?“asked the man.
Marilyn only lowered her eyes and smiled, answering softly and coquettishly, “Yes, of course, as you say, I completely agree with you.”
The next day, a black car with tinted windows stopped at the entrance of my building. The driver’s window opened slightly, and there appeared a male hand with an envelope.
“Miss, it’s for you, from Mr. Franck,” said the driver.
I did not want to open the envelope, but the driver gave me no time to think. Without having my answer, he stepped on the gas and disappeared. The envelope contained large notes, about two thousand francs. Upon returning to my room, I put the money in my personal model’s photographic dossier, a model’s book, and decided to return the envelope to the agency as soon as possible. All of a sudden, the landline rang; it was Mr. Franck.
“Anna! I’m right here, just in front of the entrance. Please, I really need to talk to you,” he said.
“That’s good,” I thought to myself. “Everything will happen without any witnesses, all the better.”
Through the kitchen window of my apartment, from the height of the second floor, I saw Frank downstairs, next to the phone booth. Seeing me, he shouted, “Anna! I am taking you with me to America, and you will surely become a celebrity. Come down, we’ll have dinner, and then we’ll go shopping!”
At that moment, I decided to get rid of this envelope with money, and I threw it through the open window into Mr. Frank’s face. He picked it up and said, “I am giving you until tomorrow to decide. This would be a second chance… my flight departure is late at night, I’ll call you!”
Chapter 9. Unexpected Solution
“You know, if I were you, I’ll call Ada …”
It was the answer of my inner voice, which I had asked for advice while looking at the little wooden icon of the holy prophetess Anna. So, I called Ada immediately and made an appointment with her.
There were rumors about Frank as he had previously held a senior position in the government, had at least five citizenships, and ran a giant arms-related business.
“To refuse something from Frank is like signing a death sentence in the agency, it can greatly affect your work,” said Ada. “And how are you going to get out of this situation? What if you changed your mind?“she suggested. “According to your papers, you still have exactly six months of work to do with them, and you cannot start working elsewhere in Paris before the end of this contract, and in general, it is very complicated because Frank does not forgive the “insolence” of a girl. I’ll talk to Marilyn, and you think about my proposal; ten percent is not a lot, and I will be taking care of your business.”